(Note: This article was contributed by Li Hejun, chairman of thin-film solar power equipment supplier Hanergy Holding of Beijing. Li ranks No. 4 on the 2013 Forbes China List Rich published Wednesday. Hanergy in the past 16 months has acquired MiaSole and Global Solar Energy Sources of the U.S. and Solibro of Germany. Click here for a profile of Li in the current issue of Forbes Asia.)
The world’s solar energy industry has been steadily advancing since Bell Labs invented the world’s first modern solar cell in 1954. Witness the gains of the past several years: the total capacity of the photovoltaic (PV) industry was 96.7 gigawatts (GW) of power in 2012, some 32 times its capacity of 2.9 GW in 2004.
This expansion is the result of a shortage of fossil fuels, along with their impact on the environment. New technology has enhanced the efficiency of solar cells and lowered module prices, making it feasible for solar – or photovoltaic (PV) — power generation to expand greatly. Against this backdrop, China, with its strong manufacturing capability, has become the world factory for the PV industry.
Given recent anti-dumping policies by EU and the U.S., it is imperative for China’s PV industry to make strategic changes for sustainability. Prices of polycrystalline silicon and PV modules have plummeted, and many Chinese polycrystalline silicon companies have either closed or filed for bankruptcy.
What is ahead for the global PV business? In light of the global integration of the industry, continual upgrades of technology and equipment, and a growing market for energy, I believe a new age of thin-film solar cells is at hand.
Thin film and crystalline silicon are the two major categories of solar cells. Crystalline silicon represents the first generation of solar cells, while thin film covers the second and third generations. The difference between these two is as big as the difference between cube-box TV and LCD TV. Although crystalline silicon today still accounts for the vast majority of solar cells produced globally, flexibility and thinness are the current trends for solar cells and therefore the future of the PV industry.
Thin film has five advantages over crystalline silicon. First, its raw materials cost less. Second, its “energy payback time” is shorter for buyers. Third, thin film is much more efficient under different levels of lamination than crystalline silicon. Fourth, because it can be flexible, it can be customized for ground, façades, rooftops or any other surfaces. Fifth, it can be applied on a variety of devices.
Thin film technology can be used on devices such as solar emergency lamps, street lights, camping kits or mobile chargers, and can also be applied to automobiles. My company, Hanergy Holding Group, is collaborating with a well-known automaker in China on solar-powered cars. The success of this endeavor would have a profound revolution to the automobile industry. In the building industry, meanwhile, our research indicates that the BIPV (building integrated photovoltaics) and BAPV (business attached photovoltaics) market in China is potentially five times as big as that for automobiles. The PV industry can become a pillar industry and stimulate the development of multiple industries.
Hanergy hopes to be in the lead. Within just a few years, Hanergy has ventured from the traditional hydropower business to the capital- and technology-intensive new energy industry and become one of the world’s largest thin-film solar companies. With production that includes amorphous silicon germanium, amorphous silicon-micro silicon and CIGS (copper indium germanium selenium) technologies, Hanergy’s module efficiency is as high as 15.5% for mass production, and 18.7% for lab performance. Our annual production capacity is 3 GW.
Hanergy some years ago started to conduct research on major PV companies worldwide, focusing on those with leading technologies. We shortlisted some European and U.S. top thin-film companies for due diligence and selected technologies that we believe have the largest potential and the best prospects. When the global PV industry was facing skepticism in 2011, Hanergy went against the tide and began the purchase of three businesses in 13 months:
– On June 5, 2012, Hanergy acquired Solibro of Germany. Using co-evaporation technology, the company is the pioneer and trailblazer for the commercialization of CIGS technology.
– On Jan. 9 of this year, Hanergy acquired MiaSole of California, which uses a proprietary continuous sputtering process without vacuum breakage.
– Finally, in July of this year, Hanergy completed the acquisition of another U.S. company, Global Solar Energy (GSE), whose stainless steel substrate is only 30 micrometers thick and whose commercialization of flexible CIGS thin-film technology is the most seasoned.
Hanergy has since sent engineering teams to the acquired companies to co-develop techniques, equipment technology and product technology. By so doing, Hanergy wishes on one hand to quickly absorb new CIGS technology to facilitate its use in China’s domestic market. At the same time, we wish to reinforce our technical manpower and promote further technology upgrading at the acquired businesses. We have increased module efficiency for mass production by 1.5 and 2.0 percentage points at two of the companies since the acquisitions. With regards to equipment domestication and material supply, Hanergy has also integrated resources and optimized the cost structure of CIGS products to make it more competitive in the marketplace.
With the aim of integrating these global leading PV technologies, Hanergy has adopted an “introduce-absorb-innovate” model and integrated the unique technologies of the three acquired companies, hence consolidating Hanergy’s global leadership role in CIGS technology. Solibro’s co-evaporation technology complements GSE’s early-stage cell production, while GSE’s rich experience in the application of ultra-thin stainless steel substrate and flexible module can enhance MiaSole’s competitiveness of high-efficiency flexible products and expedite its industrialization. MiaSole, strong in equipment and technical processes, can help with the optimization of production and technology use at the other two companies.
Hanergy’s competitiveness in CIGS is reflected in our equipment design and development, our production line integration, and our possession of dozens of core patented technologies including uniform film deposition on large substrates, continuous film deposition without vacuum breakage, and integrated thin-film solar cell interconnection. Our mass production of CIGS thin-film production lines is No. 1 globally, and our conversion efficiency approaches or exceeds that of contemporary crystalline silicon cells.
Professor Jeremy Rifkin in “The Third Industrial Revolution” writes that when information technology combines with energy systems, a major economic revolution will begin. He thinks we are facing a third industrial revolution: the emergence, application and continuous integration of renewable energy technology and information technology like the Internet will bring about another dramatic change to people’s way of production and way of life. I completely agree with his view, and strive to put it into reality.
Hanergy’s mission is: “Change the World by Clean Power.” We believe the core of the Third Industrial Revolution is the new energy revolution, the heart of the new energy revolution lies in a PV revolution, and the center of the PV revolution will hinge on the wide application of thin-film technology. An era is coming when solar power will replace fossil-fuel power on a global scale, leading to great changes in global energy landscape.