Showa Shellplans to spend 160 billion yen ($1.7 billion) over the next five yearsto boost its thin film solar panel production from 80 megawatts now to1 gigawatt, a company executive told reporters in Tokyo Tuesday (see Bloomberg story).
The oil company started in 2007 the commercial production of solarpanels using copper, indium and gallium (CIS) as the key materials forconverting sunlight into electricity. Showa Shell has two factories inthe Miyazaki Prefecture that could produce a combined 80 megawatts ofpanels per year. It’s looking at converting a former plasma TV factoryinto a third factory, which would start production in 2011.
Interesting, news about Showa Shell’s plan to reach 1 gigawatt inproduction capacity surfaced last June. Back then, the company reportedly said it would spend 100 billion yen ($944 million) to achieve the goal.
CIS panels are close cousins of panesl that make use of copper,indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS). CIS panels should be easier tomake and possibly cheaper, but they also aren’t as efficient at turningsunlight into power as CIGS panels.
Fellow Japanese solar company Honda Soltec, for example, is makingCIGS panels. Honda Soltec started selling CIGS panels for residentialmarket in 2007 and has a factory that could produce 27.5 megawatts ofpanels per year, according to its website. The company started selling its products for the commercial market last October.
A number of CIGS players are startup companies in the United States, including Solyndra, Nanosolar, Miasole and HelioVolt.
Ascent Solar,which is based in Thornton, Colo., is taking a different approach frommany others by using plastic instead of glass on which to deposit theCIGS semiconductors. It announced Tuesday that it would supply solarpanels to 2-year-old Bye Aerospace, which plans to put solar panels onunmanned aerial vehicles for the military market. The aircraftswouldn’t run solely on solar, of course. Bye Aerospace, headquarterednear Denver, has just started approaching the U.S. government with itsproduct idea.