HALF MOON BAY, Calif. The advent of next-generation factories for solar-cell production is expected to provide new and major growth opportunities for equipment and materials suppliers, according to an executive at SunPower Corp.
In total, the solar equipment market is projected to jump tenfold from $1 billion in 2010 to $10 billion by 2020, said Richard Swanson, president and chief technology officer for solar-cell maker SunPower, during a keynote address at the Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS) event here on Monday (Jan. 9).
This presents major opportunities for tool suppliers in several segments, such as solar die saws, diffusion furnaces, etchers, screen writers, and others. The solar equipment market is dominated by smaller, niche-oriented vendors, it was noted.
Solar-cell providers are in production or building next-generation 150- and 200-mm factories, which cost about $100 million. These factories are highly-automated “autolines” that produce from 200- to 500-megawatts per year, Swanson said.
Each factory could produce 70-to-180 million wafers a year, or roughly 8,000-to-20,000 wafers per hour. The capital cost for a solar-cell plant is projected to be around $0.50-per-watt, although the industry is attempting to spend “half of that,” he said.
However, after sizzling growth in recent times, the solar energy market is projected to dim and “hit the wall” for panel, equipment and materials vendors in 2006, warned an analyst.
The projected slowdown in the solar market for 2006 is mainly due to ongoing and severe shortages of polysilicon, one of the key materials used for making solar cells, said Jesse Pichel, an analyst with Piper Jaffray Inc., an investment banking firm.