Solar panels aren’t that different, from a manufacturing perspective, than LCD TVs.
That’s one of the reasons South Korean conglomerates like LGElectronics and Samsung aim to become major solar producers. LG todaysaid that it would begin commercial production of solar modules inJanuary. LG’s first factory will have the capacity to produce 520,000modules and it will open another factory in 2011. Rival Samsung, meanwhile, has said it wants to be one of the largestsolar producer by 2015 from a base of effectively zero today.
A portion of the production will go toward solar cells for the domestic market. Approximately 274 megawatts of solar panels were planted in South Korea in 2008,six times the year before, making it the fourth largest marketworldwide for solar-panel installations (and the largest one in Asia),according to research firm Displaybank.
But in South Korea, exports are the where the action is. Governmentpolicies are geared toward stimulating exports and the largeelectronics firms derive most of their revenues from North America andEurope.
Solar is a natural for both LG and Samsung. Solar panels essentiallyconsist of semiconductors intricately laid out on large glasssubstrates. The larger the glass substrate, the cheaper the solarpanels become because more, and more watts of generating capacity, canbe produced simultaneously. The same principles apply in LCD TVmanufacturing and both LG and Samsung are two of the largest and mostproficient LCD makers. The region that houses the manufacturing andR&D base for them and other companies is called Crystal Valley. OneU.S. start-up called Telio Solar, started by ex-Samsung execs, says itcan make copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar cells onmanufacturing lines grafted from LCD factories.
Expect to see both LG and Samsung generate increasing amounts ofattention for energy efficient appliances–both sell upscale appliancesand have touted water and energy efficiency– and manufacturing.Samsung wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from both itsoperations and from the use of its products by 50 percent by 2013 on anormalized sales basis.
"A large portion of our or manufacturing is in semiconductors, sothere, reduction is about simplifying the lines, being more efficientabout processing the wafers," David Steel, senior vice president ofstrategic marketing told us earlier this year. Tinkering with chemical deposition equipment and vacuum pumps cuts 15,000 tons of GHGs a year.
This sort of tinkering, of course, will also reduce the greenhousegas component of their solar cells. It normall takes four years to workoff the carbon footprint of a solar module.