LG Electronics to invest in Korean solar cell lines

SOUTH KOREA - LG Electronics, the world's third largest appliance maker and a leading global manufacturer of electronics and mobile communication products, has announced it will invest $172 million for building two solar cell lines at an existing plasma panel plant at the Gumi complex, about 100 miles southeast of Seoul.

The electronics major intends to convert A1 plasma panel-manufacturing lines into solar production lines with each having a capacity of 120 megawatts per year.

The project, which is slated to begin next month, is expected to be operational in early 2010. The first line will begin mass production from the first quarter of 2010, and the second line by early 2011.

The lines will be designed to produce crystalline silicon solar cells and modules. The plasma panel facility was shut down in 2007 amidst declining demand, falling television prices and increased popularity of LCD.

LG is making a big foray into the renewable energy business.

As a strategic initiative, LG had acquired the solar cell business from its sister company LG Chem Limited, Korea's leading chemical company, in June 2008. LG also acquired a controlling stake of 75% in German photovoltaic solution provider Conergy AG at a cost of $180 million. The joint venture with Conergy will give LG access to a wide market base and distribution franchise spanning over 20 countries and five continents.

Conergy will leverage on LG's technical expertise in photovoltaic technologies gained from years of research and development.

The companies will jointly manufacture solar modules. The Korean multinational company envisions becoming a leading global player in the solar cell manufacturing business by drawing on its strengths in mass manufacturing and its know-how in photovoltaic technologies.

According to industry experts, crystalline silicon solar cells will take an 80% share of the solar business despite their high costs compared to thin film solar cells. Thin film solar cells are comparatively inexpensive as they consist of coats of light absorption layers and electrodes from various materials on a substrate, while crystalline silicon solar cells use silicon wafer. Crystalline silicon solar cells are the most widely used material in photovoltaic devices.

The global solar-cell market, currently valued at $10 billion, is expected to grow four-fold to $41.7 billion by 2012. In particular, the market for crystalline silicon solar cells is set to surge three times to $31.6 billion by 2012. Share of other solar technologies such as thin-film and spherical is projected to be considerably lower at $5.81 billion.


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