Norwegian Crystals CEO Gøran Bye has a lot to say about solar, silicon crystals, and Norwegian Crystals’ big plans for expansion! Check out the interview below.
Member Profiles - Gøran Bye and Norwegian Crystals
After over 20 years of executive management and leadership experience within the photovoltaic (PV) industry in Europe, Asia, the US and the Middle East, Gøran Bye moved back to his home country of Norway to run Norwegian Crystals. Gøran has been the CEO of Norwegian Crystals since 2018 and he and his team have been using their extensive industry experience to successfully develop the company to become one of the most sought-after sources for ultra-low carbon footprint monocrystalline silicon materials worldwide.
Gøran has had the opportunity to work within every aspect of the PV value chain, and now he has high ambitions for Norwegian Crystals.
Can you briefly explain where Norwegian Crystals is situated in the solar supply chain?
Norwegian Crystals produces perfect silicon crystals which are then delivered downstream and processed into solar cells and eventually become solar modules.
We make the crystals as ingots, or if our customers prefer to buy wafers, we will also provide those through certified contracting partners.
We are extremely customer focused and market driven. With that customer focus and an eye toward the market – we respond and react based on our customers’ requirements.
It's our intention to keep pace with the direction that the market is going and continue to meet those customer demands. If the customer requires a different form factor or different specifications or properties to improve their products, then we engage with that customer and we deliver what they are looking for. For example, many of our customers are now shifting to a larger form factor (called M6) and are introducing gallium dopant to change the electrical properties – both of these shifts aim to enhance the performance and financial returns over the lifetime of the solar panels
Your company appears to place a heavy focus on sustainability and green technology, but high purity silicon ingots for the solar industry are quite energy intensive to produce. Tell us how you manage to make them with such low embodied carbon.
Norway is eminently suited for energy intensive production, as we are leveraging the forces of nature available around us. Norwegian Crystals is using hydropower for our production and sourcing materials from carbon-efficient suppliers. That's how we keep our carbon footprint down. We are fortunate to be located next to one of the largest glaciers in Norway, The Black Ice Glacier, which is where we get the natural cooling water and the hydropower.
We put a lot of emphasis on keeping the energy consumption during production as low as possible, but there will always be improvement potential. We are currently looking at innovative energy control systems to help us further optimize our energy consumption.
In addition to the energy sources where your manufacturing facilities are located, how do your manufacturing practices contribute to the low carbon footprint of your products?
We are highly focused on keeping our carbon footprint as low as possible. We are participating in various programs to help us continuously improve energy consumption, chemical consumption and recycling.
We are (for example) recycling the natural cooling water by sending it on to a local fish hatchery after we have warmed it up in our process.
How do your high purity silicon ingots contribute to Ultra Low-Carbon Solar cells and modules?
We source our feed stock exclusively from producers who also have a certified low carbon footprint.
Our extreme focus on keeping the carbon footprint as low as possible in all aspects of the production is important for the total carbon footprint of finished solar panels. We offer our customers a certified life-cycle analysis where they can see the low global warming potential of our products. They can share this information with their customers who have increased focused on a low carbon footprint in addition to high quality products. So for example we see solar modules made with our crystals selling well into the Korean and French tender systems that rewards a low carbon footprint.
Is Norwegian Crystals seeing growing market interest in your ingots because of their low embodied carbon?
Yes, there is absolutely a growing market interest in high quality silicon ingots with a low carbon footprint.
Currently, there are two main markets, France and South Korea, which have specific demands, regulations and premiums when it comes to the carbon footprint of solar panels. We strongly believe that more markets will follow in the near future. Additionally, we believe that the new Global Electronics Council announcement about developing an Ultra Low-Carbon Solar designation for their EPEAT PV ecolabel will simplify the ability of consumers to consider the carbon footprint of solar modules and buy better modules.
We see a generally growing concern worldwide around any traded good (not just silicon) and its carbon footprint. We are, of course, benefiting from that current focus as we are known in the industry for having one of the lowest carbon footprint processes in the world.
What else would you want people interested in ULCSA to know about Norwegian Crystals?
We are quite a small company today compared to our giant Chinese competitors. However – due to the growth in the PV industry, the reemergence of the solar value chain in Europe and the great interest in our products globally – we have significant expansions planned - we intend to increase our capacity twenty-fold over the next several years. We are, in fact, putting the expansion plans into effect as we speak.
There has been monocrystalline silicon production in the town of Glomfjord (Northern Norway), where we have been located for the last 25 years, so there is a lot of institutional knowledge and skilled labor nearby. We have a very good relationship with the local community, and they have stood by us through our highs and our lows. We are very happy to be a part of that community and we intend to grow extensively where we are now.
What would you like to see change in the solar industry in the next decade?
I would like to see a more diversified geographical footprint of the PV manufacturing chain. It would be great to get more support and more growth capital for the manufacturing parts of the PV industry outside of China.
Don’t misunderstand me, the industry must give a nod to the cost and efficiency improvements and progress made in China over the past decade. Their participation in the value chain has been crucial in the world’s achievement of the magic cost level we call “grid parity.” However, China produces about 95% of the solar products used globally – so we would like to see complements to and collaboration with the Chinese PV industry in Europe and in the US.
In order for that to happen we need a system which is committed to investing and putting growth capital into the manufacturing process of solar panels, and not just into deploying and the use of solar panels.
Like most companies in the industry, Norwegian Crystals has also been going through an evolution. Can you tell us about that journey?
I have personally been part of the solar industry for many years, and it has never stopped fascinating me. It's gone through boom-and-bust cycles which have contributed to the industry’s current position where half of the growth in electricity generating assets globally is PV! I think many of my peers would agree, being a player in this industry has been extremely tough at times – often painful, but never boring.
Prices have gone down intensively. In 2018 alone, prices went down by over 40%. It actually dropped 30% in the scope of 6 weeks. That did, of course, affect the company. We had cut our costs with over 70%, but even that wasn't enough to keep up with the price decline in the market.
We had to decide if we should give up, or if we should dig in and adapt to the new reality of the PV industry. We chose the latter, and we have completely turned around the company since then.
We have cut costs and improved efficiencies, and we have been able to get our cost basis down to a level that makes Norwegian Crystals both profitable and competitive.
We have new owners on board who believe in us, and who are helping us expand our production capacity. We are also lucky to have devoted employees who have been standing by us through it all. It's thanks to them that we have a company today. We have gone through this journey together, and there is a certain pride in that. We fought and we made it as a team.