Robo solar: Nanosolar’s new, fully automated solar-panel manufacturing facility near Berlin, Germany, which makes thin-film panels based on the CIGS semiconductor, could lower the price of solar power.
The new manufacturing plant, which assembles Nanosolar’s solar cells into panels, will also help reduce costs. The plant is completely automated, using robots and other equipment, and can process solar cells more than twice as fast as conventional solar-panel factories, Roscheisen says.
Even with these improvements, however, it will be difficult for Nanosolar to compete, especially given current economic conditions. The low costs that Roscheisen cites are attainable only if the plants are operating close to capacity. And so far, actual production is very low. While the new solar-panel plant is designed to make 640 megawatts’ worth of solar panels a year, its current output is only one megawatt a month. That’s because Nanosolar’s panels are not yet “bankable.” That is, the technology hasn’t been proven to the point that banks are willing to finance large projects that use the panels.
And Nanosolar has plenty of competition. Prices for solar panels have recently dropped significantly, in part because demand has dropped, creating an oversupply, and in part because manufacturing technology for conventional solar panels has improved. Roscheisen says Nanosolar can make solar panels for less than First Solar, which is known for having the lowest manufacturing costs in the industry. But Bradford isn’t sure the company will be able to sell its panels at a low-enough price to undercut existing manufacturers and become bankable. “Roscheisen’s theory is right,” he says, “but market conditions might not allow it to come to reality.”