Wed, Dec 31, 2008 - Page 12 News List

AU Optronics turns to solar panels as a source of growth

By Lisa Wang  /  STAFF REPORTER

AU Optronics Corp (友達光電), the nation’s top liquid-crystal-display (LCD) panel maker, said yesterday it would launch its first series of solar panels sometime next year as it seeks to tap into the clean energy sector.

During previous economic troughs in 2001 and 2006, AU Optronics went against the grain by expanding capacity via mergers and acquisitions. This time around, however, it has chosen to diversify into a new field — the solar industry — as a source of growth.

“In addition to its efforts in TFT [Thin-Film Transistor]-LCD technology, AU Optronics is now extending into the clean energy industry, seeking ... promising green business opportunities,” company president Chen Lai-juh (陳來助) said in a company statement.

The Hsinchu-based AU Optronics would launch a trial solar panel production line at an existing LCD panel manufacturing plant in Taichung, the statement said.

The company did not provide details on financing or capacity.

After years of market analysis, AU Optronics said it had set up a special task force known as the Energy Project Office, to lead efforts at the new solar business, it said in the statement.

James Chen (陳建斌), formerly head of the company’s PC panel business unit, would lead the team, the company said. The team will have as many as 30 members, it said.

“AU Optronics made the right move, matching the growing trend of LCD panel makers diversifying into the thin film solar panel industry. It will be an easy entry for panel makers because the sectors share similar processing technologies and materials,” said Arthur Hsu (胥嘉政), a solar industry analyst at Topology Research Institute (拓墣產業研究所) based in Taipei.

“Besides, panel makers can revitalize their old or idle equipment,” Hsu said.

Solar device installations could increase by as much as 14 percent from 5.1 gigawatts this year to 5.8 gigawatts next year, Hsu said. He said he remained cautious about prospects for the solar industry next year, citing the potential impact of the economic downturn.

Making an earlier entry into the solar industry, smaller rival Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp (奇美電子) has invested about NT$2 billion (US$61 million) in creating a new solar cell subsidiary, Chi Mei Energy Corp (奇美能源), in January.

Chi Mei Energy, headquartered in Tainan, is scheduled to complete equipment installation in the fourth quarter and to start mass production in the first quarter of 2009. The production line will make solar panels with 50 megawatt of annual capacity, according to the company's Website.

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