Hydro Invests in New Solar Cell Technology

March 20, 2007 by Jeff Shepard

Hydro has entered into an agreement to invest USD 9.2 million in the American solar energy company Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc., which has developed a super thin and flexible solar cell technology. The investment gives Hydro a 23% ownership interest in Ascent Solar.

"Ascent Solar’s flexible thin film is very exciting. Not only due to the low weight that makes the solar cells easy to transport, install and maintain, but also because flexible solar cells have a large number of potential applications in the future," stated Jørgen C. Arentz Rostrup, who heads the market activities in Hydro’s Oil & Energy business area. "It’s our ambition to enhance our activities within solar and building systems. Ascent Solar is among the leading companies in thin film. We are therefore looking for opportunities to develop integrated building solutions together with Ascent Solar."

Ascent Solar Technologies will build a 1.5 MW pilot plant in 2008, and in 2010 it will commence large-scale production from a 25 MW plant. The pilot plant will be located in Denver, Colorado.

"Our stated vision has been to see the day when building integrated photovoltaics will become pervasive and commonplace in the everyday lives of people throughout the world," stated Matthew Foster, CEO of Ascent Solar. There is no better opportunity than to work with one of the world’s leading energy and building systems producers with operations in every continent and nearly forty countries to bring this vision to a reality. We are humbled and excited by the opportunity to make it happen with the Hydro team."

Ascent Solar’s solar cells are extremely thin. The active layer that converts sunlight into electricity is no more than three micrometers thick (three thousands of a millimeter), compared with more than 200 micrometers in today’s solar cells. Ascent Solar produces thin film solar cells by applying a layer of copper, indium, gallium and selenide (CIGS) to a flexible foil that is encapsulated in a protecting material. The result is solar cells that can be bent, rolled, and applied to curved surfaces as well as being used the same way as conventional solar cells. In contrast with today’s solar cells that undergo a number of production steps, often in different plants, Ascent Solar’s cells will be produced in a continuous roll-to-roll manufacturing process. This, combined with low material consumption in the production process, contributes to very low production costs.

In November 2006, Hydro invested NOK 150 million in Norsun, a company planning to open a plant in Årdal, Norway for the production of monocrystalline silicon wafers for solar cells. Ascent Solar is therefore Hydro’s second investment in solar power over the last six months.