It’s been painfully apparent that many of the well-funded startups building next-gen solar tech have yet to ship solar panels in any large volumes and have missed their targets. And even the folks in the solar industry are starting to take each other to task.
What’s Intel doing in a solar panel factory? Eight Intel employees are helping thin-film solar startup Miasole fine-tune its two Silicon Valley factories, as the well-funded CIGS maker struggles to reach a scale of production that will allow it to compete against the big boys in the solar PV space. Intel doesn’t make solar panels, but it has plenty of expertise in the far more rigorous work of turning out chips — and at least for silicon-based panels, the production methods could see some crossover. In fact, startups like AQT Solar are refurbishing memory disk drive fabrication equipment to churn out thin-film panels, in an attempt to leverage the investment already made into high-volume manufacturing. Startups like Miasole, Nanosolar, Solyndra and other thin-film contenders have created their own manufacturing gear to maximize their in-house technological prowess and increase efficiencies of the panels they make. But they’ve also racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses doing so, and are faced with a make-or-break year to either scale up to compete with the likes of First Solar and Solar Frontier (not to mention the ever-cheapening silicon solar panel giants), or leave their investors disappointed.
2011 will be a make or break year for many of the next-generation of thin film solar startups that are using the material copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) to make solar cells. Close to a dozen companies are aiming to either ramp up, or move into, production.