Manz’s headquarters in Reutlingen, Germany

Manz’s headquarters in Reutlingen, Germany

Manz makes solar power economical

The German firm has demonstrated that its thin-film solar panels can produce electricity at a cost similar to fossil fuel and cheaper than wind power

October 2012

The German high-tech engineering firm Manz has announced it has achieved a technological breakthrough: its integrated production line for CIGS (copper indium gallium selenium) thin-film solar panels, the Manz CIGSfab, can be used to manufacture solar panels that in the future will supply power costing between four euro cents (Spain) and eight euro cents (Germany) per kilowatt hour, depending on the location.

This means the cost of solar power is now at a similar cost level as electricity from fossil power plants and is significantly less expensive than electricity from offshore wind parks. Factoring in taxes and duties as well as the rapidly increasing costs of fossil fuels, the green electricity clearly trumps the competition. Dieter Manz, founder and CEO of Manz AG, says: “The new technology has the potential to revolutionise the solar industry.” The CIGS solar panel from Manz was manufactured on a mass production line and has a total panel efficiency of 14.6 per cent. That is a world record in thin-film technology.

Manz not only cuts the cost of solar power through a significant increase in panel efficiency, but also through advancements in the production technology used to manufacture the panels, for example by integrating an increasing number of process steps within the process chain. “The thin-film panels manufactured on our systems are competitive everywhere in the world,” says Dieter Manz. “And as a result, the solar market’s growth will no longer be dependent on national subsidy conditions.”

Manz (left) celebrating the efficiency
and cost-effectiveness of CIGS thin-film
solar panels made by his company

CIGS thin-film solar panels can be manufactured for significantly less than crystalline silicon panels. This is because the semiconductor layer, which absorbs the sunlight, is comprised of one half affordable copper and is less than two millimeters thick – one-hundredth of a crystalline cell.

In addition, when manufacturing thin-film solar panels based on glass, both the complex silicon wafer production process and the need to connect the individual cells together are eliminated. The entire panel can be manufactured on a fully automated production line. In the past, however, thin-film panels could not keep up with the efficiency rates of crystalline silicon panels – a drawback that Manz systems like the fully automated CIGSfab now make up for.

The world record panel is the first time the efficiency of polycrystalline silicon solar panels has been achieved with a thin-film panel. CIGS is considered the solar technology with the greatest potential to further cut costs and increase efficiency rates in the future.

Manz manufactured the world record CIGS panel on its own innovation line in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany. The company acquired this line from panel manufacturer Würth Solar at the beginning of the year. As a result, the high-tech engineering firm has the ability to test and optimise new materials and production processes under mass-production conditions.

Manz offers the only turnkey production line for CIGS thin-film solar panels currently available under the name CIGSfab. It has succeeded in cutting the investment costs for the line by around 40 per cent since it began working with the technology back in 2010. In doing so, the company benefited from its wide-ranging expertise in a variety of technological fields, including automation, laser processes, vacuum coating, metrology, and wet-chemical processes. In this process, the high-tech engineering firm uses synergies that result from making advancements to these technologies in its three strategic areas of business: Solar, Display, and Battery.

Manz AG, based in Reutlingen, Germany, has approximately 2,000 employees, 900 of whom work in Asia. Revenue in the past financial year amounted to more than €240 million ($315 million).

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