Japan's Solar Frontier is, by far, the leader in CIGS thin-film solar panel production.

While most of the CIGS startups have at various times produced more hype than panels, Solar Frontier has quietly ramped up production and honed its efficiency.

Today, the firm announced that it has signed an agreement with enXco, an enormous energy project developer, on a $100-million-plus supply agreement for up to 150 megawatts of Solar Frontier’s CIS solar modules. Solar Frontier delivered 26 megawatts of panels in the final quarter of last year for the Catalina Solar Project in Kern County, California to supply power to San Diego Gas & Electric. This new module supply will be deployed in 2012 and 2013.

GTM Research has these estimates for production numbers in 2011:

* Solar Frontier, 577 megawatts
* MiaSolé, 60 megawatts
* Solibro, 95 megawatts
* Avancis, 25 megawatts
* Global Solar, 19 megawatts
* Nanosolar, 20 megawatts
* Soltecture, 14 megawatts

Solar Frontier’s monolithic thin-film modules are spec'd at approximately 12.2 percent efficiency, which is a relatively strong number in the thin film world, a bit better than First Solar's 11.7-percent-efficient cadmium telluride material, but still trailing the 14 percent to 22 percent module efficiency of the crystalline silicon vendors.

In recent conversations with the company, Solar Frontier set goals of 13 percent efficiency in 2013 and 14 percent in 2014.

The firm has not disclosed cost-per-watt figures.

But here's the most breathtaking piece of information: Solar Frontier shipped 500+ megawatts of solar panels in 2011. That's up from 46 megawatts in 2009 and 70 megawatts in 2010. It's a formidable increase, and makes them the second largest provider of thin-film modules, ranking behind the two gigawatts that First Solar shipped in 2011.

It remains to be seen if Solar Frontier can meet the profit levels that First Solar has achieved over the past several years. First Solar retreated from its own CIGS research project last year.

MJ Shiao of GTM Research asks, "If EDF now has access to Solar Frontier, what does that mean for the company's partnership with Nanosolar?"

Tags: aqt, cigs, cis, miasole, nanosolar, solar frontier, solar panels, stion, thin film solar, utility-scale solar