Is there still life in the CIGS solar materials system? The answer is "maybe" if Nanosolar's recent announcement is your data point.

Nanosolar, the San Jose-based CIGS thin-film roll-to-roll solar company, just announced its largest solar installation to date -- a 10.6-megawatt solar project in the Valencia region of Spain. The project was developed by Smartenergy Invest and Advanta Capital and is now energized and on-line. Nanosolar is the panel supplier and is not involved in project development.

I spoke with Stefan Zschiegner, the VP of Worldwide Marketing at Nanosolar, last week. He verified that the project used 50,000 of Nanosolar's panels with cells from the San Jose, California factory and panels assembled at the firm's Luckenwalde factory. Zschiegner claims that the unique design of the company's panel makes it easy to install and has the potential to lower system cost and get solar "competitive with grid electricity prices."

In order to be "competitive with grid electricity prices," solar panels need to be inexpensive with good conversion efficiency. Nanosolar's VP would not reveal the cost of the panels in terms of dollars per watt, the efficiency of the panels, or the volume of shipments Nanosolar expects to make in 2012. Since Zschiegner was being so communicative, I also asked about the current valuation of the company, the location of Martin Roscheisen, and the true identity of the JFK shooter. He remained silent on these inquiries as well.

Zschiegner did say that the firm would ship more than last year. We estimate Nanosolar's average efficiency to be in the 9 percent to 10 10 to 11 percent range.

GTM Research has these estimates for CIGS solar production numbers in 2011:

  • Solar Frontier, 577 megawatts
  • Solibro, 95 megawatts (Sold to Hanergy)
  • MiaSolé, 60 megawatts (Sold to Hanergy)
  • Solyndra, 40 megawatts (Bankrupt)
  • Avancis, 25 megawatts
  • Global Solar, 19 megawatts (Now selling only consumer solar products)
  • Soltecture, 14 megawatts (Bankrupt)
  • Nanosolar, 10 megawatts


The largest CIGS solar project to date is the 140-megawatt Catalina Solar Project in Kern County, California set to supply power to San Diego Gas & Electric in 2013. Japan's Solar Frontier is a supplier for that site and has shipped 80 megawatts of panels to that location so far. First Solar will supply 60 megawatts of cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar panels to that same location.

Solar Frontier’s monolithic thin-film modules are spec'd at approximately 12.2 percent efficiency, which is a relatively strong number in the thin film world, a bit better than First Solar's 11.7-percent-efficient (average) cadmium telluride material, but still trailing the 14 percent to 22 percent module efficiency of the crystalline silicon vendors. In recent conversations with the company, Solar Frontier set goals of 13 percent efficiency in 2013 and 14 percent in 2014. Solar Frontier has not revealed its costs, either. 

Thin-film solar requires massive capital and human resources -- there's no real ecosystem for each firm's proprietary processes. The next generation of thin film is likely coming from Hanergy, SK Innovation, TSMC , Hyundai, LG, AUO, Mitsubishi, or Samsung, all of whom now have CIGS or a-Si know-how. These are the firms against which Nanosolar must compete.