The GreenStalk

Innovalight Case Study

Posted in Solar by Paul Grana on June 23, 2010

(A quick interruption of the solar debates series – I’ll return to it with the next post.  But I wanted to comment on some breaking news.)

Innovalight and JA Solar have recently announced a partnership that shows a real-time example of my silicon disaggregation thesis.

A quick background: Innovalight is a startup that is developing a quantum dot ink.  Quantum dots are basically nano-sized particles that capture a very specific wavelength of light, depending on their size.  So these inks can be tuned (simply by controlling their size) to capture extra light beyond the spectrum that a normal solar cell collects.  It’s like a little booster layer that captures more light.

Pretty sexy science.  But what I like even more is that they can deposit their ink using standard printing tools, and integrate this into existing production lines.  (And if, as they claim, it only requires a single step, this implies that there are no other chemical, thermal, or drying steps required.)  So Innovalight doesn’t have to be in the cell manufacturing business.  That’s where JA Solar (a top-5 Chinese solar cell manufacturer) comes in.

From JA Solar’s point of view, this ink can be a huge win.  If, as the article claims, they can transform a 30MW line to a 35MW line, this represents a 14% reduction in cost, both for their cost of goods (because the same physical module produces more power), and for their CAPEX/watt (because the same production line can be amortized over more power produced).  Of course, this is before factoring in the cost of the ink and printing equipment – and there are likely other technical challenges that I won’t get into here.

But most important, in my opinion, is what this signals for the silicon value chain.  Inks could represent one more piece of the market.  There will be competition – perhaps Innovalight will remain dominant, but maybe not.  But either way, silicon modules can assemble the best in class from each of these sub-markets – wafers, cells, inks, etc – and that is good for getting costs down and performance up.

And this competition is something that the monolithically-integrated thin-film players don’t get to benefit from.


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