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FAQ: Thin-Film Solar

Thin fil,The thin-film solar business is a lot like the business of printing money. Well, sort of. Thin-film solar is produced using a roll-to-roll manufacturing process that is similar to the one used to print paper — and by, extension, money. Nanosolar started to roll the panels off its presses this week, prompting us to take a serious look at the thin-film market. So here are some basic pointers for one of the most promising areas in cleantech.

What is Thin-Film Solar?

Thin-film solar technologies often use non-silicon semiconductor materials including copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS) to create photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity. Without the expensive and often sparse silicon, the cells are cheaper in terms of materials costs. The non-silicon materials can also be printed on flexible or light substances, which can create new applications for solar. But thin films, aren’t yet as efficient as silicon-based solar, and can remain pricey due to their high production costs.

Key Players

Private Companies:

Nanosolar — The five-year-old company started to manufacture and ship panels this week.

Miasole — The company, which has over $100 million in funding and named a new CEO back in September, is having difficulty getting their CIGS cells scaled up.

Konarka — Using polymers to make their so-called “power plastic,” the Lowell, Mass., company has raised $105 million. Ex-CEO Berke told us they hope to get product to market by late 2008.

Uni-Solar — A wholly owned subsidiary of Energy Conversion, Uni-Solar makes about 28 MW of thin-film, peel-and-stick triple junction amorphous silicon PV a year from their one production plant.

HelioVoltAnother startup with over $100 million in capital, the Austin, Texas-based company plans to start production of its CIGS solar technology in late 2008.

SoloPower — New to the game, SoloPower raised $30 million this summer. They plan on using a proprietary electrochemical process to manufacture their CIGS PV at a lower cost compared with other CIGS and silicon-based methods.

PowerFilm Solar — With its various integrated PV systems, this company is trying to put their solar in everything, from metal roofs to membrane systems to architectural fabric. They’re even working with the U.S. to make solar-powered tents. They appear to be using a rather first generation thin film technology, and according to their website they use silicon for the panels. The company was founded back in 1988.

SolexantDubbed a “secretive solar cell developer,” by VentureBeat, Solexant raised $4.3 million this summer for its nanostructured solar cells, which are said to collect energy from the entire solar spectrum and will be manufactured via roll-to-roll methods.

PrimeStar Solar — General Electric recently took a minority interest in this company, which uses the more mature technology of cadmium telluride (CdTe) to make its cells.

Innovalight — The company’s technology uses silicon nanoparticles in a liquid silicon ink; it has raised $28 million for its silicon ink printing technology.

Public Companies:

First Solar (FSLR) — First Solar’s panels are modular and are aimed at large-scale installations. Shares of the company, which has led the way in proving the scalability of CdTe technology, have skyrocketed since their IPO in November of 2006, ending Wednesday’s session at $247.98.

DayStar Technologies (DSTI) — DayStar pulled in nearly $68 million in October from a follow-on offering of 15 million shares of common stock. The company is using the money to build a 25MW manufacturing line for its CIGS solar cells.

Ersol (ERSLF) — With four manufacturing plants in the U.S. and Germany, Ersol just signed an agreement with Wacker Chemie for silicon production.

Venture Firms:

How Big is the Market?

The solar industry as a whole is expected to grow to $51 billion in 2015 from $11 billion in 2005, according to a projection by Clean Edge Inc., a market research firm focused on clean technology — and the thin-film solar market is forecast to grow to account for 20 percent of the overall solar market in 2010 from just 8 percent in 2006, according to GreenTechMedia. Thin-film PV alone is expected to grow to $7.2 billion by 2015 from just over $1 billion today, according to research firm NanoMarkets.

Help us flesh out this resource by keeping us up-to-date on any new thin-film solar companies, as well as any new investments.

47 Responses to “FAQ: Thin-Film Solar”

  1. Hello:

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  2. I would like more information on the thin solar film that we could resell to our customer base. I work with a nationwide network of roofers that we would like to introduce thin film solar to our consumer base.

  3. Arun Kumar……..The main equipments used to produce thin film solar panel – a-Si Single (22.5 MW/Y) are:-

    1)Cell – Cleaner, Laser-scribe, PE-CVD, PVD, Edge Grinder

    2) Module – Laminator, Lay Up, Framing, Solar Simulator

    3) Inspection – Spectral response measurement, Laser Microscope

  4. I think no body is giving answer for above question.there is no manufacturer is making a-Si solar panel. There is no leaders in this world in a-Si technolgy.why some boy else tell that they are the leaders in a-Si solar panel manufacturing.Shame on them

  5. Clark Graham

    I have a metal roof with 12 inch between the raised ridges. I am interested in inserting solar panels between the 12 inch ridges that are up to 15 feet long. Do you know any company that canprovide to this form factor?

  6. Through recent developments, Silicon Solar has provided ways of listing thin, light weight, flexible solar panels allowing for multiple applications to now be solar accessible and make people’s dreams they never thought would come true, come alive. Visit our extensive line of Flexible Solar Panels today and find which will match your application at http://www.siliconsolar.com/flexible-solar-panels.com!

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  7. jeff roundy

    Craig: re: your article last Dec. on thin film (TFPV)
    It seemed to imply that the thin film market will grow into the traditional PV market, which includes roof tops both commercial and residential. It is my understanding that the polysilicon PV is much more efficient vs. TFPV.
    In fact Shell Oil stopped production of their thin film because of this, and is concentrating on the traditional PV.

  8. Applied Materials signed turn-key contracts of their amorphous silicon thin film solar lines, with many Chinese companies that has entered or are eager to enter the solar arena, including Suntech (2007), XinAo (2007) and LDK (Feb 2008). Each contract amounted to RMB 1 billion, which is approximately US$140 million. ironically, Applied sold no Sunfab solar tools in USA, where it’s headquarter is located. Neither did it in Japan. Suntech and LDK were listed in NASDAQ in 2007. Now, following Suntech and LDK, lots of Chinese solar companies try to get listed on NASDAQ or a foreign stock exchange, where concepts of China, Technology and Green Energy are favored by foreign investors. You never believe that the P/E ratio of LDK stock is approaching 300, while the US market average is only 15. Take a look at LDK for example, it was only a maker of protective glooves. It does not have any experience or legacy on technology. Also nowadays, 95% of solar panels are exported to Europe and other countries. Without proprietary technology and market, the only strength is lower manufacturing costs and easy financing from China state-owned banks, where bad debts are phenomenal as a result of poor pre-loan project reviews and corruption. The solar bubble will definately burst one day. At that time, those investors’ hard earned money will be vanished easily. Believe me or not, we can wait and see.

  9. My 11 year old came up with this list

    Solar clothing and hats to power our eStuff

    Solar dog clothes to power their pet-cams, I.D. tags, and doggie walking music

    Solar kite panels to, uh…awe heck, I dunno – it just sounds cool — I’m sure we could do something with power on a kite

    Solar hot air balloon panels for GPS

    Giant solar powered Christmas inflatables – to keep the fan running

    Inflatables — instead of tents, just use one of those huge inflatable structures which inflate with a continuous fan

    Inflatable solar surface area — instead of rigid, fixed solar panels, the new solar charger will inflate like those huge Christmas snowmen, grab all the rays our vehicles need to run and then deflate when done.

    Life boats – solar panels on the tent-like cover to power locator/communication equipment

    Lit Ski boots – for safe night time schussing

    Highways — thin-film embedded in the pavement so that all of the vast surface area of paved road becomes power generators — Same for all other horizontal surfaces such as roof tops

    In the future hip kids will wear giant solar-skinned hats like sombreros or Chinese peasant hats.

  10. Great FAQ Craig. Thin film technology has so much potential and it will really be exciting to see what applications bring in the cash. Semi equipment supplier Applied Materials has made some bold (and wise, IMHO) moves in this space. And based on what I’ve heard, yes, we will be seeing this in automobiles in the not-too-distant future.

  11. Please check this website and update your info. ISET pioneered the ink based process for CIGS solar cells long before any of the companies you mentioned above even existed. Some groups work quietly without making noise. Watch out when ISET moves its products in the market