When John Carrington, a former First Solar executive, took over the reins of MiaSolé from its former CEO, Joseph Laia, in December of last year, he inherited a CIGS thin-film solar firm that had made great technical strides (see slideshow), but one that was also bleeding cash in an underutilized factory during the roughest time that solar manufacturers have ever faced.

At the time he made a plea for a strategic partner and a month later had a reduction in force of about 10 percent of the MiaSolé staff.

Since then, the firm has continued to raise the bar on its efficiency marks, but the solar industry has not become any more forgiving.

Today, the firm put out a release saying it "will reorganize manufacturing and operations." A source called it a "significant restructuring."

According to an email from Carrington, the CEO, "The reorganization allows us to ensure timing for a strategic partnership." Carrington emphasized that his firm is "the only CIGS company at 14 percent module efficiency and our costs today are sub-$.80 with the lowest capex in the world." MiaSolé does have the highest mass-produced module efficiency of any thin film firm. Factory capacity will be about 150 megawatts by the end of the year -- all in Silicon Valley.

The release said, "MiaSolé will reorganize its workforce to retain employees in the technology, commercial and flexible product areas and make reductions in manufacturing and operations. This restructuring will ensure continued CIGS technology development, execution on our sales pipeline and ongoing development of our flexible product, which NREL recently verified at 15.5 percent efficiency, setting a world record."

MiaSolé stressed that it has received no government funding, nor has it taken advantage of tax credits. 

MiaSolé has raised in the neighborhood of $500 million in VC funding since its founding in 2004. The firm raised most of a $125 million round F in February last year at a pre-money valuation of $550 million. New investors included Voyageur Mutual Funds III, joining existing investors Kleiner Perkins, Firelake Capital, and VantagePoint Venture Partners. Board members include KP's John Doerr, Firelake's Marty Lagod, VantagePoint's Stephan Dolezalek, and Rob Chandra of Bessemer. The firm also closed on $55 million in convertible debt earlier this year. But MiaSolé doesn't need the impatient dollars of VCs, but rather the support of a deep-pocketed and patient strategic manufacturing partner.

The first news out from the new CEO was a plea for a partner. The CEO was quoted as saying, "A lot of companies are interested in this space, and if we could find the right partner, that could help make MiaSolé a more long-term enduring company, [and one] that's good for our shareholders and our employees, then I would support that strategy," according to a Reuters piece.

SunPower found France's Total, HelioVolt found Korea's SK Innovation, struggling Ascent Solar found an Asian white knight in TFG Radiant. Stion is allied with TSMC. There is a long list of strategics that might want a solar partner: oil companies, Samsung, Intel, or Siemens. General Electric seems to be occupied with its cadmium telluride venture in the former PrimeStar Solar

We've reported on CIGS aspirant Solar Frontier's one-gigawatt factory. Other CIGS vendors include Stion, NuvoSun, SoloPower, ISET, HelioVolt, Ascent, and AQT.

As always, it comes down to price per watt and LCOE, and MiaSolé still has to prove it can compete with First Solar and Yingli on those performance metrics while making a sustainable margin as panel prices continue to drop. Bankability is another issue -- and a difficult case to make for a company with only a few months of runway in the bank.

GTM Research has these estimates for CIGS solar production numbers in 2011:

 

Most, if not all, of the CIGS firms are in trouble. Solibro has changed ownership; Soltecture declared insolvency. Solyndra -- well, you know. Nanosolar would also seem to be in a similar state as MiaSolé, boasting some technology but unable to sustain a full-bore solar manufacturing company without a proper partner.

Tags: cigs, cigs 2.0, copper indium gallium diselenide, copper indium gallium selenide, ex-im bank, india, intel, joseph laia, kleiner perkins, miasolé, pv panel manufacturing, pv panels, solar panel, solar panel manufacturing, solar panels