Having covered the PV industry for almost a decade, I've been showered with the technical and market promises of several hundred solar companies and the rosy predictions of their optimistic CEOs. Since 2003, I have interviewed the first wave of CEOs from firms such as Nanosolar, MiaSole, Solyndra, Optisolar, SoloPower, SolFocus, Konarka and Signet Solar, etc.
The CEOs of those firms have moved on to other pursuits. Some of those firms are defunct. It's a testament to the enormous challenge presented by new solar and new green technologies. Without exception, capital-intensive solar technology plays always take longer than expected.
I'm still waiting for the firm, new or old, that finally scales up and produces and sells a reliable new photovoltaic technology at market parity for a profit (aside from First Solar, that is).
2011 could be the year that it happens.
It might be the year that CIGS lives up to its cost and performance promises. It could come from the restart of MiaSolé, HelioVolt, Solyndra or SoloPower. It might come from more recent entries like AQT Solar or Stion or venerable tortoises like ISET or Global Solar or Wurth Solar. More plausibly, it might come from the big CIGS plans of the multinational-backed Solar Frontier or the CIGS skunkworks at First Solar.
Maybe a manufacturer will finally get amorphous silicon (a-Si) to market at reasonable efficiency and a reasonable cost. My vote is for Sharp Solar.
First Solar made cadmium telluride (CdTe) work and grew from 25 MW a few years ago to a projected 2.5 GW by 2014. There are a few aspirants in the CdTe materials system -- Abound Solar seems to be the leader, but GE-backed PrimeStar Solar might have some tricks up its sleeve.
Will concentrating PV (CPV) ever be competitive? While c-Si, CdTe and even CIGS seem to have a downward cost curve, CPV's costs seems mired in quicksand. Amonix, armed with a 25 MW PPA from Southern California Edison and a 30-megawatt project in Colorado, seems one of the few CPV firms with the technology and financial runway to make CPV work. SolFocus has gotten some CPV traction in Saudi Arabia. Concentrix, now owned by Soitec, is also a contender. Opel and Emcore have sold some systems. But the jury is still out on whether CPV can compete or whether it is destined to remain a tiny niche play.
Lastly, third and fourth generation solar. This would include the organic solar cells (OSCs), dye-sensitized cells (DSCs), quantum dots -- "black swan thingamajigs" in the words of investor Vinod Khosla. Most of the DSCs and OSCs are lost causes, offering insufficient lifetimes and efficiencies for anything but niche applications. However, other approaches might still hold some promise. The next-gen PV firm with the most buzz would be Alta Devices with a thin-film compound semiconductor approach that promises 30 percent efficiency at sub-50-cents-per-watt pricing.
I'm counting on 2011 to be the year that one of these companies breaks out of the pack and gets a profitable product to market at scale.
In any case -- the following list of dearly departed solar firms is going to continue to grow:
Rest in Peace
You can find more of our solar analyst's predictions for 2011 in the January edition of PVNews.