The CIGS solar race is still on.
Sulfurcell, a German-based manufacturer of monolithic CIGS/CIGSe thin film solar modules, just announced a $25 million equity round to expand production of its monolithic modules. This is in addition to the $135 million the firm received in 2008.
Intel Capital led the round along with a long list of international investors including Climate Change Capital Private Equity (London), Bankinvest Group (Copenhagen), Zouk Ventures (London), Masdar Clean Tech Investments (New York), Demeter (Paris), Vattenfall Europe (Berlin), GdF Suez (Berlin/Paris), Ventegis Capital AG, IBB Beteiligungsgesellschaft, et al.
Since producing and shipping its first modules to customers in 2005, Sulfurcell has expanded its factory capacity to 35 megawatts and produced modules with a 12.6 percent efficiency. I spoke with Dr. Nikolaus Meyer, the CEO of Sulfurcell and he spoke of a roadmap that gets the firm to 14 efficiency in 12 to 18 months. Despite these impressive efficiency numbers, the firm's datasheet values remain in the 9 percent to 10.5 percent range. The firm is in the early planning stages of constructing an additional factory abroad.
Sulfurcell is not pursuing ground-mount applications. The 250-employee company is focused on commercial and residential rooftops as well as building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). The firm looks to differentiate itself not by being a pure module supplier but rather, by developing comprehensive solutions for the BIPV, solar construction and commercial rooftop sectors. Germany's feed-in tariff rewards rooftop solar deployments and BIPV more handsomely than ground-mounted installations.
An emerging PV technology being built in Germany is likely a higher cost product, so aiming for customized and value-added applications is a safer strategy than trying to engage First Solar or Yingli head-on in large-scale deployment.
Shyam Mehta, Senior Solar Analyst at Greentech Media Research, tracks the firm as having produced 2 megawatts in 2009 and up to 15 megawatts in 2010. Sulfurcell has confirmed those numbers. In Mehta's view, Sulfurcell and Wurth Solar, both also CIGS outfits, have "proven that there is a market in Germany for higher-cost products with attractive aesthetics, although market opportunities will likely not allow for a FSLR-like expansion any time soon -- especially with FITs coming down harder over time."
Sulfurcell is working with German construction firms and looking to offer high-value architectural solutions for PV facades and rooftops that are "adapted to the needs of the building owner," according to Meyer, the CEO.
The company started shipping modules in 2005, initially trusting system integrators to go after these targeted specialty markets. The firm learned from some early mistakes by those integrators and now looks to profit from their hard-won applications and solutions knowledge. They've essentially transitioned to being more of a systems player. In the words of the CEO, "Building a PV facade is much more challenging than building a nice solar roof."