Europe's solar eclipse

Reported by Gail Purvis, Editor, Power Systems Design Europe


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Munich-based InterSolar show dominated by China

In the plethora of opening news at Intersolar, Munich , the ET Solar Group (Nanjing, China) and CECEP Solar Energy Technology (Beijing, China) announced a joint venture to develop and build PV (photovoltaic) plants in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, Africa, and USA. New Energy Engineering Technology, established in Munich, will cover project development, investment, financing, engineering, procurement, and construction of PV plants. It rather set the tone for the whole event. Anyone walking around the 16 Intersolar exhibition halls in Munich could have been hard pressed sometimes to locate European suppliers as huge, immaculate Chinese and Asian stands dominated the walkways. Though the Europeans were taking well-deserved awards for innovation, they do seem to be lacking the long distance financial survival systems needed for staying in the fraught renewable-power business. In PV, the prizes went to MBJ Services mobile PV test centre; to the new power optimizer with global inverter compatibility and advanced safety from Solar Edge, and for the plug-and-play commercial rooftop SOLquick unit, giving cost savings, simplicity, and design advantages from SOLON Corporation. Solar-thermal technologies accolades went to Italy's Soltigua's PTMx parabolic trough mirror from Laterizi Gambettola; Israel's TIGA with its retrofittable Honeycomb Collector, while Switzerland's TVP SOLAR won with MT-Power flat plate, high vacuum panels providing high conversion efficiency at temperatures between 100-200°C, without concentration, for industrial heating and cooling uses. PV-production technology rewarded ISRA Solar Vision for an in-line, multispectral, dual photoluminescence inspection system that accurately detects faulty cells. Pasan scored with its SpotLIGHT 1sec cell tester, and Schott Solar and Schmid Group's TinPad contacts win by substituting for expensive silver and aluminium's deficient adhesion in PV cell manufacture, saving approximately $0.06 per wafer. But if the awards suggest how the technology is developing, they are won against a black backdrop of closure, only slightly enlightened by occasional acquisition. In May, Berlin-based Soltecture, manufacturer of panels based on CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) TFT (thin film technology), applied for insolvency, as did Inventux, an early adopter of micromorph silicon technology. Centrotherm Photovoltaics, second largest equipment supplier in the PV industry based in Balubeuren, southern Germany, and noted for raising cell efficiencies to 13% based on its own TFT equipment and process know-how, is likely to file for bankruptcy protection, with losses of €19.8M on sales of €698.5M in 2011. And while Solarwatt AG presented its new solar power systems, offering an energy storage device and an energy manager so that entire solar power systems can intelligently and gradually take over on-site solar power generation for buildings based on customer needs, it has also filed in Dresden for insolvency. That may just allow it to bring in new financing, speculatively suggested as coming from engineering industrialist, BMW's Stefan Quandt. A similar scything has occurred in the US this year. NovaSolar, emerged from failed OptiSolar, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and iconic Konarka Technologies also filed, though management noted potential acquisition offers to acquire or provide further funding, including from the Chinese government. More than 13 TFT companies have gone bankrupt or closed since April 2010, when SunFilm closed. But, by the start of June 2012 about 40 companies in the PV sector had failed, more than 26 this year, although some have been acquired by China's major players. In January, Chinese LDK Solar announced it was buying into Sunways. It now holds 70.88% of the share capital. Three months later, Solon and Q-Cells, filed for insolvency. Now Chinese-based Hanergy Holding Group is to acquire the TFT solar module maker Solibro, a subsidiary of the insolvent German solar group Q-Cells. Hanergy, believed to be China's largest privately-owned renewable energy supplier, is to retain Solibro's workforce of about 430, and the unit's leaders. Also from China, Aikosolar acquires Dutch TFT Scheuten Solar, combining the "strengths of both continents" and Germany's Solon, that filed for bankruptcy back in December, was acquired in March by surprise player, United-Arab-Emirates-based Microsol. It looks as if Intersolar may have to start planning its future Chinese location, perhaps Dezhou Solar Valley in Shandong province to balance against Munich, San Francisco, and Mumbai.