SAN JOSE, Calif. — In a major move to expand its operations, Germany’s SolarWorld AG on Thursday (Feb. 2) said that it will assume a 100 percent equity interest in the crystalline solar activities from oil giant Royal Dutch Shell plc for an undisclosed price.
The sale and purchase agreement signed by both parties results in the transfer of the following locations within Shell’s solar unit: Vancouver, Wash.; Camarillo, Calif.; Gelsenkirchen, Germany; Munich, Germany; South Africa and Singapore.
The production capacities that will be transferred to SolarWorld (Bonn) under this agreement amount to some 80-megawatts (MW). The Shell Solar Rural business — and its thin-film solar R&D unit — is not included in the transaction. The parties have agreed not to disclose the financial conditions of the deal.
SolarWorld expects to continue to employ the 575 Shell staff. There will be a one-year employment guarantee for all persons.
With the move, SolarWorld claims it will become the largest producer of solar power technology in the United States. “In view of the recently launched comprehensive funding program in California, the SolarWorld Group will benefit from excellent growth opportunities with this expansion,” said Frank Asbeck, chairman and CEO of SolarWorld, a supplier of solar cells and other products.
In Camarillo, the Shell Group operates an integrated wafer, cell and module production facility that will in future be run by SolarWorld under the name SolarWorld Industries.
In Vancouver, there is an additional production facility for mono-crystalline solar silicon ingots. The mono-crystalline solar technology guarantees the highest yields and thus provides the needed efficiency at the raw material side, according to the company.
The solar cell factory in Gelsenkirchen provides more cell production to SolarWorld’s plant in Freiberg, Germany. By way of the new sales activities in South Africa and Singapore, SolarWorld AG will establish a presence in the promising markets of Asia and Africa.
“These operations will fit well within our portfolio and further strengthen our ability to meet the world’s growing demand for solar energy alternative,” Asbeck said.
“We expect the lower throughput at the sites, due to the silicon supply situation, will end in the near future,” he said. “In parallel to the new raw materials that are included in the transaction, we will make silicon supplies available to the U.S. and/or German locations. At the beginning, we expect capacity utilization of approximately 50 percent at the new locations. Under current plans, we hope to bring production up to full capacity by 2007/2008.”
Thin-film of interest
Meanwhile, Shell does not plan to completely exit from the solar market despite selling a large portion of those operations to SolarWorld.
Shell and Saint-Gobain Vitrage have signed a memorandum of understanding to produce next-generation solar panels.
Shell has developed a new generation of photovoltaic panel based on copper indium selenide (CIS) thin film deposited on glass. This panel does not incorporate silicon wafers, thereby eliminating most of the need for polysilicon materials, according to Shell.
Saint-Gobain Vitrage brings its experience and in-depth knowledge of thin-film layer deposits and glass transformation technologies.
After sizzling growth in recent times, the solar energy market is projected to dim and “hit the wall” for panel, equipment and materials vendors in 2006, warned an analyst.. The projected slowdown in the solar market for 2006 is mainly due to ongoing and severe shortages of polysilicon, one of the key materials used for making solar cells.