Konarka Turns On 1GW Thin-Film Solar Printing Press

Thin-film solar startup Konarka today opened its new manufacturing plant in New Bedford, Mass., which will have a production capacity of 1 gigawatt per year. The 250,000-square-foot plant was previously an advanced printing facility for Polaroid, so Konarka has retrofitted much of the old printing equipment for solar fabrication and hired the technology and process engineering teams from Polaroid. The company plans to hire more than 100 additional employees as production increases toward capacity over the next 2-3 years.

The printing press is already humming and commercial production of Lowell, Mass.-based Konarka’s branded organic photovoltaic “Power Plastic” will begin in earnest in the first quarter of 2009, the company tells us. Konarka’s special sauce lies with its organic solar panels, which it says are able to absorb a much wider spectrum of light than other thin films, allowing for higher efficiencies and even indoor applications. Now that it’s manufacturing product, Konarka joins Nanosolar, the poster child of thin-film solar that started inking panels on a 1-gigawatt, $1.65-million solar printer late last year.

A slew of other startups have been stacking up funding in preparation for their own capital-intensive manufacturing expansions. AVA Solar raised $104 million this summer and plans to start manufacturing at a 200-megawatt plant sometime this year. HelioVolt and delay-beset Miasole have both also raised more than $100 million. HelioVolt plans to start selling its solar material in early 2009, and is holding a ribbon cutting for its Austin plant this month.

Meanwhile, rumors circulate about the stealthier thin-film players’ production plans. Solyndra was reportedly looking for $350 million in August for a manufacturing plant but failing that could be looking to restructure. We’re also still waiting for the official word from SoloPower, which has reportedly raised $200 million for a 100-megawatt-per-year plant.

Between the market crash and the projected end of the silicon shortage it could be harder for thin-film players to get project financing for big, expensive manufacturing plants, potentially giving those like Konarka and Nanosolar who have now gotten their plants up and running an important lead.

Images courtesy of Konarka.