Global Solar Energy plans to officially open a 40-megawatt thin-film plant in Tucson, Ariz., on Thursday. 

The company already has been making strings of copper-indium-gallium-diselenide (CIGS) cells at a 4.2-megawatt demonstration plant the past three years. But the new plant will be the Tucson-based company’s first step into mass production.

"The opening of [Global Solar’s] plant in Tucson is a remarkable event," said Tom Kimbis, acting director at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technology Program, in a written statement. "Production from this facility will help satisfy the strong demand for solar product across the world."

Global Solar expects to begin production at the new plant this month, producing 20 megawatts of thin-film strings this year before ramping up to 40 megawatts, said Jeffery Britt, vice president of technology.

And the planned 40-megawatt capacity is only the first phase of construction at the facility. The company already is beginning to purchase tools to add the capacity for 100 megawatts more by the end of 2009 or early 2010, he said.

Global Solar also said it is commissioning a 35-megawatt facility in Berlin and is breaking ground on a 750-kilowatt solar field connected to its Arizona plant. The field is expected to produce about 25 percent of the facility’s power needs during the day, with any surplus flowing out to the grid under a contract with Tucson Electric Power Co., which previously owned Global Solar.

The Global Solar announcements are signs that thin-film solar competition could finally be heating up.

After all, First Solar (NSDQ: FSLR), which makes cadmium-telluride (CdTe) films, has had nearly all of the thin-film market to itself in the last couple of years (see First Solar Rides High, Hedge Fund Picks: Solar, Energy Storage, Water … and Biofuels, Solar Sector Heading For a Shakeout and Thin Films Lead U.S. Solar Production).

The company has 210 megawatts of annual capacity -- by far the world’s highest thin-film capacity -- and has announced plans to add 480 megawatts more in the next few years (see Thin Films Lead U.S. Solar Production and Thin-Film Solar Production to Leap Forward).

"Frankly, I’m really surprised that nobody has put up a big challenge to First Solar," said Rob Romero, a managing partner at Connective Capital, at a conference last week.

CIGS developers hope to give First Solar a run for its money.

One such company, HelioVolt Corp., in December said it planned to begin production at a 20-megawatt factory this year, and Nanosolar, another CIGS manufacturer, also in December said it had begun production at a plant in San Jose, Calif. (see Nanosolar Begins Production and HelioVolt on Nanosolar’s Heels).

The plant is expected to reach a production capacity of 430 megawatts per year, once it’s fully ramped up, but the company didn’t release its initial production capacity in December. The only hint Nanosolar gave was an announcement that it was supplying thin films for a 1-megawatt plant in Germany for Beck Energy, implying a production capacity of at least 1 megawatt.

The company also is building a solar-panel-assembly plant in Luckenwalde, Germany, expected to have the capacity to produce "multi-100" megawatts of panels (see Nanosolar Chooses German Town for Solar Plant).

1 2 Next ›