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Emcore adding more capacity for solar in 2008

16 Jul 2007

With a backlog of orders building up in Europe and Asia, and interest growing in the US, Emcore is looking to further expand its solar cell manufacturing capacity.

Demand for concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) systems in Europe's sunniest locations will drive a further increase in multi-junction cell manufacturing capacity at Emcore next year.

With 70–75 MW of annual cell manufacturing capacity already in place at its Albuquerque MOCVD facility, the company is at an advanced stage of negotiations with energy providers in Spain, Greece and Italy over the provision of high-efficiency systems.

And, although most providers in the US are lagging the southern Europeans in terms of their acceptance of the technology, Emcore says that it is now engaged with around a dozen US-based energy companies.

Combined with existing deals to provide CPV systems over the next few years, the likely future uptick in demand for cells means that Emcore will seek to increase its manufacturing capacity during 2008.

At a conference call to discuss Emcore's delayed fiscal second quarter results, CEO Reuben Richards also revealed that the company's research and development team had made further breakthroughs in cell conversion efficiencies that are set to be announced in the near future.

As recently as May, Emcore said that it had improved its technology with an inverted metamorphic cell design, leading to efficiency figures of 30.6 percent for satellite applications, and 37 percent for terrestrial concentrator units. Any additional increases in efficiency will help to drive down the cost per Watt of photovoltaic power generation for Emcore’s existing and future customers.

Emcore's order backlog in satellite solar systems alone already exceeds $100 million, thanks to a government project worth around $70 million over the next two years, and a commercial project worth about half of that during the same time frame.

For the quarter that ended on March 31, 2007, Emcore posted sales of $40 million, of which $13.4 million was attributed to its photovoltaics business. Revenues from the fibre-optic business unit were around $26 million, with build-out of higher-capacity cable access TV networks in the US and Eastern Europe helping to boost sales.

Despite the improving sales picture, Emcore still racked up a net loss of $14.4 million in the March quarter, partly as a result of the legal costs surrounding a stock option investigation.

Emcore is also absorbing high costs at the moment in setting up its terrestrial CPV operations and its development of the cell technology, but revenues from sales of CPV systems are expected to quickly offset that investment over the next few quarters.

Terrestrial system production will begin towards the end of 2007, and Emcore's management is hoping that this switch will help to drive the business to profitability during 2008.

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