TOTAL is developing upstream operations through industrial production and downstream marketing activities in the photovoltaic sector based on crystalline silicon technology. The Group is furthermore pursuing R&D investments in this field through several industrial and academic partnerships.
Photovoltaic solar energy has come of age and its growth is accelerating. The steady reduction in photovoltaic electricity costs is increasing solar competitiveness in an ever-growing number of markets, in solar farms and residential and commercial applications.
As of December 31, 2014, TOTAL held 59.77% of SunPower, an American company listed on NASDAQ and based in San Jose, California. SunPower is an integrated player that designs, manufactures and supplies cells as well as the highest-efficiency crystalline silicon-based solar panels in the market. SunPower is also active in the design and construction of large turnkey power plants and in the marketing of integrated solar solutions for decentralized electricity generation.
Upstream, SunPower manufactures all of its cells in Asia (Philippines, Malaysia) and has a total production capacity of 1,300 MW / y. The company is constantly optimizing its production process to reduce costs while maintaining its technological leadership through its significant R&D program. The cells are assembled into modules, or solar panels, in plants located in Asia, the United States, Mexico, Europe and South Africa. A 350 MW / y expansion in capacity was approved at the end of 2013 for a production start-up in 2015.
Downstream, SunPower markets its panels worldwide for applications ranging from residential and commercial roof tiles to large solar power plants.
In 2014, SunPower pursued the construction, in the United States, of the world’s largest solar farm, Solar Star (709 MWp), and continued its international development, building solar power plants in Chile (70 MWp), in which TOTAL has a 20% stake, and South Africa (33 MWp). In South Africa, the construction of another 86 MWp solar farm will start in early 2015.
SunPower is pursuing its development in residential and commercial markets, in particular in the United States, by increasing its service offerings for solar power production, management and financing. SunPower is also developing its Smart Energy activity to allow its residential customers to optimize their power consumption. In 2014, SunPower signed several agreements with companies developing solutions in this domain. The acquisition in 2014 of SolarBridge Technologies, Inc., a micro-inverter producer, will allow the conversion of direct current into alternating current at the panel level and monitoring of each panel’s production, thus optimizing power production.
Other solar assets
In Abu Dhabi, the Shams 1 solar power plant (109 MW of parabolic concentrated solar power) was commissioned in September 2013 with production being sold to the Abu Dhabi Water Electricity Company (ADWEC). TOTAL (20%) is involved in its operation for a 25-year period.
TOTAL owns a 50% interest in the French company Sunzil, which markets photovoltaic panels in French overseas territories. The Group is developing projects to install decentralized solar solutions in rural electrification initiatives in a number of countries, including in South Africa via Kwazulu Energy Services Company (KES), in which TOTAL holds a 35% stake (for more information, refer to point 3.4. of chapter 7).
New solar technologies
In order to strengthen its technological leadership in the crystalline silicon value chain, and in addition to its cooperation with SunPower in the R&D field, New Energies partners with leading laboratories and research institutes in France and abroad. The aim of these partnerships is to develop and optimize the photovoltaic solar power chain (silicon, wafers, cells, modules and systems) by cutting production costs and multiplying its applications, while increasing the efficiency and reliability of the components, as well as developing downstream systems, products and services beyond solar power production. New Energies is also strengthening its expertise in solar resource evaluation and prediction.
In this regard, TOTAL is working with the Interuniversity MicroElectronics Center (IMEC) in Belgium and the École Polytechnique’s Laboratory of physics of interfaces and thin layers (LPICM) in France, which specializes in low-temperature plasma deposition processes. Further to this partnership, TOTAL participates in the Institut Photovoltaïque d’Île-de-France (IPVF) project, which aims to eventually become one of the reference centers worldwide conducting research into latest-generation photovoltaic devices.
With respect to electricity storage, TOTAL is continuing its R&D program with renowned institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States notably to develop new battery technologies, and is also investing in start-ups such as Ambri (12.3%), founded by MIT.