There is no thin-film solar market. There's First Solar with cadmium telluride (CdTe), Solar Frontier with CIGS, and until recently Sharp in amorphous silicon (a-Si), with a few smaller players following behind. There are also a few companies looking at very thin c-Si, such as Twin Creeks or 1366 Technologies.

In cadmium telluride materials, it's all First Solar (FSLR). We've watched Abound Solar fail and GE-PrimeStar slow.

In a-Si, there's Sharp, some stalwart Oerlikon customers, and an amorphous-silicon landscape littered with the carcasses of Optisolar, Signet Solar, Unisolar, and many more.

In CIGS, the distress sales of MiaSolé, HelioVolt, Solibro, and Ascent to Asian conglomerates offer some hope that this now-honed technology might be ruthlessly optimized by these large firms. Thin-film solar requires massive capital and human resources -- there's no real ecosystem for each firm's proprietary processes. The next generation of thin film is coming from Hanergy, SK Innovation, TSMC , Hyundai, LG, AUO, Mitsubishi or Samsung, all of whom now have CIGS or a-Si know-how.

Perhaps we'll see cheap 16 percent thin-film CIGS solar panels yet -- it's just that they're not going to come from a Silicon Valley firm like Nanosolar or Stion or SoloPower.

The endgame yields a few competent long-term thin film players in each materials system. First Solar expects to deploy more than 2.6 gigawatts of solar installations in 2012 with revenue forecast in the range of $3.6 billion at one of the lowest panel costs in the industry.

Sharp is backing away from its amorphous silicon business, retiring 160 megawatts out of its 320 megawatts in Japan earlier this year. Reuters sources have the cash-strapped firm withdrawing its U.S. and EU solar divisions. Perhaps Sharp can focus on Japan's growing residential market but it looks like Sharp is bowing out.

CIGS might see some success from the mutant offspring of MiaSolé and Solibro via Hanergy -- but in the meantime, it's all Solar Frontier.

Solar Frontier has, in a relatively quiet fashion, built out a 1-gigawatt CIS factory that is producing CIGS panels in volume. The firm prefers to call the materials system "CIS" and shipped 577 megawatts in 2011.

The most recent announcement has Solar Frontier shipping 80 megawatts of CIGS solar panels to the Catalina site, the world's largest CIGS thin film installation. The firm has never revealed its costs.