Barron’s checked in this weekend with Applied Materials (AMAT), to see how its young solar business is doing. In short: not good.
Not a surprise though, as all solar companies are in a holding pattern waiting for the credit freeze to thaw, and government subsidy plans to clear up.
Applied Materials thinks it’ll be a year before it gets its solar plans to really take off:
Barron’s: [Mark Pinto, who runs the solar business along with all of Applied’s research] doesn’t think cheaper silicon solar cells will eliminate the cost advantage of “thin film” alternatives like those of First Solar or Applied’s SunFab. His unit also sells tools crucial to making conventional solar cells and he doesn’t believe such cells can be made for much less than $2 per watt of generating capacity. Laboratory versions of his company’s SunFab that put down two layers of power-generating film can make panels at a cost of about $1.50 per watt, says Pinto, and he is confident of getting that down to $1.20 next year. The scale economies of multiple production lines could cut the cost to $1. Unfortunately, he admits, the handful of manufacturers now up and running with SunFab are suffering diseconomies from the small sales volumes of the current solar slump. He says that is a short-term problem.
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