The chief executive of the solar panel making arm at Masdar, the clean energy company, has been "removed" from his post, the company said yesterday. The move was part of the "next stage of development" for the company, which is owned by the Abu Dhabi Government, Masdar said. Masdar PV, which opened its first panel manufacturing plant in Germany in the second half of last year, invested hundreds of millions of dollars in a panel technology that has faced difficulties competing with rivals since a collapse in panel prices early last year.
In a statement, Masdar said that Rainer Gegenwart, the chief executive, and Joachim Nell, the chief operating officer, were no longer with the company. "The focus of this stage, combined with the changes in the global [photovoltaic] industry, require distinct amendments in Masdar PV's management approach," the company said. A successor to Mr Gegenwart was not named, and a spokesman said the company would "essentially be run by Masdar Power", the company's parent unit in Abu Dhabi, during the search for a replacement.
Michael Alexander, described as "an expert with international experience" in the solar power industry, will take over as interim chief operating officer, the spokesman added. He described the changes as "a routine management issue". "The plant is up and running," he said. "Now the focus has to shift from building the plant to building your sales force and your customers." The company would not change its technology of choice, known as thin-film amorphous silicon, the spokesman said.
"We're absolutely committed to that technology." Mr Gegenwart declined to comment yesterday. In January, he said Masdar PV could not cover its manufacturing costs last year when the price of its panels on the global market dropped by 30 per cent, pushed down by price cuts by competitors. He predicted that Masdar would break even on its manufacturing this year and return a profit to its shareholders next year.
"You cannot assume if your price has decreased by 30 per cent that you are able to reduce the cost by 30 per cent," he said on the sidelines of January's World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi. "We are all working on reducing material costs, increasing availability and efficiency of production lines, and all these measures to get costs down, but it takes time." The main cost input for Masdar PV is glass, which makes up 99 per cent of its panels by weight and remained essentially flat in price last year.
Producers that make panels from crystalline silicon, by contrast, saw their manufacturing costs decrease by up to 50 per cent as the price of silicon, their primary raw material, was halved. Masdar PV had also planned to start construction on a separate panel manufacturing plant in Abu Dhabi by the end of last year but postponed it because the emirates' governments had not yet created a subsidy scheme to support the high cost of renewable energy.