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Eastern Promise?

As the concentrated photovoltaic industry looks east for market success, silicon-based businesses with more established supply chains could have a head-start, reports Compound Semiconductor.

Amonix is taking its CPV technology to MENA regions [credit: Amonix]

With the concentrated photovoltaic industry acclimatising to the US and European economic slowdown, surviving businesses are now looking elsewhere for more action. Still reeling from plummeting standard photovoltaic panel prices, and to date, poor bankability, key players have had to sit back and re-assess where best to focus efforts.

Speaking at a recent PV Insider webinar to debate the next steps for the CPV industry - for both III-V and silicon cell manufacturers - Amonix chief technology officer and founder, Vahan Garboushian, and Solaria senior director of product management, Mike Mehawich, were both looking east.

“The Middle East and North Africa present a lot of market for CPV but CPV can also offer a lot employment locally and indigenously," says Garboushian. “If you look at our [III-V] technology, only the cell cannot be made in the Middle East but everything else can be made indigenously."

Indeed, as the CTO highlights, this region is desperately trying to replace some oil consumption with photovoltaics. “Saudi Arabia will soon be consuming all the oil it produces leaving nothing to export. CPV can take care of these problems and bring local employment," he adds.

Mehawich agrees that regions with high direct solar irradiation including MENA offer new opportunities to CPV manufacturers, but highlights how Solaria is also looking to China. According to Mehawich, the manufacturer of silicon-based modules has poured vast resources into developing reliable tracking systems and having recently established operations in China, hopes to meet this nation's rising demand for large-scale solar projects.

As he adds: “Our technology is designed to be compatible with existing single-axis trackers in the market and we have also built our own. For us it’s about building this tracker market. We still find that certain emerging markets need education on the benefits of tracking... but in countries like China we're seeing opportunities developing."

 Looking back

The shift in focus from West to East follows many industry ups and downs. In 2012, just as Amonix ended manufacturing in Nevada and ABB pulled the plug on Greenvolt's funding, SolFocus was gearing up to provide thousands of systems to a 450MW project in Baja, California and Soitec and Schneider Electric were installing pilot projects in Morocco.

As Garboushian puts it: “A lot of people in the financial world jumped into the market early to make CPV systems and make money, but this was premature. The industry has seen a lot of consolidation."

A year on, Amonix is back with a revamped cheaper module but Garbouishian believes his industry's biggest challenge is to lower costs further. “Cell efficiency is a major factor to driving costs down... and we expect module efficiency to be at 38% by 2015, which will reduce system cost drastically," he says.

But still the industry need more. As he highlights: “Cost reduction remains a major issue. We now need consolidation of technologies so spot buyers have access to an orderly and low cost supply chain and we need large-scale manufacturing."

Garbouishian believes its time for 'big balance' companies to step into the industry to develop the supply chain and drive manufacturing forward. “We need to get these long-term strategic companies involved rather than having venture capitalists that want to turn this around in a year or two," he adds. “Amonix has reduced the cost of its new product by 50% and is now looking to manufacture it on a very large scale."

Mehawich agrees with Garbouishian saying: “It's all about finding a way to achieve the scale to compete with massive incumbents in the industry."

But the silicon-based CPV manufacturer may have a head-start on manufacturability. As Mehawich points out, from word go, Solaria has focused on fitting into the existing supply chain of the silicon PV industry.

“We wanted to go with the flow rather than build a supply chain from scratch," he says. “So for everything from the back sheet to junction box and cells, we've been trying to insert the technology into the supply chain... to achieve scale."

And as Mehawich highlights, the company has already partnered with industry players that have 'critical mass in the industry'. “We can get there from a cost standpoint, and so we're much more competitive," he says.



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