SOLAR PANEL MACHINE MAKER LIKES CHINA
Applied Materials Sees Bright Future in China
Shai Oster (w/Alex Pevzner), May 28, 2010 (Wall Street Journal)
"Applied Materials Inc., the world's biggest supplier of machines that make solar panels and computer chips, said China remains a bright spot for the company, even as parts of Europe remain difficult…In a measure of how important China is to the firm, [Mark Pinto, chief technology officer at Applied Materials] relocated to Beijing in January and the company has built its newest research lab in the western Chinese city of Xian.
"Earlier this month, Applied Materials said it swung to a profit in the second fiscal quarter ended May 2 after revenue doubled when stronger demand for products like cell phones, and personal computers outweighed weakness in the solar panel market…The solar industry has been recovering from a slowdown last year after Spain, one of the world's biggest markets for the alternative energy, abruptly cut generous subsidies it could no longer afford amid the global financial crisis."
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"Now, Applied Materials is planning for a big boost for solar power demand in China…[It signed an agreement] to sell equipment to manufacture thin-film solar panels to China's ENN Solar Energy Co. for a new big solar power farm in Inner Mongolia to be built by China Energy Conservation & Environmental Protection Group, a leading state-owned alternative-energy project developer…Applied Materials [also] signed a preliminary agreement to work with China Energy to monitor the performance of the solar panels.
"Such projects underscore a major shift in China. Until recently, China has moved slowly in developing large solar power farms because government officials worried that they were too expensive. Chinese companies are among the world's biggest suppliers of solar panels, but they have exported most of their products because of a lack of government support for the domestic market, while some markets overseas were booming because of subsidies…[With] government support for wind power means China has the world's biggest installed capacity for wind turbines. Growth is so fast that some 30% of wind power capacity isn't hooked up to the electricity grid and the government has warned that there's overcapacity in turbine manufacturers…"
"Broadly speaking there are two types of photovoltaic cells: crystalline and thin film. Most Chinese solar panel makers manufacture crystalline panels which use more silicone but tend to be more efficient. The newer technology thin-film panels can perform just as well or better in some conditions but are harder to make. Mr. Pinto said thin-film panels are easier to install in big-scale projects like the huge solar power farms China is planning, while the crystalline models are better for rooftops where space is a premium…
"…[T]here is the potential for a glut of solar panel makers in China…Despite gloomy projections, sales have remained surprisingly strong in [some] parts of Europe, especially Germany, and continue apace in Japan and California because panel prices have fallen…Analysts say pressure from low cost Chinese manufacturers has helped push down global prices…"