Reported by Jeanny H. Lim
Why did AU Optronics choose to start the solar business?
AU Optronics (AUO) is a global leading manufacturer of Thin-Film Transistor Liquid Crystal Display (TFT-LCD). After more than 15 years of flat planel display business, we see the growth momentum of flat panel display is getting slow and we have been looking for new business. We see green energy is the new trend and the whole group has put some efforts in this field to find a new growth engine for the next 10 years. We think solar is very close to our core technology: In the begining stage, we were looking at the thin-film technology for solar which is very similar to LCD process. However, we soon found out that the business model of thin-film solar is quite different from crystalline solar. And we thought we were not ready for that business even if we have similar technology, so we decided to start from crystalline solar in 2009. At that time, there was the global financial crisis, so we could have a chance to invest in M.Setek in Japan which is good at polysilicon and high-efficiency wafers. We are targeting high-efficiency for crystalline solar.
After that, we realized that we still need cell technology. So, we used M.Setek¡¯s resource and their technology and talked with SunPower, who, at that time, needed a global manufacturing partner. The cooperation with SunPower brought complimentary synergy for both parties. We decided to set up a new joint venture in Asia. It¡¯s a 50/50 joint venture. We supply wafers and SunPower provides cell technology.
Since we see the solar business is a little bit so-called ¡®local business¡¯, we set up three module operation sites in China, Taiwan and the Czech Republic to support our local partners.
M.Setek in Japan for upstream manufacturing, cell technology in Malaysia and module technology in China, Taiwan and the Czech Republic. That is our whole supply chain setup.
Where do you put your focus this year, in terms of business growth and technology development?
This year we are focusing on the European market. Although FiT changes so frequently, it is still the biggest solar market in the world. We are also shooting for the U.S. market. This year we will start some business in the U.S.A. The U.S. market has some great potential for growth especially because they have a very stable policy although it¡¯s very complicated.
Jeanny H. Lim is Editor-in-Chief of InterPV. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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