Wed, May 23, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Green Energy to downsize its thin-film solar cell unit

By Lisa Wang  /  Staff reporter

Green Energy Technology Inc (綠能科技), the nation’s biggest solar wafer maker, yesterday said it planned to downsize its struggling thin-film solar cell module business and relocate half of the unit’s staff to solar wafer production.

Demand for thin-film solar cell module was weak, with factory utilization below 50 percent, but the company has no intention of shutting down the factory, spokesperson Christine Chen (陳婷婷) said by telephone.

“We are collaborating with overseas customers on long-term thin-film projects that will be in place for the next three or four years. We have no such plan [to close the plant],” Chen said in response to a report by the Chinese-language Apple Daily yesterday.

The newspaper said the Taoyuan-based company was shutting down its thin-film solar cell module factory because sluggish demand and low equipment usage could exacerbate the firm’s operational problems.

Chen said the thin-film business accounted for just 2 percent of the company’s revenue. About 50 workers, or 3 percent of the firm’s 1,500 workers in Taiwan, would be relocated to the solar wafer business unit.

Green Energy shares plunged 2.65 percent on the report to end at NT$27.55, compared with the TAIEX’s gain of 1.15 percent.

Green Energy’s core solar wafer business is rebounding, with its factory utilization rate rising to 100 percent from about 90 percent at the end of last year, Chen said.

“To cope with growing orders, our factories are running around the clock. We are still unable to fully satisfy customers’ demands,” she said.

On April 30, Green Energy posted its fourth consecutive quarterly loss, of NT$850 million (US$28.81 million) for the first quarter, because of a prolonged industry-wide slump since the second half of last year after European countries unexpectedly cut subsidies on solar panel installation amid deepening global economic weakness.

“Taiwan’s thin-film solar module business has not done well lately because of higher fixed costs and lower conversion efficiency, compared with solar modules made of silicon,” Photonics Industry and Technology Development Association (光電協進會) solar industry analyst Karen Ho (何孟穎) said.

Thin-film solar modules have a conversion efficiency of between 6 percent and 10 percent, far lower than silicon solar modules’ 16 percent rate, Ho said.

“The unfavorable global economic situation and oversupply have further weakened the competitiveness of thin-film solar module makers because they are unable to drive down costs as fast as those manufacturers using silicon to make solar modules,” Ho said.

Last year, worldwide solar cell production grew 28 percent to 29.5 gigawatts from 23 gigawatts in 2010, with thin film production accounting for 11 percent of total production, according to NPD Solarbuzz.

Local thin-film solar cell module maker Sunner Solar Co (旭能光電) doubled its losses last year to NT$474 million from NT$226 million in 2010, according to the company’s latest filing to the Taiwan Stock Exchange.

Another thin-film solar cell module maker, Auria Solar Co (宇通光能), announced last month it would stop trading its shares on the Emerging Stock Market after it failed to submit financial reports to the exchange regulator for last year and the first quarter of this year.

Two weeks ago, Auria said it was seeking government help to roll over its bank loans. It posted losses of NT$358 million in the first half of last year after it lost NT$196 million in 2010.

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