Thursday, June 10, 2010

Solar: Get on Board the CIGS Love Train (FSLR; ASTI; DSTI) Miasole; Nanosolar

We have 250,000 bookmarks, scans and media in the link-vault. Sometimes it's just a &^%$# mess, sometimes, as in this case, it comes in handy.
First up a Reuters piece from last June:
FACTBOX-What is thin-film solar power?
...Three technologies fall under the thin film umbrella: amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS...

...CIGS is a compound semiconductor material made of copper, indium, gallium and selenium. The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory said last year they had set a new efficiency record of 19.9 percent for CIGS cells, nearing the record for crystalline silicon cells. However, no company has neared efficiency in the factory.
CIGS manufacturers include Ascent Solar Technologies Inc (ASTI), DayStar Technologies Inc (DSTI) and privately-held Solyndra, Global Solar, and Nanosolar, which is backed by Google (GOOG.O) founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.... 
Couldn't have said it better [or more concisely -ed] myself.
CIGS has cost and applications advantages over silicon photo-voltaic offset by lower efficiency.
ASTI just started production last month.
DSTI could go broke. They are both very speculative.
Nanosolar was basically in the PR biz a couple years ago. In March they hired the former CEO of Rambus and may (or may not) live up to the hype.
Here's Greentech's take on Miasole:

MiaSolé Sets Bar for Efficiency in CIGS and Aims at First Solar
New capacity, new factories, high efficiency and a driven CEO target “polysilicon performance at thin film cost”

Propped against the wall in the office of MiaSolé's CFO Merle McClendon sits a solar panel made by the wildly successful First Solar, which makes cadmium telluride solar cells.  After he became MiaSolé's CEO, Joseph Laia asked customers what they didn't like about it.
It was too small, some said, and required too much cable and hardware to install. Installation costs were higher than expected. Some also said First Solar's panels operated at too high a voltage.

That feedback was folded into the design of the MiaSolé CIGS panels: they are larger (about a square meter), operate at a lower voltage and their junction boxes require less cabling because they are located on the corners of the panel. MiaSolé's panels also weigh about half as much for easier installation, and future ones will weigh even less because MiaSolé will sputter its solar cells onto metal instead of glass.
Laia's comments, though, don't come across as executive trash talk. The more he speaks, the more you get the idea that Laia likes First Solar and even admires what the company has accomplished.  He just wants to beat them, too.

This fall, the world will get an idea if MiaSolé can do it. The copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar panel maker has reversed some of the manufacturing and production delays that hobbled it from 2006 through 2008.  MiaSolé will ship 6.5 megawatts in the first half of this year and expects to ship 22 megawatts in 2010 in the form of 111-watt modules with an average efficiency of 10.5 percent.
In a bit of a breakthrough, MiaSolé just announced that NREL confirmed the 13.8% efficiency of its large area production modules.

“At the end of the year, we will ship 13-percent-efficient modules. That is not a maybe. Beginning of next year we will have 13-percent modules right on the edge of the poly guys and we think we have the ability to be in the same league as the First Solar guys in terms of cost,” said Laia, adding, "The only reason we are not shipping these modules today is that we are awaiting the completion of our UL certifications.”
First Solar, by contrast, has hovered between 10 and 11 percent efficiencies for years -- conversion efficiency was 11.1 percent in the first quarter of 2010.

Still, one can't confront First Solar without confronting costs.  First Solar has the lowest costs per watt in the industry with a module manufacturing cost of $0.81 per watt.  Laia spoke of Chinese vendors having the potential to sell their panels at $1 per watt in the near future....MORE
CIGS tech was the reason I took issue with an analyst's argument a couple days ago:

Hapoalim Cuts First Solar Target to $65 on Cadmium Telluride Risk; It Won't Matter and Probably Sets an Intermediate Low (FSLR)
The stock is at $105.35 +0.37 in subdued pre-market trade.
This fear is not immediate and for First Solar may not even be relevant in five years. I'm not sure Hapoalim understands the politics, the science or the company I'll explain after the jump....

...Hapoalim may be correct in their reading of the law but I'm guessing it doesn't matter.
Remember the post on First Solar's Skunk Works?

April 12: "UPDATED: First Solar Looks to CIGS Technology (FSLR)"
That was Bnet's version.
Here's Reuters, April 8: Exclusive: First Solar exploring new panels in Silicon Valley
Here's Ed Gunther putting on his gumshoes back on March 10...
Last month in an interview with Euractiv, David Eaglesham, chief technology officer at First Solar said:

...What photovoltaic (PV) solar technology improvements are you expecting in the future? Are these going to be ground-breaking new technologies or improvements within existing technologies?
There's a horse race going on here. All companies are working on all the technology improvements that they can drive. How fast all the different technologies will improve remains to be seen.
Our assessment says that we can continue to make substantial improvements in our existing technology. So we have high confidence that we can make good near-term improvements in efficiency and cost, but primarily efficiency.
So short-term, we have a lot of confidence that we can improve our existing technology out a long way into the future. Long-term we talk to everybody because the only constant is change.
According to reports, First Solar is researching a new thin-film technology that could replace cadmium telluride. Can you tell us more about this?
We're looking at a lot of different options. Our job is to explore all future avenues, and we don't rule out any of them.
My expectation is that something new will always come along, and as a technology leader our job is to figure out how to make sure that the new thing will be part of our technology portfolio.
We spend a lot of time talking to start-ups and people developing new technologies within universities, and making decisions on whether we should acquire start-up companies, whether we should bring technologies in from universities.
But currently, when we project where other technologies go to in terms of their potential and how long we think the runway is for these technologies, these other technologies by and large don't project to achieve a lower cost of electricity or better environmental profile than our existing technology.....
 Sometimes I like the link-vault.