Industry News, Trends and Technology, and Standards Updates

Windmills, solar panels and the effect of feed in tariffs

Solar Panels in Germanyby Bob Reback,
President and CEO

I always enjoy meeting with customers. I may be a little “old school,” but the personal touch of sitting across the table from someone, having a cup of coffee and learning firsthand what they think of our products, our people and our services is always educational, and even more so when the news is not good, as that gives us the opportunity to learn and improve going forward. Of course, the non-verbal communication is often times more important than the words, and you just can’t get that over the phone.

Due to the downturn in economic conditions during late 2008 and early 2009, we limited all company paid travel. As president, I also set the example to use the telephone and web conferences for most customer interactions. As business conditions began to improve in late summer of 2009, we began to relax our travel constraints. This led me to take a business trip to Europe to meet with some of our semiconductor customers as well as a few of our new PV customers.

Being on the road visiting customers usually involves a very full schedule, and Cimetrix business trips are even more so. This business trip started off meeting with customers in The Netherlands and then we drove across Germany meeting with customers in a number of cities as we made our way to our final destination in the Munich area. As we drove across Germany and stopped in a number of cities and small towns, I was surprised to see quite a few modern, high tech windmills, but I was shocked at the solar panels. We saw solar panels on the roofs of commercial buildings, residential building, farms and just about any type of structure with a roof. We saw solar panels in cities, towns and the countryside as we drove by on the Autobahn.

The German government has been the world leader in promoting renewable energy. The German government implemented a program of “feed in” tariffs that provide subsidies for entities (people, businesses, etc.) to install solar panels. As it was explained to me, it is typical in Germany to purchase electricity at a rate of say $0.08 to $0.10 per kilowatt hour. The government feed-in tariff means that if someone installs solar panels on their roof, the German government will guarantee that it will purchase all of the electricity from your solar panels for the next 20 years at the price of $0.45 per kilowatt hour. (Note that the feed-in tariffs decline every year). Since you have a guaranteed contract to sell this electricity to the government, people are able to go to a bank and borrow the funds to cover the upfront costs of installing the solar panels. Then the profit obtained on a monthly basis is sufficient to pay back the loan and interest charges. After about 10 years, the loan is paid off and then the person with the solar panels can enjoy the operating profits for the remaining years on the original 20 year contract. It was fascinating to see firsthand the results of this program, as well as have discussions with many of the German people. Not only did we discuss with many of the engineers that are our customers, but we had discussions with the average citizens in various restaurants and hotels. Everyone knew the term “PV” and there was certainly an air of excitement about leading the world in renewable energy.

You might ask, “How does this affect Cimetrix?” Well the theory is that government feed-in tariffs will stimulate demand, which in turn will stimulate production of more solar panels, which will then lead to improved efficiencies in both the technology used in solar panels as well as the economies of scale, which will ultimately lead to better price/performance solar panels that are cost effective on their own merits without government subsidies. Since solar panels are based on silicon or thin film substrates and have a similar manufacturing process to computer chips, there is a need to continually improve the manufacturing process to make better solar cells and lower the manufacturing costs. That is where factory connectivity and advanced software systems similar to those used in semiconductor manufacturing come into play. Many of the German PV manufacturers have adopted the “PV2” software for connecting manufacturing equipment with factory software. Cimetrix has enhanced its product offerings to meet these needs and hopes the industry is successful in promoting widespread usage of these PV software standards. If this happens, this should significantly increase the available market for Cimetrix products and services.

Topics: Industry Highlights, Doing Business with Cimetrix, Photovoltaic/PV Standards

The Time for Solar is Now

Posted by Cimetrix on Oct 15, 2009 9:30:00 AM

by Stu Benger,
Director of Sales, North America

Solar PowerI’d like to draw your attention to two recent articles by Tom Friedman, a renowned columnist for the NY Times and one of my favorite authors. Tom is far greener than I; however, as an old economics major, I agree with him that it is the economics of the conservation energy that is most critical to our nation generally and the fledging Solar industry specifically. In the first article Tom discusses the growth in Applied’s Solar business and laments that the factories are being built in China. 

In the second article Tom goes on to say that the efforts by the Chinese in PV and their focus on Green Energy should be seen as an event similar to the Russian launch of Sputnik back in the 60’s an event that should be a clear call for action to spur the American people. Sputnik led to the “Space Race” and innovation in every phase of American life from Tang to the internet, but mostly it led to a huge interest in technology. And by the end of the Space Race, America was the technology leader in about every facet of industry one could imagine. However, over the past thirty years, we have turned our interest from making things to making money. We have allowed our best engineers to turn from tweaking hardware for best performance to tweaking trading algorithms that produce a bit more for the hedge funds. I think we need to take a hard look at what Mr. Friedman is saying and call on our Politicians to do the same.

Solar Power is an industry poised for huge growth. The economics of the industry, the high degree of automation that can be used makes this an ideal industry that might just allow the American Manufacturing Sector a chance to crawl back from the dead. If we don’t, I’m afraid it will be a long time before the next opportunity presents itself and when it does it will only be because our children are the new low cost manufacturing site for a dominant Chinese economy.

Cimetrix is dedicated to improving the efficiency of solar cell production and actively seeking avenues for assisting the US solar industry to achieve this goal. We have been involved in the PV-EIS Task Force since its inception. A world-wide factory automation software supplier to the semiconductor industry, Cimetrix is an expert in the SEMI connectivity standards and has already been working with members of the solar industry to implement the new PV2 standard. We offer a complete set of proven and efficient equipment communication software solutions for PV manufacturing.

Topics: Photovoltaic/PV Standards

Have you heard the latest regarding the PV2 standards?

Posted by Cimetrix on Sep 29, 2009 8:19:00 AM

Cimetrix was among those recognized for their work on the PV2 Standard last week. On Tuesday, the PV-EIS task force was awarded the SEMI Europe Standards Merit Award 2009. This was the first time that a team has received the award since it was established in 2001. Our own Bruce Febvret was there to receive the honor on behalf of Cimetrix. He and Brian Rubow have served on the task force since its inception in September 2007.

PV2 Standards Award

Bruce is the one on the left =)

Brian Rubow, principal engineer,will discuss common quality issues and performance challenges for PV 2 Standard implementation. The paper that we presented at the European PV SEC event last week will also be made available to all webinar registrants. 

Topics: Industry Highlights, Photovoltaic/PV Standards

Presenting at the "most inspired platform for the PV Solar Sector"

Posted by Cimetrix on Sep 17, 2009 9:47:00 AM

PV 2 Standard InformationIn June of this year, the SEMI PV 2 Standard - Guide for PV Equipment Communication Interfaces (PVECI) was approved for publication by the global Audits and Reviews Subcommittee.

Curious about the new PV standards? Planning on being in Hamburg, Germany this week? 

Cimetrix will be participating in the Visual Presentations at the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference (PV SEC) in Hamburg, Germany next week.  Bruce Febvret will be representing Cimetrix at the conference and available to answer questions regarding our paper "Maintaining Quality and Performance in your Implementation of PVECI and GEM Standards." He will be near our poster (#2CV.1.77) on Wednesday, September 23 from 8:30 am - 10:10 am. The poster presentations will be on display in the Congress Center Hamburg (CCH) in the POSTER AREA in Halls D, E, F, G and Foyer D-G (2nd Floor). Click here to view a map of the venue.

Won't be in Germany? No problem.  We will be hosting a webinar on the same topic on Thursday, October 1. For your convenience, we will be presenting at 2 different times: 8:00 am MT/ 2:00 pm UTC as well as 5:00 pm MT/ 11:00 pm UTC. Brian Rubow, principal engineer,will discuss common quality issues and performance challenges for PV 2 Standard implementation. The paper being presented at PV SEC will be made available to all webinar registrants. 

Topics: Industry Highlights, Events, Photovoltaic/PV Standards