17_Q-Cells

After 50-odd years of talk about its almost boundless potential, the age of pervasive solar power has finally begun. Much credit goes to Germany's Q-Cells, which moved faster than anyone to industrialize the production of crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells—150 million of them in 2008, in fact, and projected to nearly double this year.

At between 15% and 16.6%, the company's PV cells aren't the industry's most energy efficient, but that isn't the key metric here; cost per watt is—and Q-Cells is unmatched among PV makers at scaling and squeezing out production costs. That ingenuity, and resulting revenue of about $1.25 billion in 2008, has made Q-Cells the biggest company by market cap on the TecDAX and may soon catapult it to the main stock exchange's DAX 30 alongside stalwarts like BMW and Deutsche Bank. Q-Cells is also the only big PV maker that has invested heavily in second-generation, thin-film technology, via a spin-off called Calyxo. The company's PV cells aren't the industry's most energy efficient, but that isn't the key metric here; cost per watt is—and Q-Cells is unmatched among PV makers at scaling and squeezing out production costs. But the current leader in the less efficient but far cheaper thin-film tech is Arizona-based First Solar—aka the "Intel of solar"—which is pumping out cadmium-telluride panels at a radically low $1.14 per watt.

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