Firing up its first full-scale factory today, the solar startup known until last month as AVA Solar has a new name — Abound Solar — but a tried-and-true target: Beat sector-leading First Solar on cost. When we covered Abound’s massive $104 million equity financing round last summer, we noted that it was using the same material (cadmium telluride) that helped catapult First Solar to darling status, and employing a process similar to First Solar, depositing a thin layer of the stuff on glass.
Back then, Abound — a spinoff from Colorado State University — claimed that it would produce solar PV modules at under $1 per watt. For comparison, First Solar dropped its module costs to $0.98 per watt, down from $1.14 per watt in August. Today, Abound says it is starting module production at its first full-scale plant — a 200 MW-capacity facility in Longmont, Colo. — and Abound CEO Pascal Noronha tells Reuters that the company will reach $0.98 within three months and lead the industry on cost within a year or two.
“We think we have a slight technological advantage over First Solar,” Abound Noronha told Reuters in an interview. The advantage, he said, comes from the company’s automated manufacturing process. Reuters quotes Noronha saying, “We have a manufacturing process that is about as continuous as making beer cans, and therefore makes us the lowest cost manufacturer of photovoltaic modules.”
We like to see healthy competition in the race to grid parity, but let’s keep Abound’s claims in perspective. The company expects to ramp to a 65 MW capacity at the new Colorado plant by year’s end, and 200 MW by the middle of 2010. First Solar has more production experience under its belt, more volume (by the end of 2009 it expects to exceed 1 GW annual production capacity) and it will likely continue to cut costs in the months and years ahead — especially if it has an ambitious new competitor nipping at its heels.
Photo credit Abound Solar