Taipei, Aug. 11, 2006 (CENS)--At least two major thin film transistor-liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) panel suppliers in Taiwan, the No. 1 AU Optronics Corp. (AUO) and No. 2 Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp. (CMO), are actively planning to venture into solar panel business by modifying their old-generation panel facilities, according to industry sources.
Some major equipment suppliers confirmed that some TFT-LCD panel makers contacted them for information on solar panel business.
Industry experts pointed out that the supply shortage of silicon-wafer material for solar-cell production is expected to last through 2010 and erode solar-cell makers' profitability.
Equipment suppliers said that it would cost some US$250 million to set up one 100 mega-watt (MW) solar-panel (based on glass substrate) production line, much lower than the cost for a new-generation panel line.
AUO is reportedly aggressively transferring the production processes at some of its under-3.5th-gneration (3.5G) panel plants into low temperature poly-silicon (LTPS) small- and medium-sized TFT-LCD panel products, so as to avoid fierce price-cutting competition. It is also contacting equipment suppliers for information on solar panel production, as the equipment adopted in front production processes of TFT-LCD panels can be used for solar panels production.
The Chi Mei Group is even more aggressive in developing solar-panel business, equipment suppliers said. The management team of Chi Lin Technology Co. Ltd. Of the group is actively collecting related information, and the Chi Mei Group is likely to step into the solar-panel line either by modifying the front-section equipment of its affiliated CMO or cooperating with some foreign technical partners.
According to some equipment suppliers, the chemical vapor deposition (CVD), cleaning, sputtering front-section equipment used to produce TFT-LCD panels can be used for solar-panel manufacturing after some minor parts are modified. But, they stressed, Taiwan still lacks integrated solar-panel mass-production experiences and techniques and should take at least two years to explore the rising business.
Industry sources also said that once panel makers could prove their substrate-based solar-panel products can compete well with silicon-wafer counterparts, the newcomers might immediately adopt 7G or 8G substrates for mass-production specifications to rapidly and effectively cut solar-panel costs.