FRANKFURT May 29 Abu Dhabi says it will invest
$2 billion in cutting edge solar technology, building thin-film
module production plants in Germany and Abu Dhabi, as it strives
to compete with industry leaders such as First Solar (FSLR.O).
Masdar PV is part of Masdar Initiative, a $15 billion
initiative set up by the Abu Dhabi government to develop
sustainable energy and other clean technologies.
"We are making a very large investment in what will
eventually become a gigawatt multi-country producer, one of the
leading producers globally in thin-film," said Steve Geiger,
director of special projects at Masdar.
Thin-film solar modules are less efficient at turning
sunlight into electricity than silicon-based equivalents, but
production costs are lower because they use little of the
currently scarce solar-grade silicon, if at all.
Masdar plans to set up two thin-film production plants, the
first in Erfurt, Germany, and the second in Abu Dhabi, with a
combined annual production capacity of 210 megawatt. Further
sites could follow, possibly in the United States.
It aims to reach 1 gigawatt of capacity by 2014.
"The idea is to have a smart copy process by which, once we
have the German facility started, to smart copy that back into
an even larger facility in Abu Dhabi and into other countries as
well," Geiger said.
Masdar picked the world's largest photovoltaic market for
its first move to benefit from local expertise as well as from a
favourable government support scheme for renewable energy.
"We appreciate the support that the government is providing,
allowing us to attract and develop high-tech workers to make us
competitive and successful in what is arguably one of the most
competitive industries in the world," Geiger said.
Masdar PV is striving for the top, aiming to compete with
the world's largest thin-film makers, such as First Solar.
"Since they are the world's leading photovoltaic thin-film
company today and they are growing very, very aggressively they
would clearly be one of our prime competitors," Geiger said,
referring to First Solar.
Abu Dhabi's move, however, raised concern that such large
investments could drive smaller German solar companies out.
"This will trigger a wave of consolidation," said Heino
Ruland, market analyst at FrankfurtInvest.
Shares in European solar companies such as Renewable Energy
Corporation (REC.OL), SolarWorld SWVG.DE and Q-Cells QCEG.DE
plummeted on Thursday, also after Merrill Lynch downgraded the
stocks to "sell" from neutral".
"Photovoltaic has really entered a different stage, where
it's a volume game and it's a multi-country platform game,"
Masdar's Geiger said and referred to the market as so-called
"We are very lucky that we have the firepower to place
multiple bets on multiple technologies," he said.
The Masdar Initiative is focused around a new, zero
carbon-emitting "green" city to be completed by 2015 which it
says will be the hub of clean technology businesses, research
and deployment as well as home to 40,000-50,000 people and a
workplace for another 40,000 commuters.
(Editing by Sue Thomas)