With thin film pioneers like Applied Materials and Signet expired on the battlefield -- or, like Solyndra, licking their wounds -- Japanese solar giant Sharp, Enel, the largest power company in Italy and STMicroelectronics, the leading European semiconductor supplier have declared their entry into thin film.

The three firms have formed a joint venture called 3Sun and are looking to start production in the second half of 2011.  The joint venture also will act as an independent power producer to develop, build and operate PV power generation plants with help from an Italian subsidy for the solar cell plant.

3Sun will start the production of thin-film solar cells in the second half of 2011 by utilizing the existing facility of ST in Catania, Sicily Region, Italy. The thin-film solar cell plant will start operation with an initial annual production capacity of 160 megawatts, which is scheduled to be expanded to an annual production capacity of 480 megawatts.

Sharp aims to become a "total solution company in the photovoltaic field, initiating the world's first business model extending from thin-film solar cell production to IPP business."

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Although the press release makes no mention of technology, it's safe to assume that this is amorphous silicon. 

I interviewed Ron Kenedi, Vice President of Sharp's Solar Energy Solutions Group recently at Intersolar.  Sharp appears to be doubling down on this thin-film silicon approach.

Sharp is now the number-three solar cell supplier (behind First Solar and Suntech), with about 600 megawatts of cells shipping in 2010 and according to Kenedi, "We're doing well in all markets."  His view on supply issues is that "everybody is sold out."  (Maybe the tier-one players are sold out, but there's plenty of capacity in the solar industry.)

Sharp has a one-gigawatt-capacity factory in Osaka building tandem junction a-Si panels with decent efficiencies for this technology, in the neighborhood of nine percent.

Sharp is also completing an 18-megawatt a-Si installation in Canada through Sun Edison, as well as large deployments in Mendota, CA and Dayton, Ohio.  In Kenedi's words, "thin film technology is elusive.  It's not easy," but "Sharp is a bankable brand."

The takeaway from this interview with a leading crystalline silicon supplier is that "amorphous silicon (a-Si) will be as much as 50 percent of Sharp's solar business in the coming years."

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Tags: amat, amorphous silicon, applied materials, enel, eric wesoff, ron kennedi, sharp, solyndra, stmicro, thin film