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“Ascent Solar is an exciting company, which is developing super-thin, flexible solar energy cells. This is the solar energy system of tomorrow and a good fit with Hydro’s energy-efficient building systems, for which solar cells will be an important element,” says Jørgen C. Arentz Rostrup, senior vice president of Hydro’s Energy business area.

Hydro first invested in Ascent Solar in March 2007, and has had the possibility of increasing its ownership stake to 35 percent. Hydro has now exercised this option. The current share purchase totals USD 28.5 million, at USD 9.30 per share. The price is based on an average closing price the last five days before the purchase. This brings Hydro’s total investment in Ascent Solar to nearly USD 50 million.

“We believe there will be continued growth in the solar energy industry, and that the time was right for increasing our stake in Ascent Solar,” says Rostrup.  He adds that solar energy fits in well with Hydro’s expertise in materials, building systems and energy.

Hydro manufactures energy-efficient facade systems of aluminium through the brands Technal, Wicona and Domal in France, Germany and Italy, respectively, and is a major supplier of aluminium-based building systems throughout Europe. Hydro is working with Ascent Solar to develop solutions integrating solar cells in facades.

“There are great opportunities for reducing energy use in buildings, which accounts for 30 to 40 percent of Europe’s total energy consumption. We want to contribute to developing energy-efficient buildings of the future, which will be able to produce as much energy, or more, than they consume,” says Rostrup.

Ascent Solar produces thin-film solar cells through a process in which the metals copper, indium, gallium and selenide (CIGS) are sandwiched in a flexible protective material. The result is a solar cell module that can be shaped in many ways. This makes Ascent Solar’s solutions very adaptable to use in buildings.

Pilot plant

Ascent Solar is based in Denver, Colorado, where the company has built a pilot plant for manufacturing extremely thin solar cell modules. Test production from the pilot plant is to begin shortly. The next step is building a 30 MW production line, which is to be completed in 2009. Production start is planned for 2010.

In contrast to today’s solar cells, which must go through a number of production steps – often at different production sites – production of Ascent Solar’s solar cell modules takes place in a continuous, so-called roll-to-roll process. This, combined with the fact that the concept uses little material, helps lower production costs.

Silicon wafers

Hydro also has an 18 percent ownership stake in the solar energy company Norsun, most recently investing NOK 250 million in the company.

Norsun is now building a plant to produce monocrystalline silisium wafers for use in making solar cells in Årdal, Norway. The first phase of the building is now finished, and test production from this part of the plant has begun.

Norsun has also decided to build a new plant for producing silisium wafers in Singapore, and has entered into an agreement for the production of silisium in Saudi Arabia.

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