One of the world's largest manufacturer of optical and magnetic storage, New Delhi-based Moser Baer India is set to invest over $1.7 billion (Rs.6900 crore) in expanding its thin film photovoltaic (PV) capacity by 565 megawatt (MW).

A market leader in making PV modules, Moser Baer Photo Voltaic (MBPV) Technologies, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Moser Baer India, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a US-based equipment supplier to secure supply of critical equipment for phased expansion of its thin film PV modules manufacturing capacity in Greater Noida and Chennai.

The MoU will help to increase the company's current manufacturing capacity of 40 MW to 600 MW by 2010, a company official said, adding that the money for expansion will be raised through a mix of debt and equity.

The company will be targeting an annual capacity of 80 MW in the first phase, the official said.

Thin film PV modules use little to no silicon and are known to be less productive than traditional solar panels. Thin film modules are thin material layers ranging from fraction of a nanometer to several micrometers in thickness and are known to use a variety of light absorbing materials like cadmium telluride and are a cost-effective way of converting solar energy into power than the traditional method using crystalline or multi-crystalline silicon wafers.

Even though the efficiency of thin film solar modules is 50-70 percent lower than silicon wafers, the cost reduction can be as high as 50 percent through thin film. Moreover, thin film modules last longer in warmer climes like that of India.

Leaders in the PV industry will continue to emerge on the strengths of rapid scale up and technology differentiation. We see an increasingly significant role for thin film technologies in meeting peaking power requirements and now aim to be a significant player in this arena, a company statement quoted Ravi Khanna, CEO, MBPV, as saying.

Thin film solar modules are ideal for energy farms, rural applications and building integrated PV markets. PV modules based on large area thin film technology provide a path to cost parity between solar generation and grid power. According to market estimates, the thin film based solar modules will see large emerging applications and a robust demand that, according to industry estimates is expected to grow ten fold from 250 MW currently to 2GW with a market size of $5 billion by 2010, the company statement said.

And, the capacity expansion would make MBPV, which is seeking a 30 percent market share, a global market leader.

Thin film solar modules are ideal for energy farms, rural applications and building integrated PV markets. PV panels based on large area thin film technology provide a path to cost parity between solar grid power, the company said in a regulatory filing.

According to a research report by BCC Research Analysis, the global PV market that stood at $12.9 billion in 2007, will grow to an estimated $16 billion by the end of 2008 and is projected to grow to $32.2 billion by 2012.

The rapid growth of PV market will be driven by the global demand for energy of all kinds, the potential problems of climate change, the renewable features of solar energy and improvements in PV technology and materials, it said.

Silicon technology, which accounted for about 89 percent of the PV market in 2007, will continue to dominate, but will represent only 79 percent of the market by 2013.

The research firm estimated that worldwide market for thin film raw materials was at $7.1 billion in 2004 and is projected to reach $13.5 billion by 2009. It said thin films, which accounted for 10 percent of the PV market in 2007, will grow at a 45 percent rate through 2013, driven by improvements in their efficiency and the advent of flexible substrates. Thin films will account for almost 19 percent of the global PV market by 2012, the report said.

MBPV has ambitions of being a major player in the PV business that helps solar energy, which could emerge as a hot business area in the coming years as concerns over global warming makes demand grow for alternative energy sources.

Last year, MBPV invested a lot in consolidating its leadership in the industry. In September it announced that it would set up a solar thin film PV fabrication facility in Chennai for $500 million. At that time, Deepak Puri, managing director, Moser Baer India, said that the total investment throughout India would rise to about $2-2.5 billion in a few years.

In November, the company said it would be investing $150 million in the coming financial year. It also announced that it was setting up a $25 million solar power project in the western state of Rajasthan with an estimated generation capacity of 1-5 MW.

In July, MBPV inked $880 million deal with the Norway-based REC Group for sale and delivery of high-quality, multi-crystalline silicon wafers by REC to MBPV over an eight-year period beginning 2008. REC Silicon and REC Wafer of REC Group are the world's largest producers of polysilicon and wafers for solar applications.

Earlier, MBPV inked a strategic sourcing deal with Deutsche Solar and also acquired a 40 percent equity stake in the Slovenia-based Solarvalue Proizvodnja d.d. which plans to set up a capacity of 4,400 ton solar-grade silicon by end-2008.

Moser Baer is not the only company that wants to enter the game. The shortage of silicon has led to a flurry of investments and interest in creating affordable thin film solar technologies.

Phoenix-based First Solar has proved itself to be one of the leading companies in the arena, particularly after it inked $1 billion in agreements with Babcock & Brown and Ecostream Switzerland last November. First Solar, which is already the largest solar producer in the United States, with a capacity of 60 MW, now has plans to add another 480 MW of capacity.

About Photovoltaic

Photovoltaics (PVs) produce electricity from a light source - sunlight, for instance. A basic photovoltaic, also known as a solar cell, is made by materials such as silicon and thin filaments, commonly used in the micro-electronics industry. Solar cells that are connected together mounted on a frame or platform are called PV modules.

MBPV makes both solar cells as well as modules.