Samsung, which has been relatively quiet in solar power technology of late, now shares the world's record for CIGS solar module conversion efficiency.

Using a two-step CIGS approach akin to the Solar Frontier process, Korea's Samsung has hit an efficiency mark of 15.7 percent on a large-area (1.44 square meter) substrate -- officially certified as 15.7 percent by TÜV Rheinland, a PV testing company. That ties Samsung with TSMC’s 15.7 percent CIGS world record module. Solar Frontier has hit 14.7 percent efficiency on a 1.23-square-meter substrate.

Samsung plans to build a 200-megawatt production line in 2014, expanding to more than 1 gigawatt in 2015. 

A company official said, "As the CIGS [modules] have strengths in a high-temperature environment, [demand] will gradually increase in the so-called Sun Belt, including the Middle East." The official continued, “Samsung SDI is expected to decide when to start production while mulling over when the building-centered stable market will be formed while lowering the production cost.”

Hopefully, the engineering and investment community has learned something from the $4 billion to $5 billion invested in the CIGS solar material over the last decade. We've watched a number of copper-indium-gallium-diselenide solar companies raise funding and collapse with varying degrees of drama -- including Solyndra, Nanosolar and AQT. 

Earlier this week, China's Hanergy reported new performance records for Solibro and MiaSolé's thin-film processes, signaling its intent to actually apply CIGS technology. Hanergy hit 19.6 percent conversion efficiency in the lab on a small area sample, as certified by the Fraunhofer Institute. The 19.6 percent figure comes on the heels of an 18.7 percent efficiency announcement in October.

Solibro uses a batch co-evaporation process, while MiaSolé uses a roll-to-roll sputtering process -- two very different processes requiring very different equipment sets.

The CIGS record holder, ZSW, hit a Fraunhofer-confirmed 20.8 percent efficiency for a CIGS thin-film solar cell in October. The record-setting cell was built using the co-evaporation process. Currently, the only CIGS vendor of commercial consequence is Solar Frontier, which just shipped 86 megawatts of its CIS thin-film panels to engineering and EPC firm Chiyoda for use in a number of projects in Japan. Like SunPower and a few other module firms, Solar Frontier is prospering in a market bolstered by Japan's generous feed-in tariff. Solar Frontier is the leader, by far, in terms of cumulative shipments of CIGS solar panels.

Solar Frontier sells 13-percent-efficient modules and has more than 1 gigawatt of module capacity. Stion, TSMC, Siva and now Samsung soldier on in this materials system, which continues to tantalize with its potential performance and price.

Here's a partial list of CIGS solar players:

  • Solar Frontier, 577 megawatts shipped in 2011
  • Solibro, 95 megawatts shipped in 2011 (sold to Hanergy)
  • MiaSolé, 60 megawatts shipped in 2011 (sold to Hanergy)
  • Global Solar Energy  (selling consumer solar, sold to Hanergy)
  • Manz
  • HelioVolt (no commercial production, majority owner is SK Innovation)
  • Ascent Solar (selling consumer solar, majority owner is TFG Radiant)
  • Samsung (module record holder at 15.7 percent)
  • Stion (limited commercial production, allied with TSMC)
  • SoloPower (dormant)
  • Siva (formerly known as Solexant, co-evap on glass)
  • Solarion
  • TSMC (technology licensed from Stion)
  • NuvoSun (acquired by Dow)