LG Electronics announced the company’s entry into the United States PV market at the Solar Power International conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Geoff Slevin, recently appointed Vice President of the Solar Division at LG Electronics North America, said that “The U.S. is one of the fastest growing solar markets in the world and is expected to grow significantly over the next several years, in part due to federal and state incentives”. Before joining LG, Slevin was general manager for Carlisle Energy Services and vice president of sales and marketing at BP Solar.
LG plans to capitalize on its existing footprint outside of the US, but it will have to battle hard with well-established American players like First Solar, a thin film leader in the US, or Sunpower , a US leader in monocrystalline, as well as big Chinese competitors such as Suntech or Trina Solar, which sell both mono- and polycrystalline modules.
LG’s plans to enter the US market represent an important milestone for a company that has been investing in solar R&D since 1985. With a team of more than a hundred R&D professionals working on crystalline cells, thin film and module development, LG Electronics plans to invest $824.5 million by 2015 in its solar business. The company is now developing a high-efficiency crystalline cell and its thin film cells are among the most efficient in the market with an initial efficiency rate of 11.1%.
LG’s competitive advantage is not necessarily the warranty of its modules (the standard 12 years at 90% and 25 years at 80%), but rather their advantages lie in their unique features such as a light weight anodized frame design with improved toughness that drains liquid, the Reactive Ion Etching used on the wafers to increase light capture, or the Metal Wrap Through (MWT) technology, which reduces the surface area of silicon covered by metal ribbons, hence increasing efficiency. Further, as part of a larger conglomerate, LG Solar has access to cheaper capital and more resources than a traditional new entrant. This makes the company less likely to disappear in the next 25 years than a smaller company, giving them a head start in bankability and competitiveness.
The products displayed at the Solar Power International conference include LG’s monocrystalline and multicrystalline modules, which will be the first to hit the market, as well as more evolved models for release next year such as a higher power monocrystalline, tandem thin film, metal wrap through (MWT) high performance multicrystalline modules, and Reactive Ion Etching (RIE) modules. The diversity of technologies used in their products will require a heavy investment, considering that each requires different sources of machinery for mass production. Its Korean facilities will produce 120MW in 2010 and the company plans to increase production every year.
LG managed to enter the US market before South-Korean giant Samsung, focused on producing high-efficiency cells at low cost, or Hyundai, also investing heavily in solar energy.