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What's Next on Horizon for Solar Energy

The world's largest solar-industry conference gets underway in Spain this week, highlighting technology breakthroughs and dwindling government subsidies.

Written by Ucilia Wang

New solar-power technologies and predictions about policies as well as the next hot markets have framed a solar-energy conference taking place in Valencia, Spain, this week.


European Union Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition

features exhibits by 715 companies and is expected to attract about 20,000 attendees.

The hosting country boasts the world's second-largest solar capacity

Germany has the largest. By the middle of 2007, Spain had installed enough capacity to produce about 600 megawatts of solar power per year.

Spain has become a lucrative market thanks in no small part to its government's generous incentives, which compel utilities to buy solar electricity at prices higher than conventional power. But the government's proposal to reduce those subsidies, which are set to expire at the end of September, has drawn protests and warnings from the domestic solar industry (see "

Spanish Energy Commission Votes to Shrink Solar Incentives

" and "

Spanish Solar Group: Don't Change Feed-in Tariffs

" on

The proposed incentives would cap the total installations in the country at 300 megawatts for 2009, roughly a third or even a quarter of the expected installation capacity in 2008. But Piper Jaffray analyst Jesse Pichel said in a research note that Spanish companies expect the government will actually increase the cap to 500 megawatts for 2009.

Meanwhile, solar companies and analysts have already pegged Italy as the next hottest market in Europe,


reported Tuesday.

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First Solar

(FSLR) - Get First Solar, Inc. Report

in July also said it expects to do more business in Italy, where some of its customers have begun to build power plants (see "

First Solar Posts Blockbuster 2Q

" on

Cramer: My Top Solar Play for 2009 (Video, Aug. 6)

Hear Jim Cramer's take on the future of solar energy and the one stock poised to profit.

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So far this week, companies have rolled out plenty of solar news from the conference and elsewhere:

Solibro, a joint venture between Q-Cells in Germany and Solibro in Sweden, said Tuesday it has begun shipping its first thin-film panels made with copper indium gallium selenide, also known as CIGS. Solibro already has contracts to deliver its CIGS films to HaWi Energietechnik, Sunova, Geckologic, Thermovolt and Sunset Energietechnik. Solibro's factory in Germany can produce 30 megawatts of thin films per year. The company has begun to expand its capacity to reach 45 megawatts. It also is building a second line, with the capacity to produce up to 90 megawatts of films. The line is scheduled to begin production in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Dow Corning on Tuesday introduced two materials for insulating electrical circuitry in solar cells. The two potting agents, PV-7030 and PV-7311, are intended to protect solar cells from moisture, heat and other problems.

DuPont on Tuesday announced a plan to at least double its production of Tedlar films by building a new manufacturing center. Tedlar, made with polyvinyl fluoride, insulates solar cells' electrical wiring and protects them from moisture and other environmental damage. The Wilmington, Del., company has not yet settled on a location for the new manufacturing plant, but it expects to start production in late 2009.

Suntech Power Holdings Co. , a Chinese maker of solar cells and panels, said Tuesday it had signed a seven-year contract to buy polysilicon from DC Chemical Co. in South Korea. Suntech declined to disclose the volumes, but said it expects to pay about $750 million from 2010 to 2016. The deal comes on top of another contract Suntech signed with DC Chemical in May to buy $631 million worth of polysilicon from 2009 through 2016.

Honeywell on Tuesday announced contracts to sell solar electricity to the Dixon Unified School District and the Riverdale Joint United School District in central California. The company didn't disclose the financial terms of the contracts with the two school districts, but plans to install a system would produce more than 1.3 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year at Dixon's new high school, and its systems are expected to generate a total of nearly 1.2 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year at two Riverdale schools, Riverdale High School and the Fipps Primary School. The Dixon system is expected to cover roughly 80 percent of the school's electricity consumption, which the Riverdale installations are expected to defray about 60 percent of the district's electricity use.

XsunX OTC Ticker: XSNX said Tuesday it has won a government contract to build a 100-kilowatt solar-power system in Oregon. The company, based in Aliso Viejo, Calif., said it will disclose more details after the contract is signed. XsunX is currently building its first amorphous-silicon thin-film production plant near Portland, Ore. The plant is expected to start operating with a 25-megawatt capacity in 2009 and reach a 100-megawatt capacity in 2010.

Merck on Monday unveiled the results of its research on a new silicon-dioxide solution that would enable the use of inkjet-printing technology to make solar cells. The German company said its solution, Isishape SolarResis, acts as a barrier that aids in the process of etching silicon wafers into solar cells. Merck said it plans to work with equipment and solar-cell makers to commercialize the technology.

Air Products and Chemicals , based in Albuquerque, N.M., said Tuesday it has inked a contract to sell liquid nitrogen, oxygen, argon and hydrogen to Schott Solar for running a new, $100-million manufacturing plant being built in Albuquerque, N.M. Schott plans to make solar panels and receivers for solar-thermal power plants in the new facility. Schott also intends to spend an additional $400 million to expand its production capacity in the future.

Advent Solar on Monday unveiled a new solar-panel design and manufacturing process, collectively called Ventura Technology, that the company claims marries its back-contact cell design with semiconductor production methods. The company, based in Albuquerque, N.M., said Ventura promises to deliver more productive panels by reducing electrical resistance between cells. The manufacturing method also enables Advent to make the cells using thinner silicon wafers, reducing cost, the company said. The company also announced deals to sell its products to three companies - Enerpoint, MHH Solartechnik and SunConnex. Including these contracts, Advent is scheduled to deliver more than 250 megawatts of products through 2013.

IMEC, a Belgium-based research institute, said Monday it is teaming up with Plextronics in Pittsburgh, Penn., to develop a process for making thin-film solar. The process would make use of Plextronics's materials and ink, which would be deposited on a substrate in a way that resembles printing. Plextronics is also developing flexible electronic displays and LED lighting.

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