As the solar industry continues to report impressive growth rates each year, companies with proven solar cells at market price are not having much difficulty finding customers for everything they can produce. This also applies to new technologies such as thin-film solar cells.
Investment in thin-film CIGS-(Copper, Indium, Gallium, and Selenium) based solar cell manufacturers has been very robust, with companies such as MiaSole, Global Solar, NanoSolar, Solyndra and others receiving significant funding to support their growth. This indicates confidence in thin-film CIGS technology.
Thin film is a process where material from a target source is coated onto a substrate via a plasma field. These thin films are minuscule — angstroms to microns thick — and therefore use a very small amount of material to achieve most coating thickness goals. Silicon solar cells use a wafer of Silicon (Si) — a 10 story building in thickness compared to thin films that are just microns thick.
The benefit to using a CIGS process is that it has the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of manufacturing with a high production yield. That means that when the CIGS thin-film process is perfected, the cost of CIGS solar cells will likely come down. [Nanosolar has announced their CIGS cells at an eye popping $.99 /Watt. They have thrown down the financial gauntlet to all other solar cell manufacturers.]
Solar cell production cost is dependent on the cost of the raw materials and the recent silicon shortage is driving material costs up for silicon-based solar cells. The shortage is compounded by the ever increasing demand for silicon in semiconductor industries. This shortage is providing additional incentive for investment in alternative thin-film solar cell technologies. In an attempt to determine some actual costs, I discovered that all solar thin-film companies view their costs as a closely guarded secret. They felt that revealing costs would give competitors an understanding of price elasticity (margin) and therefore they didn't want to talk about it....MORE