Everyone seems to be moving into thin-film solar these days. And with First Solar (NSDQ: FSLR) soaring at $277.38 per share and reporting the lowest costs (and highest margins) in the industry, it’s no wonder other companies are racing to grab a slice of the pie.
IBM (NYSE: IBM) is one of the latest to get into the game. Earlier this week, IBM announced a joint venture with Tokyo Ohka Kogyo to develop copper-indium-gallium-selenide films.
The companies don’t plan to manufacture the films themselves, but instead hope to license the technology once it’s fully developed, according to The Wall Street Journal.
A number of startups have been developing CIGS films, including Miasolé, Nanosolar, HelioVolt and Global Solar Energy, which last week said it would begin selling its films in July. Still, the entrance of such a large player is noteworthy.
The industry has long wondered how large IT companies would impact solar manufacturing. But while semiconductor companies such as Applied Materials and Oerlikon Corp. have brought about a tremendous amount of fanfare – and billions of dollars in orders – their overall impact is still up in the air.
After all, in spite of the buzz, First Solar – which makes cadmium-telluride films – is the only company producing thin films in large volumes.
Travis Bradford, president of the Prometheus Institute, a Greentech Media partner, said the efficiency of the amorphous-silicon films to be produced by Applied Materials and Oerlikon is still in question.
Bradford has forecast that amorphous-silicon technology will stumble slightly in 2008 and 2009 as bugs are worked out, then take off in 2010 based on the vast number of orders for the equipment (see Funding Roundup: Solar, Biofuels Dominate Light Week).
And efficiency isn’t the companies’ only problem. Oerlikon Solar last week said it was filing a patent-infringement lawsuit against Sunfilm, an Applied Materials customer (see Oerlikon Solar Sues Sunfilm).
Nonetheless, large corporations are likely to keep coming at thin-film solar.
GE Energy last week announced it had raised its stake in PrimeStar Solar, which is developing cadmium-telluride films, to become the majority stakeholder.