Thin-film solar startup HelioVolt has replaced its CEO B.J. Stanbery with a board member while it seeks a permanent chief executive.

The Austin-based company said Wednesday that Stanbery, who founded the company in 2001, will remain its chief strategy officer and chairman of the board. Ron Bernal, a board member and a partner at Sequel Venture Partners, will serve as the interim CEO.

HelioVolt also named Sanjeev Kumar as its chief financial officer. Kumar was the former CFO of Energy Conversion Devices.

HelioVolt has been one of the top five American CIGS startups to watch. The technology of producing solar panels using copper, indium gallium and selenium is new to the commercial market, and most CIGS companies have yet to ship products in large volumes.

CIGS advocates claim they can produce solar panels at a lower cost than companies making crystalline silicon panels, which dominate the global market today. Crystalline silicon panels can convert sunlight into electricity more effectively than CIGS panels.

HelioVolt, Nanosolar, Miasolé, Solyndra and SoloPower have collectively raised over $1 billion in venture capital to develop their technologies and build factories (see Greentech Investments See Record 3Q and Solyndra Still Raising Cash). 

Although most (except Solyndra) will manufacture similar products, they differ in their manufacturing techniques and most, including HelioVolt, have experienced delays. It remains unclear which of these manufacturing techniques will be cheaper and more effective at popping out solar cells in large volumes than the others. HelioVolt's system is called FASST.

Meanwhile, large companies overseas such as Honda and Showa Shell are producing CIGS or the closely related CIS cells, which are then assembled into panels for installation (see Report: CIGS Could Supply 3GW of Solar Panels by 2012).

HelioVolt raised $101 million alone for its Series B round in 2007 from investors including Sequel Venture Partners, Noventi Ventures, Passport Capital and Masdar Clean Tech Fund (see HelioVolt Gets More Cash for Thin Solar). Masdar also invested in Solyndra.

The Masdar Cleantech Fund, by the way, is the investment vehicle for the oil-rich Abu Dhabi government, which is carrying out an ambitious project to build a city from scratch that would be home to greentech companies and rely only on renewable energy (see Abu Dhabi Picks Suntech, First Solar for 10MW Solar Farm in Masdar City).

HelioVolt is looking for a new head honcho at a time when it prepares to start its first-ever commercial production of solar panels. The company opened its factory in Austin last October (see HelioVolt Opens First Thin-Film Plant).

The factory is capable of producing up to 20 megawatts worth of panels a year, the company said. HelioVolt has been mum about its progress in getting the factory running.

The company recently laid off about 15 employees, reported the Austin American Statesman (see Green Light post).