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HelioVolt Cuts Ribbon on Austin Thin-Film Solar Factory

UPDATED: HelioVolt, a well-financed startup that has been working on its thin-film solar material for the past seven years, is holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony today for its first factory in its home city of Austin, Texas. For HelioVolt, production has been a long time coming, but customers will have to wait a bit more before buying the solar gear. The company expects to start selling its solar material in early 2009, so will be switching on its plant shortly in order to make that deadline.

The 122,400-square-foot factory will create around 160 new green jobs, which makes it a point of pride for Austin’s mayor Will Wynn, who called HelioVolt “precisely the type of emerging leader in the global renewable energy industry that this city values.” Austin actually had to fight to get the company to stay in the state, according to local reports, and last year offered HelioVolt incentives equal to 60 percent in property tax abatements for 10 years. The Austin Business Journal quotes HelioVolt CEO BJ Stanbery as saying “From a purely financial perspective, [Austin’s] was not the best offer,” but that being close to the company’s engineering was the deciding factor.

The factory will manufacture the first commercial applications of HelioVolt’s thin-film solar material, and will be able to produce solar cells that exceed 12 percent conversion efficiency made out of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) in six minutes. Speedy, but the company has a lot of competition. NanoSolar started producing its first thin-film solar product, made out of CIGS, last year; OptiSolar update: just turned is about to turn on its silicon-based thin-film solar project in Ontario, Canada and is planning to build a factory in Sacramento, Calif.; and Solyndra finally came out of stealth with its CIGS-based tubular design, which is currently being produced in Fremont, Calif., and soon Milpitas, Calif.

HelioVolt is one of the more well-funded startups out there, which could help it compete (though, the names mentioned above are very well-funded also). HelioVolt has raised at least $100 million from Sequel Venture Partners, Noventi Ventures, Passport Capital, Paladin Capital Group, the Masdar Clean Tech Fund, New Enterprise Associates, SolĂșcar Energia, Morgan Stanley Principal Investments, Sunton United Energy and Yellowstone Capital.

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