By the end of 2007, Sharp succeeded in producing solar cells with a cumulative generation capacity of 3.1 gigawatts, representing nearly 50 years of continuous production and technological refinement since Sharp began in 1959. Mass production began in 1963 and, over the years, Sharp has become a world leader in solar. Cumulative worldwide solar electric system power generation capacity is estimated at 20 GW, with solar cells produced by Sharp representing approximately fifteen percent of that generation capacity. Currently, Sharp solar-powered lighthouses exist in more than 1,900 locations, and over 160 satellites orbit using Sharp solar cells. Through years of leadership at the forefront of the industry, Sharp has had a number of significant developments to its credit:
- Technology to counter light degradation
- Long-term reliability technology
- Advanced construction technology
- Various forms of recycling technology
Thin Film Solar Modules Expand Possibilities
Sharp began research and development into thin film solar cell technology back in 1980. In 2005, mass production of tandem-type thin film solar cells began. Through this development, two types of cells resulted—crystalline types suitable for colder temperatures at high latitudes, and thin film types better suited to warmer regions. Sharp is a unique manufacturer in that they offer both types. Compared to crystalline silicon solar cells, which currently represent the dominant technology, thin film silicon solar cells use significantly less silicon, about 1/100th the thickness of the normal silicon layer. In addition, the production process is far shorter than that for crystalline silicon solar cells. Therefore thin film silicon solar cells are expected to greatly expand the potential of solar energy. Sharp began operation of the new Sakai Plant in Osaka which will produce thin film solar cells. The yearly production of these PV cells will be equivalent to 1 GW generation capacity.
Sun For All
The new Sakai Plant is one of the world's most advanced eco-conscious factories, capable of producing enough thin film solar modules each year to generate 1 GW of electricity. Following the lead of Sharp's Kameyama Plant, which incorporates green factory design principles and where attention is paid to the environment in the manufacture of superior products, the new Sakai Plant in Osaka is being designed as a "super green factory." Technology developed for the manufacture of liquid crystal displays will be employed to produce thin film solar modules. The Sakai Plant will minimize the generation of greenhouse gases while producing solar technology designed to unleash the inexhaustible power of the sun to provide a more stable supply of electricity. The new factory can be considered a "next-generation oil field."