Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Moser Baer going strong on Solar PV

After establishing its credentials in the world optical storage media market Moser Baer has been expanding its horizons by getting into manufacturing solar photovoltaics.

In late 2005 the company announced that it was getting into the PV business with a $25 million investment into a new wholly-owned subsidiary - Moser Baer Photo Voltaic. With an initial project cost of $58m the target was to reach a capacity of 80MW by 2007.

"Moser Baer is targeting the two segments in the PV value chain that are most attractive from a synergy standpoint, since they also leverage the company’s manufacturing competencies—solar cells and modules. At present, of the multiple technology options, crystalline silicon technology has proven to be the most viable for cell-making, with over 90% of global cell production based on crystalline silicon."

While MBPV seems to be concentrating on crystalline silicon while thin-film is grabbing all the attention, it should be noted that at present both technologies are more or less equal as far as capital costs go. While thin-film has a lot of inherent advantages that should see its cost going down, hetero-structures (as covered briefly here) offer an avenue for big efficiency increases with crystalline solar cells too, and the two technologies might remain neck-to-neck for some time. More importantly crystalline silicon is slightly more of a here-and-now solution.

Even so, MBPV certainly has hedged its bets on the future too. Last year they invested in three companies working on cutting-edge solar PV technologies and have established strategic partnerships with all three. With this they also get their fingers into the solar concentrator PV (Solaria and SelFocus) and nanostructure PV (Stion) pies. The investments are part of an earlier decision to invest $17 m in emerging technologies.

The coup de grace came in earlier this month when Moser Baer acquired Philips' optical technology and R&D subsidiary, OM&T. In many ways this was a dream acquisition for Moser Baer. It will help further consolidate MB in the optical media segment as OM&T is the only company outside of Japan that is shipping Blu-ray discs (MB is already established in the HD DVD-R segment). It also gives MB an entry into new formats like Holographic Storage and leadership position in Test Discs which disk manufacturers use to calibrate their drives. Most importantly the acquisition comes with a pool of highly qualified scientists who will continue to ensure a leadership position for the company in emerging technologies.

MBPV will benefit big time from the acquisition too. "OM&T also possesses world class capabilities in thin film, wet chemical processing, optics & concentration and testing procedures which will enable Moser Baer to take a significant leap forward in R&D efforts in multiple PV technology forays."

In the meantime, MBPV keeps its short-term focus right on track. They seem to have made a significant move to insulate themselves from the (current) world-wide shortage of quality silicon when they announced a partnership with a Solar World group company, Deutsche Solar.

'Commenting on the strategic alliance, Ravi Khanna, CEO, Moser Baer Photo Voltaic Ltd, said, "This arrangement will ensure that we have an assured supply of silicon wafers of top quality at competitive prices. With the agreement, we have secured over 50 per cent of our short- to medium- term requirement of silicon." '

Clearly this is one Indian company which is set for big things in the global solar stakes.