By Lowy Chang
Despite the uncertain outlook of the solar industry, a number of manufacturers are still optimistic about its future prospects, especially the thin film solar technologies having been receiving increasing interest. EnergyTrend conducted an exclusive interview with Frank O'Young, Ph.D., the Vice Chairman of Sunner Solar, to share his industrial experience and shed light on the thin film market’s development.
Sunner Solar, established in June 2007, manufactures and sells thin film solar cells and modules developed by the coating technology of poly-si thin film (glass substrate). The company has embarked on a joint effort with Itochu Corporation and created a successful cooperative system in the thin film solar industry. At present, Sunner Solar’s annual capacity reaches 25MW and the company aims to increase it to 200MW within the next five years. Sunner Solar’s products, with emphasis on thin film solar module, comply with international standards such as IEC, UL and TUV. The company not only provides global solar system manufacturers with modules to incorporate with their solar roof tiles, solar curtain walls, and solar power plants, but also designs large power plants, independent systems and BIPV applications.
Frank O'Young, Ph.D., the Vice Chairman of Sunner Solar. Photo Credit: EnergyTrend
Thin film solar technology has a lot of traits that make it superior to silicon-based solar technology, such as low light intensity and low temperature coefficient, which makes it an advantageous choice to adopt in areas with high temperature or insufficient sunlight. Low light intensity can effectively prolong solar systems’ operating time, and thin film’s temperature coefficient is one second of that of regular monosilicon and polysilicon products, which can prevent the systems from losing conversion efficiency under high temperature. These two traits enable thin film products to outperform monosilicon and polysilicon products by 33% in terms of annual power generation capacity under the same conditions, which means the cost per watt-hour is lower.
Sunner Solar’s solar cell module with an 18% transmission rate. Photo Credit: EnergyTrend
O’Young pointed out that the company’s solar cell modules deliver stable conversion efficiencies. Catering to the market preference, the company designs the modules to be large-size (1.1m X 1.4m) in order to make the installation easier and reduce labor cost. In addition, clients can order for products with edge-banded design or different transmission rates (5% , 18% and 20%). Sunner Solar’s solar cell modules are more cost-competitive than silicon-based products, as they are immune to the silicon price fluctuations.
Currently, thin film sector accounts for 15% of global solar industry’s total capacity. Due to silicon-based sector’s overexpansion, the global solar market is now oversupplied. However, O’Young saw continuous growth in the thin film market and expected the thin film market share to increase to 25% in the next five years. Such optimism indicated the reason that certain solar companies are able to maintain growth momentum under this severe economic situation: the oversupply exists mainly in the silicon-based market, but the capacity of thin film has not met the market demand yet. Over the last five years, thin film products have been increasingly acclaimed since they entered the market. The market demand for thin film products has been soaring, but the capacity has not been able to keep pace with the demand surge.
O’Young further indicated that Sunner Solar plans to go public in 3Q11 at the soonest, and the fund will be used to expand its production line and develop the next-generation mechanically stacked thin film products. Moreover, the solar power industry requires not only cost competitiveness but also sufficient sunlight in order to compete with the traditional power industry. In light of that many Asian countries are blessed with sufficient sunlight, the focus of the solar market will gradually shift to Asia and replace Europe as the biggest solar market in the world. Targeting at the great promise in Asia, the company has been putting more accent on the Asian market. At the moment, Asian countries, including China, Taiwan, Japan and India, take up 90% of Sunner Solar’s business.
At the current stage, the solar industry is expected to face cutthroat market, but O’Young believes that such an expectation only speaks for the monosilicon and polysilicon industries. On account of the large thin film demand, companies have their own market, which liberates them from a fierce competition. In consideration of different technologies, thin film makers are essentially competing with monosilicon and polysilicon manufacturers. As for whether there will be more companies investing in the thin film sector in the future, it closely depends on the trend of the solar industry in the next few years. In regards to the general development of the solar industry, if the industrial chain can vertically integrate upstream material and equipment supply, downstream system, project development and even establishment of power purchase contract, it can spur a more comprehensive and efficient development of the supply chain.
As opposed to other companies extending their product warranties to 25 years, Sunner Solar refuses to follow the trend and depart from its business concepts composed of honesty and stability. The company is undividedly dedicated to improving its product quality instead of cutting price, strengthening its market position by enhancing its products’ added value. For this reason, Sunner Solar still manages to thrive in the ruthless price competition.
Sunner Solar will be exhibiting its latest product at PV Taiwan (October 5-7, 2011) at Booth 1341.