Is cheaper thin film solar on the way? Oerlikon touts production breakthrough

Swiss company Oerlikon Solar is trumpeting the development of a new "ThinFab" thin film solar production method that it says could drive costs down to around 70 cents per watt for new manufacturing lines. If you've been following solar production costs, you know that the latest holy grail numbers have been about $1.

Swiss company Oerlikon Solar is trumpeting the development of a new "ThinFab" thin film solar production method that it says could drive costs down to around 70 cents per watt for new manufacturing lines. If you've been following solar production costs, you know that the latest holy grail numbers have been about $1.00 per watt, a cost level that thin film leader First Solar achieved about a year and a half ago. We've been hovering at the $1.50 level for some time.

Oerlikon claims that ThinFab brings the following advances:

  • Thinner cell structures with the reduced potential for degradation or gas consumption
  • 10 percent module efficiency
  • New low-voltage module design

Chris O'Brien, head of market development for Oerlikon North America, he believes this development will "reinforce market confidence in thin film silicon technology and position the technology in the cost-efficiency leadership position."

O'Brien says Oerlikon partners -- it has 12 main ones -- have so far sold about 600 megawatts of solar capacity, 75 percent of that is in commercial production. Oerlikon's business footprint is mainly in Europe and China/Taiwan right now, but the company is actively seeking business across the western United States including California, Arizona and Nevada. Expect customer announcements soon, he predicts.

For perspective, First Solar expects to be behind about 1.4 gigawatts in capacity by the end of 2010.

Many of Oerlikon's ThinFab innovations will be transferrable to existing customers with modifications to their production lines, O'Brien says.