Silicon Valley’s Innovalight inks another deal with China solar manufacturer

By Todd Woody
December 21, 2010

CHINA-MIGRANTWORKERS/In another sign of the shifting economics of the solar industry, consider a deal a Silicon Valley startup called Innovalight has made with JinkoSolar Holdings, a Chinese photovoltaic module maker.

JinkoSolar, headquartered in Shanghai, makes silicon ingots and slices them into wafers for photovoltaic cells. The cells are built into photovoltaic modules and packaged into solar panels. The company, which was the listed on the New York Stock Exchange in May, employs 5,600 workers. And with a production capacity of 600 megawatts, JinkoSolar is one of China’s largest, if little known in the United States, photovoltaic manufacturers.

Innovalight makes a silicon ink that when applied to a conventional solar cell increases its efficiency. In the agreement with JinkoSolar, Innovalight will supply silicon ink to the company as well as license its processing technology.

Based in Sunnyvale, Calif., Innovalight abandoned plans to make its own solar panels in late 2008 in the face of growing pressures from low-cost Chinese manufacturers. Instead, it decided to slash its capital costs by licensing its high-tech silicon ink to its erstwhile Chinese competitors. In recent months, Innovalight has also struck deals with Chinese manufacturers Yingli Green Energy, JA Solar and Solarfun.

Innovalight says its silicon ink can increase a solar cell’s efficiency by one percent. As Chinese companies compete to lower costs, that extra edge has proven attractive.

Fang Peng, JA Solar’s chief executive, told me earlier this year that Innovalight helps his bottom line by allowing his company to produce more solar cells at a lower cost.

“In the solar cell industry, efficiency is very, very critical to the cost of production and competitiveness,” said Dr. Fang.

JinkoSolar executives said they expect the silicon ink will let them to produce solar cells with an 18.6 percent efficiency in 2011.

“Innovalight’s silicon ink provides a unique, cost-effective solution that is able to significantly improve the efficiency of our solar cells with a simple one-step upgrade to our existing cell production lines,” Guoxiao Yao, JinkoSolar’s chief technology officer, said in a statement. “Our higher efficiency solar cells will offer a better return on investment for system integrators and further solidify our position as a leading solar cell and module manufacturer.”

Other Silicon Valley companies are seeing a growing market in developing technology to boost the efficiency of what has become a commodity product.

In October, for instance, National Semiconductor announced a partnership with Suntech, one of Chinese biggest photovoltaic module makers, to incorporate its SolarMagic chips into Suntech solar panels to increase their power production.

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