The roots of Deutsche Solar reach back to the 1950s. The Volkseigene Betrieb (VEB) Spurenmetalle Freiberg (government-owned trace metal enterprise) was founded in Freiberg in 1957. It was the only semiconductor production company. The first monocrystalline silicon blocks and wafers were manufactured in 1966. The crystal growing facility at today's site in the south industrial park went into operation in 1986. The monocrystal and wafer production of the trace metal was concentrated solely in the south industrial park in 1989. The transformation process first riveted throughout east Germany after the political climate changed in 1989. The same was true for the restructuring processes in Freiberg.
For the former VEB, this meant changing to corporations and establishing trust to manage the former "government-owned establishment". With the economic and currency union on July 1, 1990, the former VEB's adventurous journey into the free market got underway. To become competitive, the staff formed the new management and focused on three core areas: drastic cutbacks in personnel, focusing on the core business and searching for investors to become a private company.
1800 largely well-trained VEB employees lost their jobs as the wall fell. It took the company several years to recover from these devastating personnel layoffs. The company transformed into a corporation on June 30. A subsidiary of PTC Elektronik AG Erfurt, which emerged from the former Kombinat Mikroelektronik Erfurt, became Freiberger Elektronikwerkstoffe. Since the Freiberg management saw no significant future for the company, they poured all their efforts into dismantling the company and establishing an independent company.
On January 1, 1992, the time came to dissolve FEW. However, this did not solve their vast problems, as revenue on the traditional markets virtually hovered around zero. One of the major problems was that fact that the process yields were considerably below the western German levels, making it impossible for FEW to compete. In addition, surplus capacities around the world provided little hope for improvement. The site first handled solar silicon as it performed crystal sawing and processing services for Wacker.
At that time, the Freiberg-based company realized that it could manufacture solar silicon and Freiberg already had the necessary monocrystal pulling facilities. Nevertheless, the company still could not climb out of the red. It was only after the former VEB trace metal company was split into three separate companies, handling solar silicon, electronic silicon and gallium arsenide, respectively, that the foundation for a sustainable corporate structure was laid. Bayer Solar GmbH Freiberg was founded as a 100% subsidiary of Bayer on August 1 and opened its doors for manufacturing multicrystalline wafers in rented cellars with 19 employees. Photovoltaics experienced a rapid boom in the mid-90s, vaulting Bayer Solar into a strong position on the photovoltaic market.
Its first own production building was inaugurated on June 2, 1997. The company at that time was Europe's larger wafer producer, churning out 6 million silicon wafers annually with a workforce of 90 employees. Unlike today, plant construction companies during this pioneering time were unable to delivery ready-made systems. PV manufacturers provided plant construction companies with much needed expertise and together they performed development work to design machines suitable for photovoltaics because microelectronic systems were not suited for mass production of solar wafers.
At the end of the 1990s, the conditions for photovoltaics became increasingly more difficult and existing German subsidy programs were discontinued or simply ineffective. A large order from Japan saved the employees from reduced working hours and the company returned to the black.
Despite disproportionate growth rates, the Bayer headquarters in Leverkusen made a strategic decision to back out of the solar business and focus on the core business of agriculture, health and chemistry. Bayer was obviously not willing to invest additional millions in expanding the site. The investment bank commissioned with the sale wrote to 14 potential buyers. Solar module manufacturers and investor groups were the first choice. Bonner SolarWorld AG was one of the candidates. SolarWorld engaged in fierce competition over the renowned international competitors. Its bid was accepted and it took over the site in 2000.
This marked the systematic journey of the Freiberg-based wafer production into a fully integrated site. At this time, a fully integrated production, encompassing raw materials to the final product was an extraordinary idea. All other manufacturers chose not to deal with raw materials until it was time for the final product, as was customary in microelectronics. As early as November 2000, the decision came to expand the wafer production capacity to 100 megawatts by 2002, essentially tripling it. The first solar cell production of the affiliated company Deutsche Cell GmbH also started in 2002.
In the same year, Deutsche Solar collaborated with the Freiberg University of Mining and Technology in a pilot project and built Germany's first recycling facilities for used solar cells and modules, providing it with a new source of raw materials. The recycling facility was established in the Saxonia Industrial Park. This marked the beginning of a new industrial location. The value-added chain was complete in 2003. Production was commenced in Solar Factory I in the south industrial park. In 2003, the number of employees working in the Freiberg industrial part exceeded pre-1990 levels. Deutsche Solar inaugurated its new logistic center SolarLog and in February 2004 and operated it on behalf of SolarWorld AG.
Deutsche Solar achieved a production capacity of 120 megawatts at the end of 2004 . Plans were then forged for the next expansion stage. The wafer production was to be doubled by 2007. Implementation of the "millennium construction site", the largest expansion project up to this point, was started in 2005. In 2006, the magnitude of the construction seemed overwhelming and progress at the time appeared slow going and only marginal. In addition to the wafer production, efforts also focused on the expansion activities in the Saxonia industrial park. Apart from the new solar module production emerging here, the logistics center was steadily expanded to meet demands.
Of all things, the "millennium construction site", the new wafer production, was commissioned on Friday the 13th, in April of 2007, driving the capacity up to 350 megawatts. With the introduction of TPM (Total Productive Management) to its site, Deutsche Solar set major goals in motion, which were aimed increasing production efficiency and minimizing losses over the long term. In February 2008, Prince Albert II of Monaco visited the Freiberg production site causing for quite a sensation and a packed train station.
There was yet another reason to celebrate in July 2008. The groundbreaking ceremony for an "XXL plant", the new wafer production, was held in the Freiberg east industrial park. This marked the beginning of the largest construction project at the Freiberg site up to this point. A one story production facility 320 meters long and 120 meters wide, funded with 350 million euros within two years, was built on the site spread over 200,000 square meters. In the summer of 2009, Prof. Dr. Peter Woditsch who stood at the helm of Bayer Solar since 1994 and later at the Deutsche Solar was given a ceremonious send off, where he passed the baton to Mario Behrendt.
The first expansion stage of the new wafer production in the east industrial park, with a capacity of 250 megawatts, was officially commissioned in May 2010. This increased the Freiberg wafer production's capacity to 750 megawatts in mid-2010.
The second expansion stage was immediately begun after the first expansion stage was completed in the new wafer production in the east industrial park. This provided the Freiberg wafer production with a capacity of 1 gigawatt by the middle of 2011. Deutsche Solar AG was renamed on January 1, 2011 and is now called Deutsche Solar GmbH.