Blog Post

Sharp and Enel Teaming Up on Thin-film Solar

There’s a new power couple in the thin-film industry. Japan’s Sharp announced plans yesterday to invest at least ¥100 billion yen ($1.05 billion) in a venture with Italy’s Enel to manufacture thin-film solar cells and build and own solar power plants in Italy and across the Mediterranean region (hat tip AFP).

Sharp, one of the world’s largest makers of solar cells, and Enel, Italy’s largest electric utility, plan to set up the joint venture in the spring of 2009. Sharp said the venture will develop a number of solar photovoltaic power plants using thin-film solar cells, mainly in southern Italy, that are expected to generate a total capacity of 189 megawatts by the end of 2012. In addition, Sharp and Enel, along with a yet-to-be-named European manufacturing partner, plan to build a factory in Italy with an initial thin-film manufacturing capacity of 480 MW per year, eventually expanding to 1 gigawatt. Sharp said operations are expected to start in mid-2010.

The Japanese firm has big plans for thin film, with Executive Vice President Toshishige Hamano saying in September that Sharp is gunning for a 50 percent market share in thin-film solar by 2012. Sharp opened a new thin-film production line in Japan in September, boosting its capacity to 160 MW per year, up from 15 MW.

Hamano told AFP this week that the new venture is aiming to cut the cost of solar power generation in half by 2010. And he isn’t worried about the credit crunch taking a bite out of the venture’s plans. “Enel’s finances are far more solid than ours,” he said, pointing out that Enel is 31 percent owned by the Italian government.

Thin film got another boost this week with two research studies on developments in the technology that could eventually raise the efficiency of the flexible solar cells. The studies, from the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, look at using a new plastic, as well as anti-reflective and reflective coatings, in the manufacture of thin-film cells.

Sharp said it would invest about ¥100 billion yen for the solar power generating business, but did not disclose any financial details for the manufacturing side. The three companies, including the unnamed third partner, are still working out the details of the manufacturing business, according to Sharp, and plan to sign a memorandum of understanding in December.