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Robert Meck, Vice President, Product Engineering, Ascent Solar
Robert Meck, Vice President of Product Engineering reveals how the Colorado-based company plans to scale up mass production in China and how it is targeting niche markets with its unique technology.
The only PV manufacturer in the world that can claim to date a monolithically interconnected CIGS thin film PV on a thin plastic substrate, Ascent Solar has been able to deploy its technology in applications beyond conventional glass-based CIGS.
Q: Having been involved in the semiconductor and solar PV industry for nearly two decades, what would you say were the most significant advancements made in the thin film market in recent years?
A: I think the improvements in fundamental material quality and process control for large-scale thin film PV deposition technologies have enabled rapid and continuous improvement of product efficiency and quality. This coupled with enhanced integrated in-situ process controls is a key enabler for scaling the technology further to larger form factors and faster run rates.
Q: What differentiates Ascent Solar’s CIGS modules from other CIGS modules?
A: Ascent Solar’s award-winning technology employs a CIGS absorber layer deposited on a thin plastic substrate, which is then subsequently patterned via monolithic interconnection to form modules that are lightweight, flexible, very thin, and quite durable.
These positive attributes enable our technology to be deployed in many different applications beyond conventional glass-based CIGS technologies. For example, Ascent modules can serve consumer electronics, transportation, rooftop, building integrated, and aerospace photovoltaic markets.
Q: How many patents does Ascent Solar hold?
A: We presently have 11 patents issued, ranging from processes technology (deposition, monolithic integration), device construction, module design, and product design. Ascent Solar also holds a very strong IP position beyond issued patents in the areas of trade secrets, trademarks, patent applications, and trademark applications.
Q: Your CIGS modules currently cater to Electronics-Integrated Photovoltaics (EIPV) and Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV). What is your outlook for each of these two market segments in the mid-term?
A: We see strong and immediate market potential for Electronics-Integrated Photovoltaics. Our thin, lightweight, flexible modules are perfectly suited for the Outdoor and Urban Consumer Electronics market segments as they enable portable power products and integrate easily into mobile charging solutions being deployed under our EnerPlex brand.
We see long-term potential for the Building-Integrated Photovoltaics market as our flexible and lightweight modules are ideally suited for integration into building rooftops, facades, and large-scale architectures with curved form factors.
Q: You recently signed a JV agreement with the Government of Suqian in China to build a 100MW factory over six years to manufacture Ascent's CIGS modules. Could you tell us more about this joint venture and what it will entail?
A: The early phases of our JV with the City of Suqian Government entail joint investments from both parties to initially establish a 25MW manufacturing facility for photovoltaic and related consumer products by the first quarter of 2016. Additional incentives such as corporate tax, value added tax, personnel accommodations, and land purchase are being provided by the City of Suqian beyond the first two years of the JV that further enable Ascent Solar to expand the commercialization of its proprietary CIGS technology.
Q: In light of the increasing competition posed by Chinese PV manufacturers, how do you plan to distinguish yourself in China and other Asian markets?
A: We are currently the only PV manufacturer in the world that has a monolithically interconnected CIGS thin film photovoltaic technology on a thin plastic substrate. Our strategy is to deploy this unique technology in niche markets where other PV manufacturers cannot compete on module thickness, weight, and flexibility.
Q: How many production facilities do you currently operate?
We currently have one manufacturing facility, co-located at our corporate headquarters in Thornton, Colorado.
Q: Do you have plans to scale up production in the United States?
A: Our plan is to scale up mass production at our Joint Venture in Suqian, located in Jiangsu Province in China. This will enable us to further increase our manufacturing capacity and supply base to further expand our EnerPlex™ brand of Outdoor and Urban Consumer Electronic products.
Q: Speaking of EnerPlex™, your line of consumer products that are integrated with Ascent’s proprietary CIGS technology, which portable products are proving to be the most successful and why?
A: We continue to see strong demand from all of our channels for our Surfr™ Portable Power Phone cases. In today’s market of power-hungry smartphones becoming the main communication tools, the EnerPlex™ line of portable power solutions provides the consumer the extra power they need to remain continuously connected.
Q: Last month, Ascent Solar's PV modules powered one of the first flights of Silent Falcon™ Unmanned Aircraft System, enabling it to fly for a duration of 6 to 12 hours. How do you see the potential of CIGS modules for flight applications?
A: The successful Silent Falcon flight demonstrates the perfect integration of our thin, lightweight technology into unmanned aircraft systems. We see strong growth potential in both the military and commercial markets for integrating our technology into wings and control surfaces as it is a key enabler for extended mission flight time and increased flight functionality.