A new industry, the photovoltaics, may come to the Chelyabinsk Oblast. The ambitious plans of the regional authorities and business community envisage the establishment of a cluster whose ventures will be making everything needed for the solar power engineering

The Sunny Silicon project based on JSC Kyshtymsky Gornoobogatitelny Kombinat (Kyshtym Mining and Concentrating Integrated Plant) – KGOK – is going to become the cluster’s core. Projects like this are gaining momentum in other regions of Russia, they will not, however, be competing with each other but only with foreign players and for foreign markets.

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Amdex Group (the proprietor of KGOK) has informed RusBusinessNews that the integrated plant is going to establish a vertically integrated production cycle for photoelectric solar energy converters.

KGOK will have to carry out a technical equipment upgrade of the quartz concentrate production prior to actually organising the production of solar cells. This is necessary to be able to get the guaranteed three thousand tons of solar polysilicon annually, which is used to make almost 90% of all solar cells in the world.

At the moment KGOK is testing the first batches of the solar grade polysilicon. Amdex Group reckons that the carbothermic reduction technology used by the plant makes the polysilicon production 1.5 times cheaper than the traditional chlorosilane method.

Aleksandr Korchevskiy, the senior analyst from I2BF Capital Advisors Ltd., told RusBusinessNews that if the traditional technology were to be used in the project of this size, the investment needed would be around 300-400 million US dollars; the carbothermic reduction technology, however, enables a cost reduction of two to four times.

Vadim Kuzmin, the Director General of JSC KGOK, says that the amount of investments in the Sunny Silicon projects is estimated at 180 million dollars. The experimental stage is planned to be completed in 2009; by 2013 the production should reach the projected capacity. It is planned that the project will be financed by a number of Russian and foreign investors, the negotiations are nearing completion currently.

“The carbothermic reduction technology does have one disadvantage – the produced silicon is not sufficiently pure. A number of companies abroad are currently working on this problem but no solution has been found so far. It is most likely that KGOK will have to buy purer silicon and mix it with their product”, presumes Aleksandr Korchevskiy.

According to his data, the world market of polysilicon has been growing 30-40% annually since 2004 due to the rapid development of the solar power engineering, and up until very recently the demand had by far exceeded the supply. In the first half of 2009, however, large production capacities have been commissioned, particularly in China, resulting in the price drop on the spot market from 400 to 80 dollars for one kilo of polysilicon. The long term contract prices have dropped too, although not as much.

“Nevertheless, after this burst the excessive supply led to an adjustment. In recent months the prise has ceased falling and has even shown a small growth”, Aleksandr Korchevskiy points out.

There are several projects in Russia similar to the Sunny Silicon at various stages of development. So, the Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Combine (a part of the state owned corporation Rosatom) has started the polysilicon production with the 200 tons annual capacity in September 2008, so far not reaching the 4,000 tons declared earlier.

The Nitol Group (a part of the multinational Nitol Solar) is operating the first 300 tons per year train of the production in the Irkutsk Oblast and planning to start up the main production with the 3,500 tons annual capacity by the end of 2009. The Chinese SunTech Power is amongst the shareholders of the group, being one of the world leaders in the solar power generation; most of the group’s production output is sold to China. The state owned corporation Rosnano is supporting Nitol’s project having approved the 7.5 billion roubles investment, three billion out of which has been transferred in April.

Zi Poli Tomsk Ltd., a resident of the Tomsk special economic area (OEZ), is planning to commission an experimental polysilicon plant in the autumn. The project cost is estimated at 200 million dollars; the Taiwanese group of companies Lite-On is the key investor.

“A number of foreign investors have abandoned similar projects recently so as to prevent the total slump of polysilicon prices”, Aleksandr Korchevskiy point out. USA, Europe, Japan, China still are going to increase the production volumes in the future. This is due, amongst other things, to the fact that polysilicon suppliers recently have invested vast amounts of money into new production capacities and will have to increase production to cover their fixed costs.

As there is no demand for polysilicon in Russia, the domestic manufacturers are going to face a serious competition in the global market. The product cost plays a key role in this. Zi Poli Tomsk Ltd., for instance, owns the Russian patent for the new fluoride production technology of polysilicon. Employing this technology drives the cost of the product down to about ten dollars per kilo which is three times lower than that made employing the old chlorosilane method.

KGOK’s prospects do not seem bad either. Specialists estimate that the carbothermic reduction technology will halve the cost to 15 dollars per kilogram which would leave the manufacturer plenty of room for manoeuvre.

The Chelyabinsk Oblast is planning the construction of a solar cell plant, as well as the polysilicon production plant. The Tomsk OEZ might go the same way; should Zi Poli Tomsk Ltd. succeed, it is planned to establish there a cluster for the implementation of fluoride technologies. One way or another, Russian solar cells will have to compete for customers in the foreign markets since there is no demand in the RF for them.

Serghey Pikin, the Director of the Energy Development Fund is of the opinion that there are no objective prerequisites for the establishment of photoelectric products market in Russia as yet. Solar power is several times more expensive than traditional and the adopted law on renewable energy sources provides no subsidies for solar energy producers.

“It is possible that several solar energy facilities may be built for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, but these would be built for demonstration purposes only”, the expert reckons.

Nevertheless, he thinks the situation might change if the solar lobby led by Viktor Vekselberg, the proprietor of the Renova Group of Companies, somehow manages to achieve changes which would make the domestic solar energy production profitable.

It is worth mentioning, that in June 2009 Renova and Rosnano have reached an agreement on the establishment of the joint venture for the production of solar modules based on the Swiss thin film technology from Oerlikon Solar. It has been decided that the site for the new plant will be on the territory of JSC Khimprom in the Chuvash Republic. Moreover, a large research centre will be established on the basis of the joint venture. The project start up is planned for third quarter of 2009; it should reach the annual projected capacity of one million modules by the end of 2011. It is expected that more than 20 billion roubles will be invested into the project. By 2015 the turnover of the venture is expected to reach 10.3 billion roubles.

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