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New Photovoltaic Factories and Capacities in Germany

by Rolf Hug

After the solar boom the past couple years, market impulses driven by the Renewable Energy Sources Act (Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz (EEG)) and the 100,000 Roofs Program and in the run-up to the parliamentary elections (Bundestagswahl), demand for photovoltaics at the End of 2002 lay at about the same level as the year before. The manufacturers' uncertainty prior to the elections appears to have vanished with the endorsement of the "red-green" government coalition (SPD (German Social Democratic Party) and the Green Party); the "black-yellow" (CDU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany) and FDP (Liberal Democratic Party) coalition plans to reduce or even cancel solar technology promotional programs have been shelved for the time being.

High-tech solar cell production at Deutsche Cell GmbH High-tech solar cell production at Deutsche Cell GmbH
Pictures: High-tech solar cell production at Deutsche Cell GmbH; Freiberg/Saxony. Photos: Solarworld AG.
The horizons for sun, wind and biomass are bright, the chances for growth are good. During the coalition negotiations parliamentary representatives Hermann Scheer (SPD) and Hans-Josef Fell (Green Party) suggested a "1 million Roofs Program", which aims to expand the 100,000 Roofs Program. In 2002 new factories and higher production capacities arose from the commitments of producers of solar power systems and components. RWE Solar based in Alzenau, Solarworld AG in Freiberg/Saxony, Flabeg Solar in Gelsenkirchen, Solara AG in Wismar and Solvis (Solar heat) have all recently built new infrastructure. Additionally, Shell wishes to significantly expand the capacity of its solar factory in Gelsenkirchen in coming years.

Clearly, Germany is on the way to being a high-tech solar location. In all, capacities rose by about 50 megawatts of peak capacity for silicon solar cells and about 20 megawatts for modules (conservative estimates) with the new factories. Not included in these estimates are BP Solar's (Hameln, Germany) new plans, nor Isofoton's (North Rhine-Westphalia) expansion plans (each with 20 MWp modules), not to mention SolarWorld`s "Solar Factory GmbH"'s (Freiberg; Germany) plans (2 x 25 MWp), which should be realised in 2003. And with the expansion of Deutsche Solar AG's silicon wafer capacity to 120 MW by year's end, the new production line of Deutsche Cell GmbH in Freiberg (for the time being 30 MW), plus Solar Factory's plans, Saxony is becoming an integral solar location within Germany.

Integration at the Highest Technical Level

The Saxon city of Freiberg is on the way to becoming a "Solar Valley" of the eastern Germany. SolarWorld AG with its headquarters in Bonn is concentrating its competence and know-how in what used to be a mining town. The new silver is called silicon. With Europe's largest integrated solar cell factory, SolarWorld completely covers the added value chain of photovoltaics. On September 16 the company opened the highly modernized solar cell factory of Deutsche Cell GmbH, which currently has a capacity of 30 megawatts.

This factory has set the standard for solar cell technology with its technologically advanced configuration and equipment under clean room conditions. Closed process- and material-flow monitoring, tracing of the products through the entire manufacturing process and quality controls at every processing step set the stage for high quality and high value crystalline solar cells with an efficiency over 14 %. At the same time the waste level is significantly reduced in comparison to conventional processes. Besides these advantages, the fully integrated production process makes possible both the flexible control of all necessary auxiliary substances and the continuing optimisation of material input during operation. That not only reduces production costs, but also gives the SolarWorld group additional know-how for the production of solar cells.

Solar cell factory of Deutsche Cell At the red button
Pictures: Solar cell factory of Deutsche Cell; Beginning of production: Engineer Boris Klebensberger (CEO of Deutsche Cell GmbH), Professor Dr. h.c. Lothar Späth (chairman of Jenoptik AG) and engineer Frank H. Asbeck (chairman of SolarWorld AG) at the red button. Photos: SolarWorld AG.
Deutsche Cell GmbH has just recently employed about 85 new associates in the first stage of cell production. The expansion of capacity to 60 megawatts is planned for the 2004/2005 timeframe. To this end, the necessary floor area in the building as well as the needed infrastructure have already been provided. The board of directors of SolarWorld AG will first initiate the production expansion depending on the market and profitability situation. The starting shot for production was given by Professor Dr. h.c. Lothar Späth, chairman of the board of Jenoptik, whose subsidiary "M+W Zander Facility Engineering GmbH" played a definitive role in the turn-key construction of the High-Tech-Factory, which lasted just nine months. The amount invested was 40 million euros.

RWE Solar, Alzenau

On August 27, 2002 the first solar cell production line of the integrated solar factory of RWE Solar in lower Frankish Alzenau began operations. The Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber pressed the red button starting the first production line (15 MWp), which was constructed by RWE Solutions AG. With the so called SmartSolarFab®, an integrated solar factory with 20,000 square meters of production area arose. By 2004 RWE Solar GmbH (previously Angewandte Solarenergie - ASE GmbH) wants to expand production to 60 megawatts of solar cells. The company wishes to invest a total of 150 million euros in order to realise the complete value creation chain of solar energy.

PV production RWE Solar SmartSolarFab at Alzenau
Pictures: left: PV production RWE Solar; right: SmartSolarFab at Alzenau: the long building in the middle of the picture is the roughly 350 meter long production building. Photos: RWE Solar.

Besides highly efficient solar cells, wafers (the source material for solar cells) will also be manufactured in the "SmartSolarFab". The worldwide patented "EFG-Foil Silicon" (Edge defined Film-fed Growth) which up until now has only been produced by the American subsidiary of RWE Solar GmbH, will also soon be produced in Germany. For this purpose RWE Solar is constructing a module line in which a large surface module of the 300 watt class will be produced. By the end of all construction a total of 400 new jobs will have been created for the manufacture of environmentally friendly solar products. Not only do environmentally friendly products arise in the SmartSolarFab®, even the production itself sets new standards for environmental friendliness explains Dr. Winfried Hoffman, CEO of RWE Solar: "Compared to the world standard we save significant amounts of material and energy." In the future RWE Solar will produce a total of 100 megawatts at its four locations, which corresponds to the yearly electricity demand of 25,000 households.

More Modules

The Flabeg-Group, producer of technical glass, mirrors and glass for architecture, is expanding its solar activity: In Gelsenkirchen, Germany a nearly fully automated facility operating in three shifts at an annual capacity of 10.5 megawatts produces up to 70,000 solar modules - if the market demands it. Currently, eight employees produce, frame, pack and ship up to 300 of the modules known by the name MULTISOL daily. In the coming year there could be up to 30 more employees - if demand requires. 6.5 million euros were invested by Flabeg Solar International, and an additional 2.6 million euros were contributed by the states North Rhine-Westphalia and the European Union. Again, the priority was to reduce production costs while simultaneously maximizing the quality. "With the new production line we will reduce the amount of waste to under one percent," announced CEO of Flabeg Solar during an interview with the newspaper DIE WELT. In this way the processing costs per module could be reduced from 1.8 dollars to under one dollar.

Module production at Flabeg Solar International in Gelsenkirchen Module production at Flabeg Solar International in Gelsenkirchen
Pictures: Module production at Flabeg Solar International in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Photos: Flabeg Solar.

In collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institutes for Silicate Research (ISC) (Fraunhofer-Institute für Silicatforschung (ISC) and solar Energy Systems (ISE), Flabeg developed a special glass, which when used as a cover for solar collectors and solar power modules results in substantial energy gains--thus making the use of solar technology more economical. The solar-glass improves the light transparency of module and collector covers over the entire solar spectrum used to produce energy. The output of PV modules is increased by about 3 %, whereas the heat gained by solar thermal collectors increases by up to 15 %.

Solara AG, Wismar

The Hamburg company Solara AG helped with the redevelopment of East Germany: on August 29, 2002 they inaugurated the first and second production lines of the new Solar Power Factory Wismar GmbH. The current capacity of 6 megawatts peak output corresponds to about 2,000 solar power systems for homes. So far 31 employees have been hired, and the capacity expansion planned for the end of 2004 will make a total of 24 MW. The production variety ranges from the smallest modules delivering a peak output of 1.5 watts up to large modules with 450 watts peak output.

Solara Solar Power Factory Wismar Testing of solar cells before they are laminated
Pictures: Solara Solar Power Factory Wismar. Testing of solar cells before they are laminated. Photos: Solara Solar Power Factory Wismar GmbH.

On the occasion of the inauguration the Minister of Economy for the state Mecklenburg/Western Pomerania, Dr. Otto Ebnet, was thankful for the commitment of the solar power factory and praised the future technology: "The market is growing consistently and therefore offers the chance for new jobs for Mecklenburg Western Pomeranians." Thomas Leidreiter, financial chairman of Solara AG elucidated the decision for a location in East Germany: "Here in Wismar we have found very competent, productive and motivated people who, with their commitment and passion, have made it possible to optimally use, further develop and establish the technology that was developed here in Wismar." Leidreiter further stressed that with the production of 6 megawatt solar modules, the Wismar factory is helping to avoid 6,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. When one considers the 26 year useful life expectancy, which is guarantied by the company, then in this time period a total of 156,000 tons of CO2 will have been avoided.

Stock Markets, Plans, Perspectives

Both stock market listed companies Solar-Fabrik AG (Freiburg) and the Berlin Solon AG are also pursuing expansion plans. If and when these plans are carried out depends on the general economical developments as well as on developments specific to the PV market. Currently, solar stocks are having a tough time, even after the election results of September 22, although stock quotes of eco-power producers are higher compared to other bonds. Solar-Fabrik had to substantially downgrade its target growth, while Solon AG hopes to establish a stronger presence in the market through a restructuring of its upper management. Solar stocks are still far from all time highs: Solar-Fabrik AG in October 2002 was quoted at € 2.30 (High € 8.05); Solon stocks were at € 0.6 (High € 20.8). Much better results in comparison came from Solarworld AG: They were able to reach the previous year's results in just nine months, and now the stock is on its way up. That means it's time for an ambitious solar power promotional program: With a goal of 1 million photovoltaic roofs, the market and the technological top position of German manufacturers could both be secured or even improved upon. Then it could be easier for BP Solar to invest in the planned solar cell factory in Hameln, Germany. According to the company the decision has been made that further development depends on the market situation. Things are a bit different at Shell Solar: By January 2003, the Gelsenkirchen solar cell factory's total output will be increased from its present 10 MWp, according to Shell in NRW's Magazine for State Initiatives in Future Energy. With periodic updates in accord with current development, Shell maintains they could even be producing cells with a total output of 100 MWp in 2008.

Bright horizons are also seen for solar thermal technology: Discussions about a "Regenerative-Heat-Act" could provide an impulse for solar heating of potable water and for heating support, thereby stimulating the market.

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