Swiss solar firm has come ashore in the New World

The high tech gear needed to turn out precision solar panels. Courtesy Oerlikon.
Written by Harry Fuller, Contributor

The high tech gear needed to turn out precision solar panels. Courtesy Oerlikon.

Oerliklon is a venerable corporation among the Alps, publicly-traded on the Zurich stock exchange for a long time. They manufacture precision machine tools, textile equipment, other traditional industrial products. But they're also into the next new thing, wind and solar. I recently got to talk with some an exec at Oerlikon Solar in the U.S. It was Chris O’Brien, head of market development and government relations in North America for Oerlikon Solar and Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

Oerlikon makes the equipment that makes thin solar film. And they see the use and applications for thin film photovolataics as just beginning its rapid expansion. A new study from Emerging Energy Research points out the world market for solar PV topped $15 billion in 2007. It's grown over 30% per year for the past decade. Here's some of what EER found inthe European solar market right now: "Currently Spain has the best combination of high feed in tariffs and strong solar resources. The country is expected to install 800 MW of PV planned for 2008. In contrast to market leader Germany, Spain's PV market is mainly made up of ground based installations rather than rooftop systems. "Establishment of government incentives in Italy is spurring growth."

No wonder a European company feels confident to importing its tech to America. Solar in Europe is hot.


"A turn-key solution." How may times have you heard that tune? Here's the melody from Oerlikon. They build the equipment you need for a factory to turn out highly efficient thin film photovoltaics. They configure the factory you need, they build and install the system. They provide: end to end production tools, including vacuum systems, lasers for cutting, etc. They stick around to manage the factory while your own staff gets up to speed and familiar with the process. No wonder they've sold plants to Chinese, Greek, Italian and Taiwanese firms, one of which used to ocnentrate on making DVD discs.

So for any start-up, or established firm wishing to expand its reach in renewable energy: Oerlikon is there to build the plant on the chosen site. And so far all their customers are private firms aiming to be in the alternative energy business.

O'Brien underlined the reasons he sees continued growth of solar industry: the fundamental raw material is silicon, an abundant resource in nearly every nation. He sees the cost for current fsctory modules at about $1.50 per watt...that is already half of what it takes to produce amorphous crystallize solar panels, the traditional system. He says the company's goal is get that cost below $1/watt. Already the folks who use the panels coming out of Oerlikon factories can sell electricity for $12-15 KW hour, says O'Brien, making it affordable for end customers.

O'Brien says the ultimate goal of his firm and many solar innnovators: "grid parity" with other forms of electricity, inus all the greenhouse emissions.

Editorial standards