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10 April 2013

CdTe PV maker First Solar acquiring silicon PV firm TetraSun to expand addressable market

First Solar Inc of Tempe, AZ, USA – which manufactures thin-film photovoltaic (PV) modules based on cadmium telluride (CdTe) as well as providing engineering, procurement & construction (EPC) services – is acquiring TetraSun of San Jose, CA. The solar PV technology startup was founded in 2009 and has developed a proprietary monocrystalline silicon solar cell architecture capable of conversion efficiencies exceeding 21% with commercial-scale manufacturing costs comparable to conventional multicrystalline silicon solar cells (due partly to having copper electrodes instead of silver).

First Solar signed a definitive agreement to acquire TetraSun from JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp and other investors including TetraSun management. The transaction is expected to close in second-quarter 2013.

First Solar and JX Nippon Oil & Energy have also entered into discussions on an agreement to distribute the technology in Japan. First Solar focuses mainly on utility-scale power plants and does not market its solar panels for rooftop systems but, according to First Solar’s CEO Jim Hughes at an analyst meeting, “Japan is the highest-value, space-constrained market, so that’s why we’re starting there”. TetraSun’s cells have greater energy conversion efficiency than First Solar’s CdTe PV cells. Also, Japan is expected to become the second-largest PV market this year (behind China) after the introduction in July of an incentive program offering above-market rates for energy from renewable sources.

Compared to other high-efficiency crystalline silicon cells, TetraSun’s cell design is said to be simpler and optimized for manufacturing, requiring fewer process steps with wider tolerances. The design enables high-volume production with higher yields using readily available equipment, it is claimed. Cost-effectiveness is further enhanced by using large-format (156mm) n-type wafers and eliminating the need for expensive silver and transparent conductive oxide (TCO).

First Solar says that the technology also benefits from a low temperature coefficient of power, which produces superior energy yields in hot climates compared to typical silicon PV modules. First Solar tentatively plans to begin commercial-scale manufacturing of the new technology in second-half 2014.

“This breakthrough technology will unlock the half of the PV market which favors high-efficiency solutions, which has been unserved by First Solar to date,” says CEO Jim Hughes. “This new capability to meet the needs of customers with distributed generation applications, coupled with our leading CadTel [CdTe] offering which remains the benchmark for utility-scale systems, gives us a unique end-to-end suite of solutions to serve the full spectrum of commercial applications,” he adds.

Joining First Solar brings global reach, financial strength and a proven track record scaling disruptive technologies, says TetraSun’s CEO Denis De Ceuster. “With First Solar we have the freedom to continue our blank-canvas approach, unconstrained by pre-existing designs or production equipment, and backed by the strongest balance sheet in the industry,” he adds.

“JX Nippon Oil & Energy was among the first to recognize the potential of this technology, and we are very pleased to continue working with this leading energy company to bring this product to market,” says Hughes. “Japan is an important market with unique energy challenges, and we believe this new technology is well suited to help them meet their energy needs.”

All 14 of TetraSun’s associates will join First Solar and continue to be based in San Jose. First Solar says that the technical team brings expertise in silicon PV R&D and a track record of innovation at companies like SunPower and Fraunhofer ISE, where they achieved world records for silicon cell efficiency.

According to Hughes, First Solar expects to open a factory that will produce 25-50MW of TetraSun panels next year for the Japanese market, and as much as 100MW annually in total initially.

Tags: First Solar Thin-film photovoltaic CdTe



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