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Solar Frontier Module – Review of Technology(CIS),Panel Warranty,Prices(150 Watts) and Comparision

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Solar Frontier is a Japanese company which was earlier known as Showa Shell Solar .The company joined the rank of major solar companies once it started the new 900MW “Kunitomi” production plant in Miyazaki.Note only is the company started big in production,it is rapidly signing deals around the globe in India,Middle East and America.The Company has recently signed Two Deals with 2 Global Heavyweights GE and IBM.It has signed a distribution deal with GE to sells its Copper Indium Selenium (CIS) Panels in USA while GE would provides the Balance of Systems components like inverters etc.It next signed a deal with IBM to jointly develop Copper Zinc Tin Sulfure Selenium (CZTS) Thin Fim Technology.Note IBM is one of the biggest Technology Innovators and Solar Frontier has a long Thin Film History.

Solar Frontier Solar Modules Review (150 Watts)

Solar Frontier sells Solar Panels in the 140 to 155 Watts in the US and the rest of the world.The company sells 4 Solar Modules

  • SF140-L
  • SF145-L
  • SF150-L (150 Watts)
  • SF155-L

The company claims the following features

  • Efficiency of  the  thinfilm module, up to 12.6%
  •  Up to 10% extra kWh/kWp vs crystalline  modules
  • Light soaking effect boosts output after installation
  • PTC/STC rating over 90%

The voltage of these solar panels at 80 Volts is a bit on the higher side and the Current at 2 Amps on the lower side.Due to lower efficiences,Solar Frontier Solar Panels are ideal for ground mounted large solar farms and utility scale solar installations.The Solar Panels have a 20 kg Weight and a Plastic Film Backsheet.

Solar Frontier has received Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) accreditation for its SF130-150 series CIS modules in the UK

Solar Frontier Projects

Solar Frontier is set to  supply CIS solar modules to projects in India under National Solar Mission and Gujarat State program, totaling more than 30MW to be installed by the end of 2011.The Company is benefiting from the fact that it is not subject to domestic content requirements as JNNSM exempts thin film solar panels to be manufactured in India.The company is also selling solar panels to a project in Thailand.

Solar Frontier Panels Warranty

Solar Frontier module owners o have the option to register their operating solar panels by visiting the Solar Frontier Web site and uploading the flash data they receive from S distributors and installers.The company gives a 25 year extended warranty on all its solar panels.These Solar Panels are reinsured by the German INsurance giant Munich Re.What this means is that in a case where Solar Frontier goes out of the solar panel business,Munich Re will insure that the warranty holds good.This is better than the standard warranty given by solar panel manufactures.

Where are Solar Frontier Solar Panels Made

All the Three Solar Frontier Solar Panel Production Plants are located in Miyazaki in Japan which used to house the former plasma plant of Hitachi..The Company is spending around $1 Billion in Capex for building the 1 GW capacity implying roughly $1 capex/watt which is not exactly cheap though not very expensive either

Solar Frontier Panels Technology

Solar Frontier makes Solar Panels using the CIS Technology which is different from the normal silicon crystalline solar panels made by a majority of the solar companies.This Thin Film Technology is also different from that used by the largest Thin Film Solar Player First Solar.This Thin Film Technology has the highest Solar Cell Efficiency and a number of established companies like TSMC,Q-Cells,Honda and startups like Miasole,Nanosolar,Solyndra are using this technology.However its production is not easy as four different materials are used.Miasole has been claiming to have achieved an efficiency of 13.8%.General range is between 11-14%.Note Solar Shinglesbeing sold by Dow and Uni Solar also use this technology as its weight is much lower than normal silicon solar panels.CIGs Technology is also used in making flexible thin solar panels which can be used for camping,BIPV and other applications where weight is an issue.The CIS or CIGs Technology is used by a number of other companies like  Saint Gobain- Hyundai, TSMC,Miasole,OerlikonSolar,the now bankrupt Solyndra and Nanosolar.

Solar Frontier Solar Panels Efficiency

Solar Frontier claims 11.5% efficiency for its CIS modules which are expected to go upto 14% by 2014.The Company has claimed an efficiency of 17.2% for its Solar Panels made in the Lab

Solar Frontier Solar Panels Comparision and Competition

Solar Frontier faces still competition from a variety of Japanese Solar Companies as well as Thin Film Solar Companies.Not to talk about the Chinese solar panel makers which are dominating the global solar module market.

Solar Thin Film Technology has been growing rapidly despite falling costs of the mainstream Photovoltaic Crystalline Silicon Technology.While a number of Weaker Hands in Thin Film have downed shutters,Thin Film Producers continue to grow and expand.The massive growth potential of Solar Energy makes it possible for both of these PV technologies to flourish.Thin Film Technology unlike c-Si has a number of variants.Amorphous Silicon (a-Si),Copper Indium Gallium Sulphide (CIGs) and Cadmium Tellurium (Cd-Te) are the 3 main types of Thin Film Technology.There are a number of manufacturers of all of these 3 types of Technology.CIGs Technology is said to have the most potential in improving efficiency and competing with c-Si,

1) First Solar – First Solar is the only Solar Thin Film Manufacturer in the world and a benchmark for other thin film companies thinking of making it big.The company was promoted by Wal-Mart promoters and has seen remarkable growth in the last few.This US based company uses Cadmium Tellurium (Cd-Te) Technology and  is the lowest cost panel producer in the world today if you don’t include any penalty for low efficiency.Even if you penalize the Cd-Te Technology for its lower efficiency vis-a-vis the higher efficiency crystalline technology,First Solar is clearly the leader with a core cost of 74c/watt.The company has a roadmap of  reducing the cost to 52c/watt by 2014 and given its track record it seems quite achievable.There is little doubt about First Solar’s ability to survive and flourish due to its massive first mover advantage.

2) Sharp – Sharp,the Japanese Zaibatsu known more for its Electronics Products is also the world’s No 1 Company in terms Solar Module Revenues.Despite its leadership in c-Si Technology,it has shifted focus to a-Si thin film due to higher costs.Sharp has started shipping a-Si modules from its 1 GW capacity plant in Sakai.With its established distribution strengths and technological abilities in LCD Technology,Sharp is one company that can survive the c-Si onslaught.With most of the a-Si thin film competitors bankrupt or in a moribund state,Sharp can capitalize to completely capture this space.However the cost structure of Sharp is not clearly known right now to make a clear call on how this will turn out.Also a 10% efficiency while decent for a-Si technology fall far short of the 13% claims by CIGS start-ups like Miasole.

3) Miasole – Miasole made a major splash announcing a record breaking 13.8% efficiencythin film module which it will ship in 2011.The company has also raised another $100 million in equity finance despite fall in its pre-IPO valution to $550 million from $1.2 billion earlier.Seems an attractive target for a takeover.

4) Nanosolar – This secretive CIGs startup has big backers in the form of Google and others.The company is planning to build a massive plant in US but till now there has been little news about its commercial shipments,efficiency or costs.Remains to be seen if it manages to succeed or joins the long list of thin film deaths.

5)  Abound Solar - Abound Solar which is a CdTe startup has also received a massive loan guarantee like Solyndra earlier.This money is going to be used to set up manufacturing facilities in Indiana and Colorado.Abound Solar has been heavily supported the the US government’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and is in the process of starting a 200 MW plant in Colorado.

6) General Electric - GE has invested in a Cadmium Tellurium Startup Prime Solar which is ramping up production.Note Cd-Te is the same technology which is used by First Solar.GE has said that it has managed to attain 15% efficiency on commercial glass.Don’t know how much of it is true since First Solar only manages around 12% efficiency despite around 10 years of dedicated R&D.However if GE can even manage to get near to that level then it would surely give First Solar a run for its money.GE has also tied up with Japanese Solar Frontier to market its CIGs based modules

7) TSMC- Stion – TSMC recently bought a 21% equity stake in CIGs startup Stion for $50 million.The partnership will involve TSMC licensing Stion’s technology and doing  joint research on further enhancing the technology.Stion has claimed that it has achieved a >13% efficiency and plans to increase it to 15% in the near future.TSMC has been quietly making further investments to build a large capacity in Taiwan using this technology.It recently bought module making equipment from another Taiwanese company and has also invested a substantial amount in constructing buildings and facilities for the new CIGs fab.TSMC has earlier invested in c-Si through a equity stake in Motech.

Solar Panels Review of Other Brands

 

 

PG

Abhishek Shah

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