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Perovskite pioneer Oxford PV looks past Covid-19

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty





The Covid-19 pandemic has had limited impact on the development of a European production line for perovskite tandem solar cells, and the recent upheaval in equipment will not be an issue, says the chief executive of Oxford PV.

The company is building a 125MW production line for tandem silicon and perovskite solar cells in Germany, based on technology from the University of Oxford and manufacturing equipment from Meyer Burger in Switzerland.

Meyer Burger last week announced a move away from supplying manufacturing equipment and plans to buy a plant where it can make cell, modules and panels. This has potential impact on Oxford PV, where Meyer Burger is a major investor with 18 percent of the company: MEYER BURGER TO RAISE $165m FOR EUROPEAN SOLAR PANEL MANUFACTURING MOVE

“The pilot is relatively small and has been up and running for the last two and a half years and that has helped us to scale, taking the cells from the lab in Oxford for test cells and test for lifetime.  That  is running smoothly, even through Coronavirus, and we split into teams working on alternate weeks,” said Frank Averdung, CEO of Oxford PV.  

“With our manufacturing line we have received all the heterojunction equipment which is currently being installed and upgrading the facility. We had a three to four week delay in getting the equipment in to prevent infections, but overall it will not have an impact on the timeline. We will have all the equipment in by the end of the year and we do the process introduction for heterojuction cell as well as the perovskite cell, with full production of 125MW by mid year. “

The perovskite tandem cell line is just one part of the process, and so not particularly competing with Meyer Burger across the whole process from cell to panel, he says. “We are focused on the cell production, this is where our key knowledge is then it goes to module partners,” he said.

“From their point of view its very logical but it’s a bold move. I’m not aware of any equipment manufacturer having made a successful transition to product manufacturer,” he said. “In the end we would like Meyer Burger to be successful and we would like them to provide equipment in the future and nothing in the current statement contradicts that,” he said. “I hope and expect that would be the case.”

Ironically Oxford PV acquired the site in Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany, from Bosch Solar CISTech in a similar way to Meyer Burger’s proposal.

“I don’t know any of the details on how Meyer Burger is planning to implement their business plan but we are in a special relationship, friends and family, if you like,” he said. “As an investor they are interested in how we can be successful and they are well aware of the benefit of highly efficient cells for the market,” he said.

“They do believe they have an advantage with the heterojunction cell technology and the SmartWire but to put this into perspective the advantage that Meyer Burger has is relatively small compared to what Oxford PV can bring to the party. For example they are still subject to the physical limitation of a single junction silicon cell, and in our view the only way forward from that is the tandem cell.”

Meyer Burger is looking to raise $165m for the next stage, which puts an acquisition of Oxford PV out of reach, he says. “Our current valuation exceeds £160m so its not a small deal,” he said,. “If Meyer Burger is successful then their valuation will go up and then they will have the firepower perhaps, but certainly not at the moment – the immediate hurdle for them is to raise the finance.”

On the whole Averdung is positive. “I think for the European PV industry it’s a good move as it allows us to re-establish manufacturing in Europe. It’s interesting as I see a development over time. When we closed our funding round a year ago we were the only ones announcing a new project and now it seems to be the way forward.”

“It will still take a year for cell production so it will take a while for them,” he said. “One element in PV is you need to be certified with stable source of cells and then you need to get your modules ready and certification takes four to six months so that alone impacts the timeline.”

www.oxfordpv.com

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