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Second Wave of Solar Thin Film Bankruptcies Starts – Suntech ends CSG Solar funding

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Solar Thin Film Companies under Siege

Solar Thin Film Companies are coming under siege again due to the relentless fall in the prices of crystalline silicon panels in recent months of 2011.Note large number of thin film companies went bankrupt the last time polysilicon prices fell off a cliff in the post Lehman crisis period in 2008 end.Applied Material the biggest solar equipment company killed off its SunFab Division which has a large customer list.Applied Materials saw the writing on the wall and concentrated its efforts on crystalline silicon equipment buying HCT Shaping and Baccini to become a billion dollar supplier of solar equipment.A number of weaker hands in solar thin film went out of business.However the prodigious growth in solar demand in 2010 saw large investments being made again.The biggest failure (not complete yet) seems to be the DOE and Obama darling CIGs startup Solyndra which has already used up a billion dollars with nothing much to write home about .Now Republicans are investigating whether the more than $500 million US government loan was done improperly.Abound Solar a CdTe startup has also managed a $400 million loan and  I doubt whether it will manage to ever pay off the loan given that the lowest cost manufacturer of solar panels First Solar itself is under pressure from sharp cost reduction by integrated solar panel companies like Trina Solar.

Suntech kills CSG Solar starting the Second Wave,ENER too seems a likely candidate

Suntech announced that it would cut off funding for CSG Solar a German maker of thin film solar panels which it bought a few years ago.Crystalline Solar on Glass technology was being used by CSG but evidently the costs were not coming down fast enough.This is the first time that a thin film company is being shut down in recent times .Expect a huge second wave of thin film shutdowns to start as silicon panel prices have come down to as low as $1.3/watt.Energy Conversion Devices which in 2008 boasted of almost $3 billion in capitalization is being priced for bankruptcy as its shar price has plummeted by 98%.The only thin film players who coud survive are Solar Frontier (Backed by Big Parents like Shell and Showa) and Sharp.It remains tough for small standalone companies like Miasole,Nanosolar to survive the current competition in which established solar companies are facing existential problems.Here is a list of top global thin film companies ,expect a number of these companies to go out of business or get acquired  soon.The main reason is that the the costs of thin film solar panels are still too high and efficiencies too low as compared to the mainstream silicon solar panels.

The First Wave of Thin Film Bankruptcies

  1. Applied Materials is perhaps the biggest loser with the managment all but giving up on its Thin Film Equipment Division (SunFab).This turnkey technology has failed to keep up with the decline in costs and improvment in Technology.With most of its customers already writing off their investments,AMAT too has reduced support to SunFab
  2. Oerlikon Solar like AMAT had bet its future on supplying a-Si Thin Film Equipment to customers and was giving Applied Materials tough competition.However the falling poly prices  have resulted in sharp order cuts for Oerlikon and the survival of its thin film division too is in doubt
  3. Q-Cells has written off its investments in 2 of its thin film divisions -Calyxo (CdTe) and Sunfilm (aSi).Only Solibro (CIGS) division has survived the major restructuring of Q-Cells which saw a multi billion dollar loss in 2009 and resignation of its CEO.
  4. Suntech a-Si Division which was set up in Shanghai with a SunFab equipment from Applied Materials  has been written off according to the management and will be retooled to manufacture high efficiency c-Si cells.
  5. Moser Baer was one of the first customers of Applied Materials SunFab Line.However the company had problems in ramping up its line.Recent results do not inspire any confidence in the success of its thin film venture
  6. Signet Solar was one of the best known a-Si startups with a strong management team.However like other SunFab customers it is too facing a bleak future with recent news of cancellation of its expansion plans
  7. Sanyo had set up a JV with Nippon Oil with grandiose plans to manufacture a-Si panels with a planned 1 GW capacity by2015.This JV Sanyo Eneos too is deferring its expansion plans with the cost/efficiency metrics not being competetive against c-Si modules
  8. Masdar PV the Abu Dhabi backed Renewable Energy company is facing problems with it its thin film business,recently firing top executives at  its German thin film division

Abhishek Shah

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