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Soitec hit by South African solar delay

19 Jul 2012

French semiconductor materials company expects to report a first-half operating loss of €60 million.

Soitec, the France-based company specializing in semiconductor materials and concentrated photovoltaics (CPV), says that it is focusing on cost control measures while it gears up for a ramp of production at its San Diego CPV facility later this year.

In its first-quarter financial results for fiscal 2012-2013, the firm reported a sharp year-over-year drop in overall revenues, posting sales of €60.3 million.

That anticipated fall in revenue is largely because of lower demand for Soitec’s semiconductor wafers, at a time when the cost of setting up a new volume manufacturing facility for CPV in southern California is hitting the company’s bottom line.

Although it is regarded as one of the leading developers of CPV technology, Soitec’s “Concentrix” division reported no significant sales in the first quarter, and is now facing a delay regarding one of its first major installations – a 50 MW plant set to be built in Touwsrivier, South Africa, that was due to be signed off with a power purchase agreement by the end of last month.

“In South Africa the government has delayed the financial close date for all successful round one preferred bidders [for energy projects],” reported Soitec. “Further information is awaited as the Solar Energy division’s Touwsrivier project falls into this category.”

Despite that delay, Soitec is still expecting to see the first real fruits of its investment in CPV technology towards the end of this calendar year, with more significant sales to follow later.

“In the second half [of fiscal 2012-2013], US operations should benefit from the first deliveries related to our pipeline in California up to 355 MW, which will support further growth,” it noted. “Over the year, the Solar Energy division will continue to carry out significant investments to deliver mainstream revenue in financial year 2013-2014.”

However, Soitec now expects to post a first-half loss of around €60 million, and is taking measures to improve margins. The company stated: “As electronic sales are reducing and no significant contribution is expected from the Solar Energy division in the first half, the group is focusing its efforts on cost control measures which should start to benefit margins in the second half, and cash management to secure continuous implementation of industrial investments to support the industrial ramp in the San Diego factory - as well as strategic research and development programs dedicated to high efficiency solar cells.”

LED wafer venture
Meanwhile, a joint development agreement announced last week with the vertically integrated Chinese LED maker Chongqing Silian Optoelectronics will aim to reduce the cost of solid-state lighting through increased productivity.

The two companies will combine their technologies to produce so-called “template” gallium nitride (GaN) wafers that enable higher-quality LEDs to be manufactured because the light-emitting semiconductor layers in the chip structure can be grown on top of a lattice-matched host material.

Soitec’s Phoenix Labs unit in Arizona has expertise in a deposition technique called hydride vapor phase epitaxy (HVPE), which provides a much faster deposition rate than the more conventional metal-organic vapor phase epitaxy (MOVPE) approach.

Silian acquired the former Honeywell sapphire wafer division back in 2008, and the joint effort is expected to result in initial sampling of GaN templates by the end of this year.

ULO OpticsPhoton Engineering, LLCNIL TechnologySynopsys, Optical Solutions GroupAlluxaEdmund OpticsSacher Lasertechnik GmbH
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