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Solar Frontier: In the forefront of CIS Revolution

In March 2010, Showa Shell Solar, a manufacturer of Copper, Indium and Selenium (CIS) photovoltaic modules, concluded a global branding consolidation under the name Solar Frontier. The company intends to become the worlds largest producer of thin-film photovoltaic panels.
Solar Frontier is spending US$1 billion to convert a former Hitachi plasma-screen television factory into one of the largest solar-panel plants in the world, capable of producing 900 MWs worth of thin-film photovoltaic cells a year. The plant in Miyazaki Prefecture in Japan, said to be the worlds largest CIS production facility with 900 MW of production capacity, will also play an integral part in increasing the companys production by more than 10 times its current level. The manufacturing plant is scheduled to be fully operational by 2011.
Solar Frontiers proprietary thin-film modules substitute silicon with copper, indium and selenium. While not as efficient as crystalline silicon, CIS modules can be produced at lower cost using fewer raw materials and approximately half the manufacturing process steps.
The companys modules are also more environmentally friendly, contain no toxic materials and have a drastically reduced energy payback time, or the period required for the recovery of energy consumed during manufacturing through power generation.
Brooks Herring, Director of International Business at Solar Frontier, reveals the companys plans and strategies for 2010, in the interview with Jeanny Lim, Editor-in-Chief of InterPV.

By Jeanny Lim (swied@infothe.com)



Image of third manufacturing plant in Miyazaki, Japan, which, when operational in 2011, will be the largest CIS solar panel manufacturing plant in the world with a production capacity of 900 MW per year. (Photo by Solar Frontier)


Could you please introduce Solar Frontier?

Solar Frontier K.K., a 100% subsidiary of Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K., manufactures and delivers the worlds most ecological solar panels, offering superior economic benefits, on the worlds largest scale. Our proprietary CIS technology, denoting key ingredients Copper, Indium, and Selenium, combines compelling economics and energy conversion efficiency today--and greater potential for tomorrow--with superior reliability, stability, sustainability, non-toxicity, design, and lower overall energy consumption in the manufacturing process to yield a faster energy payback time. Our newest plant in Miyazaki, Japan, scheduled to commence operations in 2011, will become the worlds largest CIS production facility, at 900 MW per year, and bring us to gigawatt class production levels, enabling us to meet worldwide demand for a new standard in affordable solar panel performance.


What is your production capacity?

Currently, Solar Frontiers production capacity stands at 80 MW per year from our two operational production facilities in Miyazaki, Japan. With the opening of our third plant in 2011, the worlds largest CIS production facility, at 900 MW per year, will bring us to around 1 GW production capacity per year.


Any changes in production plant and equipment during 2009?

Solar Frontier opened its second production plant in 2009, bringing its total production capacity up to 80 MW per year. It also announced in 2009 that it had invested US$ 1 billion in its third plant, which will open in 2011 and give us a total production capacity of around 1 GW per year.


Where do you sell your solar panels the most?

Significantly more of our solar panels were sold in Europe than Japan in 2009.


Brooks Herring, Director of International Business, with a Solar Frontier CIS panel (Photo by Solar Frontier)


Are there any distinctive features in product and technology development made in 2009?

In 2009, our focus continued to be on research and development and we received great feedback from customers on our panels, many of whom reported higher KWh/Whp than the specifications stipulated. We continued to develop our proprietary CIS technology without cadmium or lead and all signs point to a continued high potential for efficiency improvements as demonstrated by 15.7% efficiency on a 30 cm x 30 cm mini-module in 2009. This focus on research is being swiftly applied to mass production through use of a pilot plant we built in 2009 that is equipped with exactly the same machines as used in our upcoming 900 MW third plant meaning we can produce larger panels with high efficiency and yield.


Could you introduce some major products to be released in 2010?

Major product lines in 2010 will remain the same as those in 2009 with CIS panels produced from our first and second plants offering an economically and environmentally compelling solution to customers solar energy needs. We received great feedback from customers about our panels in 2009 and we expect this to continue in 2010 as we look forward to increasing capacity in 2011 to satisfy demand for this great product.


What is your focus in technology development this year?

In 2010, our focus is on the continuing development of the most economically compelling solar energy panels available to customers--driven by our continuing emphasis on leading technological research and development. This is demonstrated in the following three things, for example. Firstly, our focus is on making sure that everything goes as well with plant three as it has with plants one and two and today everything is on time and on budget. Secondly, continuing to improve the efficiency of our proprietary CIS technology highlighted by landmarks such as the recent achievement of an aperture area efficiency of 16.0% on a 30 cm x 30 cm module developed in our laboratories. And thirdly, developing new and superior technologies in the PV panel space such as a semi-transparent PV panel that can be used for windows on buildings and for shade in tropical countries for which we have now achieved around 10% efficiency--double that of our competitors.


What is your sales and marketing strategy for 2010?

In 2010, our sales and marketing operation will expand significantly worldwide with the opening of two overseas offices in Northern California and Munich, further building our global network to facilitate one gigawatt per year of sales and delivery of our proprietary CIS solar panels to customers worldwide. We are focused on showing people around the world that our PV modules today combine compelling economics, non-toxic materials, lower energy consumption in production, increasingly higher efficiency, and greater potential for tomorrow.


How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?

Solar Frontier is focused on delivering the only solar panels in the world that make both economic and ecological sense to our customers worldwide now and into the future. We do this by combining the worlds most sustainable solar panel technology, known as CIS with the most advanced production process--on the worlds largest scale.


Jeanny Lim is Editor-in-Chief of InterPV. Send your comments to swied@infothe.com.


For more information, please send your e-mails to pved@infothe.com.

2010 www.interpv.net All rights reserved.




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