Sunny prospects await photovoltaics in 2014

By Jeff Dorsch

The long night in solar energy may be coming to an end.

The comeback from the doldrums of 2011-13 could be told in the stock price of SolarCity, an installer of solar panels for business, government, and homes. Since falling to about $10 a share in early 2013, SCTY shares hit a peak of more than $88 in March. After tailing off this spring, SolarCity’s stock has rebounded in recent weeks, closing on July 1 at $71.22 a share.

Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International last month reported that global bookings for photovoltaic manufacturing equipment were $296 million for the first quarter of 2014, a 44 percent gain from a year earlier. Q1 worldwide billings were $240 million, down 6 percent from the first quarter of 2013, SEMI said, resulting in a quarterly book-to-bill ratio of 1.24 – the first time that ratio has been above parity in three years.

PV equipment makers had to struggle through 2013 before seeing business pick up this year. The book-to-bill ratio for the fourth quarter of last year was 0.61. For all of 2013, billings totaled $1.22 billion, off by 49 percent from 2012’s $2.40 billion, while bookings were $736 million, down 17 percent from the previous year’s $883 million, according to SEMI. Customers in Asia represented 78% of 2013 billings.

The Intersolar North America conference and exhibition will run this week in conjunction with SEMICON West. The conference is scheduled for July 7-9 at the InterContinental Hotel, while the exhibition is July 8-10 at Moscone West.

The U.S. solar market saw 4.2 gigawatts installed last year, and the forecast for 2014 is that American solar power capacity will grow by 5.2 gigawatts to 6.3 gigawatts, according to NPD SolarBuzz.

Belgium’s imec continues to work on thin-film solar cells and silicon-based solar cells. Most of the latter are p-type silicon, but there is a shift toward n-type silicon in solar cells now, according to Philip Pieters, imec’s business development director. These n-type silicon solar cells are capable of an energy-conversion efficiency rate of 21.5 percent, a figure certified by Germany’s Fraunhofer ISE-CalLab. Meco Equipment Engineers worked with imec on the nickel/copper plating for the front contacts on the solar cells, which were fabricated on square substrates measuring 156 millimeters by 156mm.

These processes could be “easily updated” for industry’s use in volume production of silicon-based solar cells, Pieters said.

The Intersolar North America conference will have multiple sessions on photovoltaics, energy storage, and solar heating and cooling on all three days, along with workshops and special events.

Sunny prospects await photovoltaics in 2014, it is clear.