Signs of recovery in the polysilicon and PV equipment industries: An interview with Jeff Nestel-Patt, Director of Marketing and Communications at GT Advanced Technologies

Jeff Nestel-Patt
Jeff Nestel-Patt

Jeff Nestel-Patt is the Director of Marketing Communications at GT Advanced Technologies. Jeff is responsible for leading the company’s global brand and marketing communications programs working closely with product management and sales to drive global implementation. He successfully led the company’s brand transition from GT Solar to GT Advanced Technologies in 2011.

Jeff drives the company’s communications strategy for its product introductions working closely with the senior technology and sales leadership teams to achieve successful new product launches. Prior to joining GT in 2009, Jeff held senior marketing and communications positions at a number of technology companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 firms. Jeff has written numerous articles that have appeared in technical trade journals and publications throughout his career.

 

Solar Server: In terms of the PV equipment market and the polysilicon market, when do you expect this extended downturn to end and for conditions to improve?

Jeff Nestel-Patt: That's the great crystal ball question. When are we going to see some upstream, positive impact happen in the solar industry? I think we are already starting to see some improvement in market conditions on the downstream side at the module level. I think conditions are just starting now to show some sign of improvement. That will begin to trickle upstream, so that we get more aligned with production and demand.

As you know, right now there is still a huge overcapacity challenge that we face on the upstream side, particularly at the wafering level. We signaled last fall that 2013 was going to be a pretty flat year, as an equipment manufacturer in the solar PV space, so as we look forward I think we will start to see positive signs of recovery beginning in 2014 as we move through that year.

 

Solar Server: In terms of technology, when I spoke to Fatima Toor of Lux Research she said that even amidst this downturn there are still opportunities for PV equipment makers who can differentiate themselves, sheerly out of the need for manufacturers to differentiate themselves by offering higher efficiency products. Do you see this happening, and do you see GT being able to take advantage of that?

Jeff Nestel-Patt: Absolutely. We see the next inflection point in terms of capital equipment growth with the adoption of new technology that is going to be used for the production of new, higher efficiency solar cells. Particularly I am talking in terms of the new N-type technology that is happening and will be starting to grow in the marketplace.

We are upstream from that, so we are investing in crystal growth technology, particularly our high-CZ product set, which is our next-generation product that will  make available high quality silicon material for the production of N-type cells. As the industry starts to recover and there is an incentive for companies to re-invest again, we believe that the high-CZ crystal growth platform will be a logical place for companies to look to invest as they start to re-tool and re-capitalize their production capabilities.

 

Solar Server: In terms of the Hyperion Ion Implantation technology that you picked up from Twin Creeks, to you have any plans to commercialize that any time soon?

Jeff Nestel-Patt: We are definitely working towards the commercialization of that technology. It is still a ways away yet. You are not going to see commercial availability until some time late 2014 to 2015. Hyperion is a very promising technology that we are committed to commercializing. Hyperion offers another opportunity to take the cost out of the PV value chain model.

The goal of the growth of solar PV depends on improving efficiency and lowering cost. Hyperion technology is a very promising technology that we think can provide a breakthrough capability in terms of offering low-cost silicon substrates for the solar PV industry in the future.

 

Solar Server: So is there anything that we haven't covered that you think our readers should know about GT and about the PV equipment and polysilicon equipment spaces?

Jeff Nestel-Patt: We are starting to see some stabilization of polysilicon prices. Our polysilicon technology has allowed manufacturers to survive in the USD 20-25 price point. In other words, you can be profitable, producing high-quality polysilicon at those prices, as opposed to some of the other equipment that is out there. So we feel that we are very well positioned for growth in polysilicon as the industry starts to recover again and begins to grow.

Our reactor technology and our front-end hydrochlorination technology are really well-suited for low-cost, high quality manufacturing, so I think it kind of combines the best of both of those worlds.

 

Solar Server: It has been selling well, at a time when others are not selling.

Jeff Nestel-Patt: There has been some discussion about what is the impact of tariffs on some of the polysilicon industry dynamics. We think that there is an upside opportunity for us, particularly in China, to offer our front-end hydrochlorination technology to help improve the overall quality of some of the silicon being produced there.

We think the imposition of tariffs is overall a bad thing for everybody. But, we think there is an upside for us from a poly standpoint to address what is pretty well understood in the industry; namely, that China's production of high quality polysilicon is really lacking. which is why they import a lot of poly from the US.

We can address that challenge by working with some of the installed customers in China, to provide a gas front-end hydrochlorination solution to some of their polysilicon production facilities.

 

Solar Server: That's very interesting, do you want to talk more about Chinese polysilicon and what it will take the Chinese to get competitive with the imports?

Jeff Nestel-Patt: I think they have to improve quality. The overall issue there is to enhance the overall quality of the production. And that will come with improvements in their fabrication techniques and technologies that they are currently using.

We think that we have a solution to part of that equation, with a gas front-end to a polysilicon production facility. That will help to increase the amount of high-quality polysilicon that is going to be needed for next-generation production.

There is another opportunity there, in terms of consuming the amount of installed production in the country right now. That China can become a net consumer of solar PV, will, I think, help a lot of the installed base of PV manufacturers within China. Maybe more of that capacity can be applied to China’s internal market instead of being exported to regions around the world.

In that, I think it is probably a good thing for the industry, certainly a good thing for the fabricators that are in the country right now, to develop their own internal market. And all of that is part of the industry recovery process in terms of helping it move towards another growth phase over the coming months.