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Feature

SCHOTT Solar sees future as bright


Kari Williamson

Talking to Renewable Energy Focus at Intersolar, SCHOTT Solar CEO Dr Martin Heming said SCHOTT Solar managed to grow in both its concentrating solar power (CSP) and photovoltaic (PV) segments in 2009 despite the economic recession. He believes this is down to having a strong brand and high quality of products.

“No-one would have predicted that this spring would have been a strong one, because you usually have a seasonability – in winter nobody climbs on the roof, but if it announced that the boundary conditions are changing on, for example, 1 April, everyone would like to do it before because ‘who knows what will happen after the 1 April’,” Heming explained as part of the reason for the positive results in 2009.

Solar PV

SCHOTT Solar says the solar PV market is set to grow at least 9.5 GW by 2012, but could reach up to 22 GW in 2012.

Despite the political uncertainties surrounding the German feed-in tariffs, 2010 could be a good year, Heming believes.

This does not mean that solar PV has been unaffected by the economic crisis. “In PV we have had a huge price dump which has also affected us, and it has been a race between the price slump and bringing cost down,” Heming told Renewable Energy Focus.

However, SCHOTT SOLAR was able to leverage between its PV and CSP businesses and its presence in the distribution business. “The pain in PV was there, but not perhaps to the same extent as for some of our competitors,” Heming added.

“If you look at who suffered most during the crisis, they were those that still had no direct market access – like pure module manufacturers.

“The companies which lost most where the wafer manufacturers, because they don’t have direct market access and maybe as a consequence one or two of those companies are trying to establish a presence also in the module part,” Heming reasoned.

SCHOTT’s own target is to get towards 900 GW by 2012. SCHOTT Solar also aims to raise its power warranty that panels will not degrade below 80% after 25 years.

SCHOTT Solar also recently announced that its polycrystalline silicon solar cell has achieved top efficiency of 18.2%. One of SCHOTT Solar’s new monocrystalline modules has achieved efficiencies of up to 14.5%.

Solar PV vs thin-film

Asked about what happened to the boom in interest for thin-film a year or two back, Heming said: “I think there was a hype about thin-film stating that the time of the crystalline technologies was over and the future was thin-film – be it silicon, CIGS [copper indium gallium selenide] or CdTe [cadmium telluride].

“There is a company that has made progress on one of these technologies, but crystalline has definitely shown over the last 18 months the potential to bring cost down to a very, very competitive level, and to bring up efficiencies.

“You cannot only look at €/kWp, you have to look at €/kWh – and there, crystalline is pretty competitive.”

Nonetheless, SCHOTT Solar continues with its thin-film R&D and production, although with different applications. Thin-film is often used on building facades and roofs. It also “has some advantages in harvesting energy when it comes to non-optimal orientation of roofs or when it comes to very hot climates because of the temperature coefficient,” Heming explained.

CSP

SCHOTT Solar’s market share for CSP receivers was over 60% in 2009.

2009 capacities

SCHOTT Solar had a CSP receiver capacity of 1 GW in 2009. For PV – multicrystalline and thin-film, SCHOTT Solar had 360 MWp capacity by the end of 2009.

Asked about how CSP fared with the economic recession, Heming told Renewable Energy Focus: “CSP is a project business where you have quite a bit of stability in what is happening over the next one or two years.” He added that the financial crisis did not stop the construction of projects in 2009 that had already been financed. “So for CSP there is no crisis in terms of operations.”

According to Heming, SCHOTT Solar’s CSP receivers have under 10% emitance and 95% absorbance. Its receivers are larger and have higher aperture, which allows for lower collector costs, and SCHOTT Solar’s CSP products can reduce cost by 10%.

Heming said the fact that CSP can be stored and the energy released when it is most needed, are great advantages, and he predicts “a great future for CSP.”

Asked what differentiates SCHOTT Solar’s CSP receivers from for example those of Siemens, Heming said: “We believe our CSP provides the best cost of ownership for the customer.

“It is very simple: technical performance... There are a number of key parameters and the one parameter is efficiency of conversion of load into heat, the other parameter is: ‘is this efficiency true for year and as well as for year 10?’

“You can lose efficiency if for example the vacuum between the steel and the glass tube is lost because then you have heat conduction going on,” Heming explained.

“The steel and the glass have to be connected and they have huge temperature fluctuations between operation and at night time. We developed a glass where the thermal expansion coefficient is perfectly matched to the steel tube, so physically eliminating the cause of fraction.

“This is unique, we don’t find it in competitors’ products.”

At the moment, SCHOTT Solar uses thermo oil as its heat transfer liquid (HTL), but it is looking into molten salts and direct steam as well.

SCHOTT Solar is also now including Fresnel technology in its CSP portfolio, where direct generation of steam can reach temperatures exceeding 450°C.

Power generation

At Intersolar, SCHOTT Solar announced that it is taking a step into the power generation business.

Its involvement will be based on two models: co-development and turnkey. Either way, the aim is not to own and operate solar plants, but to develop them within partnerships and sell them after completion.

Heming believes it is easier to sell projects on once they are up and running: “It is much easier to sell a project once it has operated for, for example two years, and then to show them [customers] the track record – it’s connected, it’s delivering the power, it’s according to what has been promised, it’s showing the right IRR [internal rate of return] people expect.”

“So the concept here is: we get it up and running, prove that it is working, and then sell it.”

SCHOTT Solar hopes to achieve 20% of its total sales volume with its project business.

However, “we’re not saying we’re a project company, it’s more complementary,” Heming explained.

Policies

Heming was asked at Intersolar about solar’s need for support and incentives. He responded by saying that even coal and nuclear need support. However, solar has the advantage that there is no price inflation in power generation costs over the next 20-25 years. And, as he jokingly said: “If the sun doesn’t shine in 20-25 years, then we have a problem!”

Joking aside, Heming told Renewable Energy Focus: “It is not possible [to live without incentives] because what renewables need is access to the grid, and there has to be a regulation there... You make the investment at the beginning, but the fuel is for free. With the other power plants, you make the investment at the beginning and then you have to pay for the fuel every year.”

2020 targets

When it comes to the EU’s 2020 targets for renewable energy, Heming commented: “If we really, really want it, we can achieve it.

“The PV industry has shown what can be achieved in increasing efficiency and reducing costs.

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