Schott Solar to establish 300MW of production in China

Germany’s Schott Solar has joined the seemingly endless queue of European PV companies establishing production footprints in Asia, saying it will add 300MW of module capacity through a joint venture with China’s Hareon Solar.

Though the terms of the 50:50 joint venture are unclear, it appears Hareon, a mid-sized integrated PV manufacturer based in Jiangsu province, will produce Schott modules under contract and help market them in China.

Schott Solar currently boasts 500MW of module capacity at two factories in Valašské Mezirící, Czech Republic, and Albquerque, New Mexico. In addition it makes PV wafers in Jena and cells in Alzenau – both in Germany.

The tie-up with Hareon is aimed at tapping the growing solar markets in Asia, according to Schott Group chairman Udo Ungeheuer, although he acknowledges the deal also improves the company’s economies of scale.

“Asia will become one of the largest growth regions for photovoltaics,” Ungeheuer says, adding that the Chinese government is “strongly committed” to building a domestic solar market.

Ungeheuer insists the move is not indicative of a desire to abandon Europe as a manufacturing base, saying that wafer production in Jena will double this year to 500MW to reflect the larger module output.

Owned by the Schott Group, an unlisted German technology conglomerate whose interests span appliances, electronics and pharmaceuticals, Schott Solar cranked out 167MW of modules in 2009 – making it the world’s 14th and Germany’s 2nd largest manufacturer, after SolarWorld. No full-year figures are available for 2010.

In addition to PV ingots, wafers, cells and modules, Schott is one of a tiny handful of firms making receiver tubes for parabolic-trough solar-thermal plants.

Jiangyin-headquartered Hareon claims to be an integrated PV manufacturer, counting BP Solar among its cell customers. Schott insists their deal calls for the exclusive manufacture of Schott-brand modules.

“We will make our own decisions on the raw materials and components we purchase ... and the entire production and final inspection processes will be based on our standards for quality,” says Schott Solar chief executive Martin Heming.

“Production [at Hareon] is characterised by a consistently higher level of automation and mechanisation than is typically seen in PV manufacturing in China,” Heming says.

Debate continues to rage about the long-term future of PV manufacturing in Europe, with many major players, from Q-Cells to REC, having opened huge factories in Asia.

Several weeks ago Germany’s Centrosolar nabbed a deal to make modules for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company at its facility in Wismar, one of the first such instances of Asian solar company shifting production to Europe.

Centrosolar chief executive Alexander Kirsch believes the cost of shipping modules from Asia to western markets -- as well as the currency exposure such lengthy transport entails -- may eventually make it uneconomic to make modules too far from their end market.