There’s a new solar cell company on the scene. Twin Creeks Technologies, a US startup, is looking to disrupt the solar market with its unique way of creating super thin solar cells. In other words, the company is developing a way for solar cell companies to produce solar cells (and, thus, solar panels) much more cheaply.
Twin Creeks is claiming that its manufacturing equipment is much more cost-effective and much more efficient than traditional equipment and that it can produce solar cells for 40 cents per watt, about half today’s leading 80 cents per watt.
If you are not aware, a glut in the solar panel market — a ton of solar panels and not enough demand — has driven down the price of these panels tremendously, so much so that numerous solar companies (e.g. Solyndra) are going out of business, and the ones that remain are facing extremely thin profit margins. Twin Creeks Technologies’ new offering may help some of these companies get back on their feet and start making good money again.
Furthermore, to be cost-competitive with other electricity sources (NOT taking important externalities into account, that is), Twin Creeks contends that the price of solar panels needs to get down to $0.50 per watt, so that the price of installing solar gets down to $1 per watt. I think most experts would agree.
As shared in a post full of new solar charts a few days ago, the price of solar panels (aka solar modules) continues to drop fast, now at $0.97 per Wp. If the price keeps dropping, it will approach the $0.80 cost of manufacturing these modules — that would mean no extra money left over for the manufacturer, of course. But now Twin Creek Technologies has popped onto the scene and claims it can get the manufacturing cost down to $0.40 per Wp….
Twin Creek Technologies’ Breakthrough Manufacturing Process
So, what’s so special about Twin Creeks? Here’s what the company claims: “wafers produced on Twin Creeks’ Hyperion manufacturing system are less than one-tenth as thick as conventional wafers.” One-tenth! (See the second image above.)
“With thin wafers manufacturers can produce more of their products with less raw material and less capital equipment. That means crystalline solar panels that sell for nearly 50 percent less than conventional panels and new generations of inexpensive semiconductors.”
Currently, silicon solar cell manufacturers lose about half their raw material as sawdust when slicing up the cells. More efficiently using this raw material, much more efficiently, makes a big difference. Silicon is the most expensive piece in a completely finished solar module. As an individual component in a solar power system, it is the highest expense.
This huge cost cut also reduces exposure to silicon price swings. “By consuming fewer materials per module, manufacturers are less exposed to swings in commodity prices. Manufacturers can better insulate themselves from fluctuations in spot and contract prices for silicon and other materials.”
Furthermore, Twin Creeks’ process uses an ion implant machine that reduces the need for all sorts of other manufacturing equipment (saws, furnaces, and more), cutting the cost even further.
You might think that silicon wafers one-tenth the size of those in use today would easily break, but they are actually very flexible.
Going on: “Since the resulting thin Si cell is bendable, the traditional glass sandwich is not necessary. The ultra-thin modules can be wrapped in a flexible encapsulant, reducing both weight and cost.”
Out of Stealth
Twin Creeks has completely gone the efficient way of “let’s develop a product people really need and then offer it up for sale” route, not the market-market-market route. As its CEO Siva Sivaram told Greentech Media, “We are a capital equipment company and will remain a capital equipment company. San Jose is where we integrate, Boston is where the equipment is designed and built, and Mississippi is where we demo the process on a 25-megawatt cell line. There has been no marketing and there is one sales guy. We are talking now because we have a product ready to ship along with 20 issued patents and a pile on the way.”
Twin Creeks’ 25-megawatt-per-year solar-cell factory was built in Senatobia, Mississippi, picture below.
The company also has an agreement with Perak State Development Corporation in Malaysia to develop a 500-MW solar module production facility at Perak High Tech Park in Ipoh, Malaysia.
Despite remaining in stealth up until yesterday, Twin Creeks has raised $80 million from Crosslink Capital, Benchmark Capital, Artis, and DAG Ventures for its potentially disruptive, cost-reducing solar manufacturing technology.
If you want more details, or want to watch a video produced by the company on its technology, head on over to Twin Creeks Technologies.
(Note: beyond solar power, this manufacturing breakthrough could also be useful for LEDs, power electronics, 3D packaging, and more.)