Intersolar Invades North America
The third floor of Moscone West in San Francisco buzzed with visitors and exhibitors at Intersolar, the massive Munich conference’s first foray into North America. Held in conjunction with SEMICON West, Intersolar infused the conference with more photovoltaic technology than it’s seen in previous years, and according to my engineer friend (a SEMICON veteran), more women.
I noticed some eye-candy myself, in the form of solar panels. Thin-film stole the show, but the technology took a backseat to the buzz about a legal battle brewing between exhibitors Applied Materials and Oerlikon Solar. Both companies manufacture and sell equipment for making thin-film solar panels. Oerlikon had been offering turnkey thin-film production lines for a few years when Applied threw its hat in the ring in 2006, and the two companies have been working to out-innovate one another since.
Just before the Intersolar Munich conference this past June—which hosted more than 50,000 visitors—Oerlikon filed a lawsuit against Applied Materials customer Sunfilm, claiming patent infringement for its production process. Many think it is a move aimed directly at Applied, who supplies—you guessed it—Sunfilm’s entire production line. Neither company seems to be talking about it on the record, but sources tell me that Applied is “not sweating it.” Applied didn’t look a bit worried on the Intersolar exhibition floor as a constant flow of visitors stopped to watch a flashy video promoting the SunFab (5.7m2 thin-film) production line Expect an upcoming feature article on the heated competition between Applied and Oerlikon from leading international photovoltaic publication PHOTON International.
Fresh from Wednesday’s press conference with Applied, one international journalist commented to me that he was surprised at how reporters from the top-tier business press knew very little about the Oerlikon lawsuit, and in fact, little about solar itself. As I briefly mentioned to him, most American journalists are working under conditions that don’t allow them time for the in-depth research and reporting they’d love to do in this evolving and complicated industry. The cleantech journalists I know are bright and hungry, anxiously learning everything they can all while withstanding the drama of newsrooms where their colleagues are being laid off or quitting due to corporate politics. My friend, a former cleantech reporter at a fallen-from-grace Bay Area tech publication, discovered the company had quit paying her health and dental insurance after going to the doctor! She was also told by her editor to write only about “breaking news” such as funding, which left her knowledge limited amid a swelling landscape of cleantech players.
The former journalist in me can talk about this all day, but the PR practitioner in me wants to call your attention to thin-film manufacturer (and Schwartz client), Global Solar Energy, who hosted plenty of Intersolar attendees flocking to see its PowerFlex™ Solar Stings, in essence, solar cells on light and flexible foil. Usually the thin-film company with the largest funding round is the media darling of the moment, but Global Solar has been working on its Copper Indium Gallium DiSelenide (CIGS) technology since 1996, making them a veteran in an industry where new companies are constantly popping out of stealth.
For more of the scoop on Intersolar, check out Eric Wesoff’s Green Light blog posts (“Intersolar Hallway Conversations and Rumors Part I and II”) at Greentech Media.
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