Reported by Jeanny Lim (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Let’s start with a brief history of Siliken and the concept behind your technological platform for the solar PV sector. What was the impetus for forming the company?
Siliken was founded in 2001 by Carlos Navarro, Gonzalo Navarro, Alfredo Puche and Francisco Clavel. Three out of four are industrial engineers and at that moment, we saw that there was an intense focus on several technologies, such as the solar PV technology, which showed annual growth rates of 30% since 1996 and offered excellent perspectives. Up to then, PV solar energy had almost exclusively been used in isolated installations for domestic consumption. In 1998, Spain launched the first incentive program for grid-connected installations. In 1999, Alfredo Puche and I had to design a concentration PV module at the University Faculty. This was the seed from which the idea sprouted and which motivated us to start investigating the sector. In this context, Carlos identified the business opportunity to develop the market for grid-connected installations. In 2000, spurred on by him, we decided to venture into the manufacture of PV modules, which we embarked on in 2001 founding the company and designing and launching the first production line. That year, we developed several prototypes and started the marketing side. Until 2002, however, sales were not that considerable. We had to start everything from scratch and we actually designed our own machines, which we are still doing today. In line with our company’s mission, we started this business “with the intention to create, offer, produce and sell technical equipment and solutions for the generation of renewable energy through an industrial project based on cutting-edge technology in order to contribute to sustainable development.” And this is still what we stand for. We thought that the era of fossil fuels as an energy source was drawing to a close and logic would have it that renewable energy would be gradually substituting these fuels in the energy range. We have always believed in the great possibilities for renewable energy.
Now, briefly tell us about your business background. How long have you been involved in solar? And how did you first get interested in this business area?
As I mentioned before, three of the founder members are engineers and were working in the automotive components sector. However, none of us had any experience in the solar sector. Actually, some of us had just started their first job. However, when the idea came up to set up a company for the production of PV modules, each of us stopped doing what we were doing and we all focused on launching a project we really believed in and to which we dedicated an enormous amount of time.
So, as Siliken’s CEO, how exactly do you spend your days?
Basically, my work consists of providing solutions to numerous challenges that emerge on a daily basis, identifying the solution to problems together with my collaborators and planning the future of the company in the short, medium and long term.
What is the company’s greatest achievement so far in terms of contributing to solar PV industry? And how did you accomplish it?
In all modesty, I believe that the company has made several contributions to the PV sector. On the one hand, as from the start, we have always strived to achieve the best quality and ongoing improvement of our products. This has substantially improved the reliability of our products in terms of productivity. And if we have been competitive, I am sure that we have driven other manufacturers to be competitive as well, in the same way that improvements by other manufacturers keep us motivated to continue to improve. This drive ensures that the technology continues to grow more efficient and costs are reduced so that we make this technology more and more accessible to society. On the other hand, I believe that we have also developed a different marketing and distribution strategy, which has always kept us in a privileged position. Nationally, I think we have also put in our five cents to make the Spanish market one of the soundest and most innovative in the world so that Spain is one of the leading references in the PV industry worldwide. Besides this drive for innovation and ongoing improvement, I should mention the vertical integration we started in the value chain at a very early stage with the production of inverters and the construction of the first silicon purification and trichlorosilane production plant in Spain. Later, we continued this vertical integration in the PV sector offering turnkey projects, promotion, other components (structures, electric boards, string monitors, etc.). The next step, which we have already initiated, will be the construction of a high-efficiency cell pilot plant.
What is the biggest challenge confronting Siliken in 2010?
Our main challenge this year is to continue our international expansion into the Czech Republic, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece and Canada. We will also continue allocating resources and efforts to consolidate our Italian, German, French and U.S. branches, which are the most important markets in the world and where we have been operative since 2008. In addition, we will focus on streamlining internal processes, mainly cost reduction and internal control, and, as an obvious sign of the times, cash-flow management.
How do you stand out among your competitors?
We have always put great effort in the continued improvement of our products and services in order to stand out in the quality, reliability and guarantee of our products. Clear signs of this are our Warranty Conditions and After Sales Service, which have reinforced confidence in our brand. Last year, we improved the tolerance of our modules by +3/0% and recently, we doubled the manufacture warranty from 5 to 10 years. We are also clearly customer oriented to cater for our clients’ needs in a customized fashion. We have provided technical and consultancy services to work with our clients on any project. As from the start, we have maintained an equal treatment policy for clients and suppliers alike with medium- and long-term business relationships that foment synergy and trust. Finally, we have proceeded with our international expansion by means of subsidiaries based on a home-grown philosophy and use of resources.
Do you see 2010 as a growth year? Tell us about Siliken’s revenue and profit forecasts in 2010 on the photovoltaic module production and sales.
This sector has a steady growth tendency. Even in 2009, the sector continued to grow at a moderate pace despite the harsh financial crisis. In 2010, the German market had generated a large demand until a cutback of incentives in June. Next to the German market, the Italian, French and U.S. markets will show the largest demand. In Spain, the market is limited to 500 MW annually. Other markets are expected to take off considerably as well, such as the Czech, Belgian, Dutch or the Greek market. This year, the FiT program will be launched in Canada and Great Britain. In this context, Siliken is consolidating its subsidiaries in the main global markets and broadening its international presence in potential markets.
Are there any special activities or plans that are on your 2010 agenda?
Within the PV sector, we will continue to improve the quality of our products and services with a focus on the vertical integration of the company through the production of trichlorosilane, the purification of silicon and the development of high-efficiency silicon cells. Another activity that will be initiated in 2010, with an eye on the future, is to equip the PV systems with the capacity to accumulate energy, which will make this energy predictable. Another key factor of our future strategy is our activity in the low-power wind energy sector. Recently, we have broadened our product portfolio with new air generator models of 1 to 5 kW. We are convinced that low-power wind energy will take off over the next few years because of its numerous advantages: less visual and acoustic impact, decentralization of power production, accessibility, zero loss due to transportation... And shortly, this technology will be ruled by specific regulations that will enable its general use in many countries.
Who are your main customers and how do you reach your potential customers?
We want to keep our client base as diverse as possible, from large investment funds to medium-sized installation engineers and small installers. Our main clients are promoters and investors who want to develop PV installations through one single provider, such as Siliken, who provides all the products and services: production, engineering, installation, operation, maintenance and promotion. Also, many small and medium-sized installers trust Siliken products for their quality, reliability and guarantee. We reach our potential clients in various ways (fairs, direct and indirect marketing, commercial networks...). However, we believe that the most important thing is not the means but rather the contact motivation and our added value; this is the basis of the prestige we have merited through the quality of our products and services.
You are at present operating in Spain, the U.S., Italy, France and Germany. Please introduce your sales network around the world.
Currently, we are consolidating our subsidiaries in Italy, France, Germany and the U.S., the main photovoltaic markets in the world. Up till now, we have advanced quite considerably with new offices and steadily growing staff. In the U.S., we have a plant manufacturing PV modules in San Diego and an office in Carlsbad. In Germany we hold offices in Berlin and Frankfurt, in Italy, in Rome and Milan and in France, in Toulouse and Lyon. In Spain, our commercial presence covers the entire Spanish mainland and the Canary Islands. In 2010, we want to have our own commercial setup in countries where we have had business in 2009 through local account managers, as is the case in the Czech Republic, Greece, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Will there be any geographical expansion for the sales network in the near future?
One of the company’s obsessions is market diversification. In this respect, Siliken’s philosophy is to be present in all of the markets that meet a set of basic conditions regarding stability, radiation, incentives and other factors. Therefore, our international expansion has broadened markets and will continue to do so in the next years. We are aware of several countries that have exceptionally favorable radiation conditions and once they have an incentive program in place, they will develop very rapidly. And when that happens, we want to be there.
What do you do to improve your process?
Ongoing improvement of our products and our production process has been key to our company from the start. One of the company’s main values is to generate its own know-how through its strong commitment to research, development and innovation. We belong to a technology sector that has undergone a staggering development over the past years, with improved equipment efficiency, new product development and cost reduction. From the beginning, we have, therefore, dedicated considerable effort and resources to this strategic area and in fact, one of the activity segments of Siliken is design, production and improvement of production machinery. We design and manufacture our own machines. This makes us very versatile when expanding our production capacity and enables us to continuously optimize our production processes.
What do you think are the new areas of opportunities for Siliken now or in the future?
We think that renewable energy has just come of age and great advances are yet to come that will allow the accumulation of power in off-peak hours and the management of intelligent grids for a more efficient use of the power produced through renewable sources. Accumulation and predictability will be key when grid parity will be a fact. All of this will open new business opportunities in the field of renewable energy, both in the solar and wind energy sectors.
Finally, how will Siliken keep its leading position in the manufacture of photovoltaic modules for stand-alone and grid-connected installations?
Three aspects need ongoing attention: improvement of the production process to continue reducing costs and improving quality, PV cell efficiency, and customized quality service, which sets us apart from the competition.
Jeanny Lim is Editor-in-Chief of InterPV. Send your comments to email@example.com.
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