3 August 2006


Interview with Jakobus Smit; CEO of Aleo Solar GmbH

In a relatively short period, Aleo seems to have established a strong market position for itself. More than 200 industrial players are already currently manufacturing PV modules. What is the key competence of Aleo and what are its Unique Selling Points to survive in this dynamic market?

A strong brand, a quality product with high yield and a modern, flexible production are the key factors of our success.

With the brand aleo we succeeded in establishing the first brand for solar modules on the market. Today, we and our specialised trade partners benefit from a well introduced brand. But not only our brand policy succeeded, also our quality concept has given us a clear competitive advantage. We have put our focus on the production of quality modules with high yield right from the beginning. Because it is the efficiency of a solar plant that finally counts. Besides the high yield of our modules, it was also important to make the production as flexible as possible. As we have just opened our second factory, we well have the most modern machinery that can fulfil existing and future technology requirements. For example, as one of the first companies, we are able to process the new 8 inch cell. Thin solar cells with far less than 200 μm, in particular, are not a problem for us. Also the world’s biggest laminators with more than 23 square metre laminating surface are located in our factory in Prenzlau. With flexible work time schemes and a staff of highly motivated employees, we also create the precondition that aleo/SMD can adapt anytime to changing market and capacity requirements.



What can you tell us about your company strategy for the next 5 years in terms of product focus and production capacity forecasts?

In the next years, aleo will again surprise with new products. Our development department continually looks after the optimisation of our existing module series and examines new cell types and processing methods.

Just after we inaugurated our second factory in September last year, the extension work at the Prenzlau location was completed. Halfway through the year we will be putting our Spanish factory (with 10 MW) into operation. Depending on the availability of raw materials, we will further extend our total production capacity of 100 MW within the next years

With aleo we will also concentrate on distribution partnerships with producers of high-efficient thin film modules – as additional product to our traditional crystalline module.



aleo is busy with a new manufacturing facility in Spain. Which other countries are likely to be the next target for expansion plans?

In general, for us all countries are interesting that introduce legislation to promote photovoltaics. This will also impact our export quota in 2006. But our main focus will, of course, be on the Spanish market where we are currently establishing our partner network. We are also very pleased that our Spanish production site near Barcelona will start its operation soon. It is very likely that we will also be present in Italy with a sales office.



Can we expect Aleo (SMD) to step into wafer and cell production (vertical integration) to secure their feedstock sourcing?

No, we will further concentrate on our core competence, the production of high-grade solar modules and the distribution of complete PV systems. We are convinced that it is better to make one thing really well instead of several things only by half. But strategic participation in companies from preliminary value chains can be absolutely interesting to us.



Silicon shortages are expected to continue for some 2 years at least. Shell Solar revised its strategy focusing on thin-film technology. Furthermore, you can feel the upcoming interest for concentrator modules. How will crystalline silicon PV technology and aleo survive the comming 10 years?

It is good that the research in the PV sector is driven on continuously and that there are also more and more alternatives regarding the production of solar modules. But only the best technologies will have a chance. One of the outstanding technologies surely is the crystalline option for which I also further see the best opportunities for the next decades. Lack of silicon will probably be a problem for the producers of crystalline modules. We have established firm business relations with cell suppliers and made long-term supply contracts. Should we become convinced that a new technology is promising for the future, we would enter in due course into this form of solar module production. Certainly, with the extension of the CIS production, Shell has given an important signal for a new promising technology.



What has surprised you the most, for example in the area of development, the past few years since the start of your company?

Right from the beginning, we were convinced that aleo would become a big success. But we did not realise at which speed we would actually arrive at the top position of the European solar module manufacturer list. We already were in the black during the first full production year and we were the biggest German module producer by 2003. One year after the commissioning of our factory in Prenzlau, we already had to extend our capacity as the demand for solar modules “made in Prenzlau" had risen so strongly. A year later, a new second factory was even standing in Prenzlau. Today we have one of the biggest and most flexible solar module production lines in Europe. What surprised us most was that even the most conservative growth forecasts were clearly exceeded.



How do you think the solar PV business will look like in 2015 and what will be the position of Aleo Solar?

In the course of political developments and bottlenecks with other energy sources, the forecast is close at hand that photovoltaics will become more and more important. Within this worldwide expanding market, aleo will also further increase its market share and be amongst the main actors of the future.

We feel bound to the Kyoto protocol and want to make our contribution to ensure photovoltaics are counted among the most important energy sources of the future. In order to reach this goal, electricity from PV must become even cheaper. We pursue this goal by regularly increasing the efficiency of our company and the energy yields of our modules. In Germany we have already come a little closer to climate protection by the “Renewable Energy Sources Act” (EEG). An internationalisation of the EEG is also the right way to set up export and to establish PV area-wide in other countries too. In the future, German producers will be amongst the most important players in the PV world market, and the company group around aleo will have a key role as technology exporter. In 2015, the PV business will have extended its network globally, the production facilities will be decentralised and Aleo Solar will have further extended the top position it has today and, at the same time, it will play a leading role in the marketing of high-grade solar module production technology.


Thank you for the interview!

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