Japanese consumer electronics maker and solar giant Sharp plans to boost its thin film manufacturing capacity six fold. The company is still working on reaching its goal of 1 gigawatt of production capacity by 2010 but Toshishige Hamano, a vice president in Sharp’s solar-battery division, told reporters today that as early as 2014 that number could jump to 6 gigawatts. Hamano, speaking at the opening of Sharp’s new thin-film production line at its Katsuragi Plant, added that Sharp is aiming for a 50 percent market share in thin-film solar by 2012.
With this news we wonder what the fate is of the small thin-film solar startups. If giants like Sharp and Q-Cells are investing millions of capital into scaling up solar lines, how can young, less well-funded companies compete? While demand is still greater than supply, if the real promise of thin-film solar rolling off the production lines as a commodity is to be realized, the smaller startups could really struggle.
Beyond thin film solar, Sharp is looking to regain its title as the world’s largest producer of solar cells. Last year, German solar maker Q-Cells edged past Sharp to become the world’s largest producer of solar cells. According to PHOTON International, Q-Cells produces 370 megawatts of cells in 2007 while Sharp produced 363 megawatts.
Sharp is also producing the machines that make thin film solar cells. Earlier this year Sharp formed a joint venture with chip equipment maker Tokyo Electron — with Sharp owning 49 percent — and the JV expects to start producing and selling the equipment in 2009.