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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