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Shining Optimism by the Seine

A rapidly growing market for photovoltaics created a general feeling of optimism at the 19th annual European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition, held in Paris in June. Rusty Schmit, CEO of US PV manufacturing company, Advent Solar, attended the conference and reported that there were over 1,500 people registered. "This is the most commercially- oriented PV conference of the big three technical conferences (the IEEE in the US, the Japanese conference, and this one)," he said. "There appeared to be more exhibitors than in the past, with more real business going on, rather than just casual conversation." "The near-consensus of Germans I spoke to was that the subsidy program would continue for 2 years until the next German election," Schmit said, "and then there was less certainty. Most felt that the program would continue, though the subsidies may be reduced or altered to lessen the cost to the government, which could slow the market, but not in an extremely dramatic way." "There is talk, but just talk," Schmit continued, "of a European-wide feed-in tariff like the program in Germany. It is encouraging that there is some support for this in other countries, but the chances of a European unified program actually being realized is unlikely. Outside Europe, Japan's market seems stable, yet still growing. The subsidy program there is tapering off as planned, but the market channels are apparently well- developed and sustainable." Silicon was the dominant technology at the conference, according to Schmit. "The clear and obvious technology focus in the industry is to go to larger and thinner crystalline silicon cells," he said. "Multicrystalline cells of 210 mm square were on display by Q-Cells, but not yet offered for sale. The industry does seem to be standardizing on the 156 mm square cells for multicrystalline, and 150 mm "semi-square" for single crystal." Back-contact cells also were more prevalent, Schmit said, citing displays by both SunPower and ECN, the Dutch research company, of back-contact cells and modules. Future concepts for silicon that Schmit characterized as receiving a reasonable level of interest from the research community include quantum dots and up-converters, technologies that Schmit called "definitely still pure research, but worth watching." Kristin Martinez is a former energy industry executive and co-founder of Angels with Attitude, an active angel venture fund that was an early investor in Advent Solar, Inc.