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Amorphous Silicon Solar Panels – Sale Price,Manufacturers,Lifespan and Amorphous vs Crystalline Silicon

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Amorphous Silicon Solar Panels

Astroenergy Amorphous Silicon Solar Panels

Amorphous Silicon Solar Panels were the big rage in 2-3 years ago when the prices of polysilicon the main raw material were touching $500/kg making the mainstream crystalline silicon solar panels very expensive.Amorphous Silicon (a-Si) on the other hand is a non-crystalline silicon which is deposited as an extremely thin layer on glass and other substrates.The cost of the silicon is much lower though the efficiency of solar cells which are made from a-Si is about half of those made from crystalline silicon.Applied Materials with its SunFab turnkey amorphous silicon (a-Si) equipment capitalized on this opportunity, lining up a number of customers with some customer orders in the range of a Billion Dollars.Oerlikon Solar was the other major thin film equipment market winning customers in Europe and China.Sky high poly prices also gave birth to numerous Thin Film startups planning to Manufacture and Use their own equipment rather than selling it .

Thin Film Technology came into prominence with Polysilicon Prices ruling at $400/kg

Solar Thin Film Technology is supposed to be  the 2nd Generation successor to the mainstream Crystalline Silicon (c-Si) Technology which accounts for around 85% of world production.With Polysilicon(c-Si raw material) being priced at an exorbitant $400/kg in 2008 (cost of $30/kg) due to supply shortages,many companies entered the Thin Film space attracted by the huge profits in the solar industry.Applied Materials with its SunFab turnkey amorphous silicon (a-Si) equipment capitalized on this opportunity, lining up a number of customers with some customer orders in the range of a Billion Dollars.Oerlikon Solar was the other major thin film equipment market winning customers in Europe and China.Sky high poly prices also gave birth to numerous Thin Film startups planning to Manufacture and Use their own equipment rather than selling it .

Polysilicon Prices crashed to $50/kg turning Business Models Upside Down

With the Polysilicon prices crashing by almost 90% in the intervening 2 years (due to entry of multiple players) to $50/kg at present,most of these business models have become defunct.With the exception of market leader First Solar,no other thin film player has managed to penetrate the top 15 solar producer rankings.Most of the thin film divisions of larger companies have already been written off while smaller startups are struggling to survive with mainstream c-Si module prices down by more than 50%.You can read  about the First Wave of Solar Thin Film Bankruptcies here.

Major Amorphous Silicon Manufacturers

Though a lot of companies have gone belly up in the amorphous silicon thin film business,some stalwarts still remain which have grown stronger with the elimination of the weaker hands in the business.Amorphous Silicon still holds good potential though it faces stiff competition from other technologies like Cadmium-Tellerium,CIGs  and the crystalline silicon.Oerlikon and other comapies like Mitsubishi have developed the tandem microcrystalline technology which increases  the efficiency from 7-8% to 10% by adding another layer of microcrsytalline silicon to the amorphous silicon layer.Companies like Sharp,Astroenergy are the main players remaining now

  1. Sharp – the Japanese Zaibatsu known more for its Electronics Products is also the world’s No 1 Company in terms Solar Module Revenues.Sharp has been the solar world leader since the past 4-5 years despite stiff competition recently  from upcoming Chinese Crystalline Solar (c-Si) players and Thin Film Leader First Solar.The Chinese have gained almost 50% of the world’s marketshare in Q409 from a non existent share in 2006 boosted by their low cost production .First Solar through its world beating Cadmium Tellerium(CdTe) Thin Film Technology has also managed to vault itself to the No.2 position in 2009.Sharp has started shipping a-Si modules from its 1 GW capac ity 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.
  2. Oerlikon– This Swiss manufacturer does not make amorphous silicon solar panels,it sells the equipment which makes solar panels.The company remains the only large pure play manufacturer of a-Si equipment after Applied Materials called it a day.The company is claiming low costs at much better efficiency for its new equipment.Oerlikon has said that its new generation equipment will cuts cost to 70c/watt and improve efficiency to 10% from the current 9%.This equipment will be shipped to Asian customers like Astroenergy by 2012 making it competitive with other solar technologies
  3. Energy Conversion Devices – After First Solar,Energy Conversion Devices seemed the mostly likely viable company in Thin Film Technology.After a few quarters of profits in 2008,the company went into the red as its flexible a-Si modules failed to cut costs as fast as others.It has been shutting factories in the US and shifting to low cost locations.Still one of the biggest independent Thin Film Producers.Seems more likely that it will be bought out then survive independently.The company is facing problems currently as its triple junction amorphous silicon cell technology has much higher costs than the currently available crystalline silicon panels.
  4. Kaneka – This Japanese manufacturer is present in a number of product lines like chemicals, functional and expandable plastic products, foodstuffs, life science products and synthetic fibers as well as solar energy modules. Kaneka researches, develops and manufactures its own solar panels leveraging our advanced materials knowledge and our core competency as a chemical manufacturer for over 60 years.The company started research in 1980 on a-Si and has a HYBRID PV Module which it sells globally.The company has expanded production to 150 MW a year at Toyooka Factory from 20 MW a year.Kaneka’s HYBRID solar panel has a tandem structure.
    Its dual-layer structure of microcrystalline and amorphous silicon can capture from short to long wavelengths of the light spectrum
  5. Masdar – Masdar, Abu Dhabi owned Green Company plans to build a  Solar Thermal plant called “Shams 1? near Abu Dhabi. Masdar PV has been in the news recently with the Dismissal of its top executives as its German Thin Film plant is facing trouble.Masdar PV sourced technology and equipment from Applied Material’s Thin Film Division which is struggling to survive against the onslaught of Crystalline Silicon (c-Si) competition.Applied Materials has drastically reduced support to its “SunFab” amorphous Silicon (a-Si) thin film technology with 90% drop in Poly Silicon prices making a-Si technology uncompetitive.Q-Cells and Suntech,two major customers of Applied Material’s SunFab product have already written off their investment.With these two Solar Stalwarts failing to make a-Si products viable,it is highly unlikely that Masdar PV will get much success from this venture.
  6. Astroenergy – This is a Chinese company which is part of the Chint Group of companies.Astroenergy sells crystalline solar  panels as well as tandem and amorphous silicon solar panels.The company hopes to survive the onslaught of competition through the help of its big parent and offering a numerous types of solar panels targeted towards all groups.
  7. Trony Solar – Trony Solar is the largest Solar Thin Film Producer in China and uses a-Si Technology to producer Solar Panels used mostly in Off-Grid Applications.TRONY is located in the Longgang District in Shenzhen. By 2015 the company plans to achieve production of 1,000 MW thin film solar cells by three stagesThe company uses its own custom made equipment and manages to get decent margins for its products.The company recently listed on the HK Stock Exchange.

Other manufactures are Anwell Technologies,Mitsubishi and Xunlight.
Amorphous  vs Crystalline Silicon

1) Efficiency – The Efficiency of Amorphous  Silicon Solar Panels is about 7-10% depending on different manufacturers while that for crystalline silicon panels can vary from 15% for common solar panels to 20% for the most efficient solar panels from sale by Sunpower.Note the efficiency of Monocrystalline Silicon Cells is on the higher side.

2) Cost – The cost of a-Si solar panels is generally lower by 15-20% due to the efficieny difference with crystalline silicon panels.However the drastic fall in prices of crystalline solar panels of late has made the differnece lower which has impacted the sales of Amorphous  Silicon Panels

3) Weight – The Weight of Amorphous  Silicon Panels is much lower than that of normal Crystalline Silicon Panels because the Thin Film that is used implies that the substrate can also be thinner.

4) Availability – Crystalline Silicon Solar Panels are much more widely and easily available than A-Si Panels

5) Flexibility – Its possible for  Amorphous  Panels to be flexible because their lower weight means they can be put on flexible substrates like plastic .This is not possible with crystalline silicon solar panels.

LifeSpan and Sale Prices of Amorphous  Silicon Solar Panels

The lifespan of Amorphous  Silicon Solar Panels is on par with that of other solar panels and most manufacturers give a warranty of more than 20 years that it won’t degrade more than 80% of its stated power performance.Note crystalline silicon solar panels also come with a standard 25 year warranty and a 10 year product warranty.

The prices of Amorphous  Silicon Solar Panels  can vary quite a lot depending on the size of the solar panels and the substrate that you are using.In general smaller size 25 watt solar panels cost as much as $10/watt while bigger sizes like a 150 Watt Solar Panels will cost you $3/watt.Chinese Amorphous  Silicon Solar Panels are of much lower cost retailing for as low as $1/watt in bulk orders or for $1.5-$1.75/watt in retail.


Abhishek Shah

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