When we last heard from HelioVolt in September of last year, the CIGS solar company had received $50 million from SK Innovation, South Korea's biggest refiner and a company that accounts for 10 percent of South Korea's gross domestic output. Although the stake that SK gained in HelioVolt was not divulged, it was likely considerable.
According to Scott Sandell, a general partner with HelioVolt VC investor New Enterprise Associates, the company's investors decided that "we really needed to find a partner that could bring a lot more capital to bear." MJ Shiao, GTM Research Solar Analyst, notes the recent trend of well-capitalized Asian companies investing heavily into thin-film solar, especially in CIGS -- a trend that has included the likes of Hanergy acquiring Solibro and investments from Hyundai, TFG Radiant, TSMC, LG and many others.
After a long quiet period, HelioVolt has emerged with an announcement of 13.5 percent efficiency solar panels, manufactured in HelioVolt's Austin, Texas factory. The efficiency levels of 13.5 percent, if consistently manufacturable in volume in a fully utilized factory, along with actual customers, places HelioVolt's CIGS efficiency amongst the efficiency leaders in that materials system along with MiaSolé.
Those remain big "ifs."
Eleven years since its founding and about $200 million in venture and strategic funding later, HelioVolt has shipped no commercial product of consequence.
Here are shipment figures for CIGS vendors in 2011, according to GTM Research:
- Solar Frontier, 400 megawatts
- Solibro, 66 megawatts
- MiaSolé, 60 megawatts
- Solyndra, ~40 megawatts of production, not sure how much was actually shipped
- Avancis, 25 megawatts
- Global Solar, 19 megawatts
- Soltecture, 14 megawatts
- Nanosolar, <10 megawatts
HelioVolt was founded in 2001, received its initial VC funding in 2005, and fabricates its CIGS solar panels using a process the firm calls "reactive transfer."
HelioVolt does boast a monolithically integrated module structure, as opposed to a selected cell architecture like that used by Nanosolar. HelioVolt has been backed by Masdar Clean Tech Fund, Morgan Stanley, New Enterprise Associates, Paladin Capital Partners Fund, Solucar Energia, Sunton United Energy, Texas Emerging Technology Fund, Yellowstone Capital, and SK Innovation.