Thin film solar startup Nanosolar’s quiet period is over. This morning the seven-year-old company, in a flurry of press releases announced that it has started high volume production of its thin film solar material at its factory in San Jose, Calif., and has finished construction on a panel-assembly factory near Berlin, Germany. Nanosolar also detailed some of its previously unknown technology advances.
So is the San Jose, Calif.-based company in long-awaited commercial production yet? Nope, but almost. Nanosolar is calling today’s milestone “serial production,” or basically getting really close to the level of production that it needs to make its solar panels widely available. Nanosolar say it now has a monthly production run rate of “1 million cells per month.” Back at the end of 2007, Nanosolar was one of the first of a wave of the next-generation CIGS (Copper-Indium-Gallium-Selenide) thin film solar makers, which claim to produce material for a lower cost, to start producing solar cells at its factory in San Jose. Nanosolar has also spent the last year building its panel assembly plant in Germany.
Nanosolar announced last year that it had created a new tool that could produce up to 1 gigawatt of solar cells annually, with efficiencies of up to 14.5 percent. But the company didn’t disclose its actual production numbers, leading to some speculation about how much it actually had — or had not — been shipping. The company previously said its California factory would have the capacity to produce up to 430 megawatts of solar cells –- and was expected reach this capacity by 2008 -– while the German facility was expected to be able to assemble “multi-100″ megawatts of solar panels.
The only figures the company released on production levels was the “monthly run rate of 1 million cells,” so its unclear how far away commercial production it is. But today’s milestones are still an important step. Producing cutting edge technology at such a scale takes time to ramp up and commercialize and Nanosolar says it already has $4.1 billion in panel purchases from “highly bankable customers including the world’s largest utility power producers.” Likely many of those are European utilities and the company previously announced that it had sold panels to Beck Energy. The company tells us Nanosolar is also working with the renewables subsidiary of EDF, and AES Solar.
There is a need for speed when it comes to the utility scale solar thin film. First Solar has been all but crushing the market when it comes to utility deals, snagging the world’s largest solar PV plant with the Chinese government and massive deals with PG&E and Southern California Edison. Nanosolar hasn’t seemed to focus at all on the U.S. market.
Nanosolar also detailed some of its technology wins, including an update on its panel efficiency. While Nanosolar previously said it had gained efficiencies of up to 14.5 percent, this morning it says it has achieved efficiencies as high as 16.4 percent, verified by the National Renewable Energy Labs. Nanosolar says this represents two world records: “the most efficient printed solar cell of any kind” for all semiconductor and device technologies, in addition to “the most efficient cell on a truly low-cost metal foil.”