Thin-film solar panels — solar PV panels that use alternatives to silicon to convert sunlight to electricity — have one big champion. That’s First Solar, the world-leading producer of cadmium-telluride panels. The other thin-film chemistry of copper indium gallium selenide — CIGS — holds less than 2 percent of global market share. But a few other CIGS companies are selling in the 100’s of megawatts today, including Japan’s Solar Frontier, which specializes in CIGS, and Germany’s Q-Cells, which makes both polysilicon solar panels and CIGS panels through its Swedish acquisition Solibro. Today, Q-Cells launched sales of its CIGS panels in the United States, seeking to colonize a new market that’s actually growing, rather than shrinking, as is the case for Europe’s previously leading markets of Germany and Italy. Q-Cells started selling its silicon solar panels in North America a year ago, but it doubtless wants to position its CIGS cells as a contender to First Solar, since CIGS panels tend to have slightly higher efficiencies than First Solar’s cadmium-telluride panels. Can CIGS catch up? With Q-Cells and Solar Frontier making their marks, and General Electric planning to enter the market with a 400MW production line, investors are likely anxious to see if the very richly funded CIGS startups such as Miasole, Nanosolar and Solyndra can get off the ground.
AQT Solar and Planar Energy are retrofitting old semiconductor fabrication equipment to turn out thin-film solar cells and solid-state batteries. If the cost and time-to-market advantages are close to what they claim, could such a practice become a trend?