Taiwan Solar Energy Corp. (TSEC), Taiwan’s largest manufacturer of photovoltaic (PV) systems, has become a supplier of Starlink. Founded in 2010, TSEC produces both multicrystalline and monocrystalline silicon solar cells and modules.
As the conflict between China and the United States intensifies, Chinese solar industry has been caught in the crossfire, especially after the World Trade Organization (WTO) rejected China’s challenges to Trump-era tariffs, in addition to recent petitions from U.S. solar manufacturers to impose further tariffs on China. Consequently, Taiwan, the world’s second largest producer of solar modules, has become an attractive alternative to Chinese suppliers.
Tesla originally partnered with Panasonic on PV cells and modules in 2016, intended for Tesla’s Solar Roof product line. As reported by Nikkei Asia, the collaboration ended in 2020 when Panasonic failed to match the specifications and cost required by Tesla. Seeking an alternative, Tesla noticed TSEC, which was supplying PV batteries to SolarCity, eventually paving its way to the cooperation with SpaceX.
Starlink satellites reportedly used silicon-based solar cells, traditionally used for terrestrial applications, instead of the III-V compound solar cells more commonly used by the space industry. While the solar cells based on compound semiconductors are more efficient and more resilient to harsh space environment, they are also prohibitively expensive. Driven by cost reduction as well as the shorter life expectancy of Starlink satellites, SpaceX opted for the silicon-based solar cells that are less durable in space environment.
Apart from supplying SpaceX, TSEC continues to be a main supplier of Tesla’s solar roof tiles, producing 250-300 MWh of solar batteries for the EV company, accounting for 30% of TSEC’s annual capacity. As Tesla filed an application with the Texas Public Utility Commission to become a retail electric provider, TSEC is expecting further growth.