Industrial Scale Solar - An Innovation Opportunity for Silicon Valley

Industrial Scale Solar - An Innovation Opportunity for Silicon Valley

Some are doubting that Silicon Valley still has the drive to change the world as we have in the past. I was just part of a story on the PBS Newshour related to this topic, where as a contrast, Applied Materials was highlighted for the innovation we’ve delivered with our SunFab PV technology, which leverages our semiconductor heritage to focus on this large-scale solar opportunity.

What makes SunFab unique? At 8x the size of traditional panels (5.7m2 or approximately the size of a garage door), SunFab panels offer balance of systems savings coupled with more MWh produced for every MW installed. It’s a systems-oriented solution designed to deliver the lowest cost of electricity for large-scale installations: faster to install, more power per panel, better energy yield.

Today one million SunFab panels have been produced in seven countries around the globe. Financial institutions are providing capital for large-scale SunFab projects based on an attractive return on investment. This value isn’t modeled on projections, there are SunFab panels in the ground generating renewable power -- 70MW to date with another 425MW in construction or the planning pipeline.

Within those large panels is amazing technology. Our engineers need to control layer thicknesses and material composition at atomic levels across that entire panel just to make the solar panel work. This innovation continues by driving efficiency increases and lowering production costs. This is the key focus of our work today. We are making significant headway on breakthrough technologies to accelerate the roadmap, like our ZnO TCO layer and future disruptive CVD processes. 

Based on this foundation - created in our R&D labs in both Santa Clara and Germany (where we still spend more than 3/4 of the R&D on SunFab) - our first fully-integrated 5.7m2 panel was successfully produced in our new Xi’an pilot facility. This development capability is helping us to understand integration interdependencies and significantly reduce cycle time, enabling customers to bring these improvements to market faster.

We are coming out of a tumultuous year in 2009 for PV Solar. The hardest hit segment was Power Plant, with collapse of the financial markets, zero progress at Copenhagen, and absence of a US energy bill translating to a nearly 50% decline (1GW) in demand for large-scale projects. Ironically, the market segment that suffered most is the one that is poised to catalyze significant growth - solar market acceleration simply won’t and can’t happen rooftop by rooftop. The game changer will be SCALE: standardized, large-scale installations.

The environment for this market segment is starting to warm as the economy lifts and capital starts to flow. And the winners in this aggressive race for utility-scale share will be the manufacturers whose panels enable solar farms that deliver the lowest cost of electricity. We firmly believe SunFab is the right technology for this application.

Our objective is simple: hit our development targets, deliver a winning thin-film solution for large-scale, utility installations, drive down costs and enable market acceleration. This is the SunFab sweet spot. I’m confident and committed to making it happen – and showing the spirit of technology that turns innovation into industries is alive and well in Silicon Valley.

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