Producing gigawatts' worth of thin-film solar panels with domestic manufacturing is still a real possibility for CEO Brad Mattson and CTO Markus Beck of Siva Power.
The San Jose, Calif.-based solar startup is freshly funded and focused on developing the world's largest-scale and least-expensive thin-film CIGS production line.
The company just banked $10 million in new funding, which includes a $3 million DOE SunShot grant, a $3 million conversion of debt financing from Trident Capital, DBL Investors, Medley Partners and Acero Capital, as well as $4 million in new capital from the city of Wuxi, China and existing investors DBL, Medley, and Acero.
According to Siva's CEO (and new author) Brad Mattson, this capital allows Siva to begin building "the world’s highest-capacity co-evaporation source" and narrow down the site selection for its envisioned 300 megawatt-factory. California is on the short list.
In earlier conversations with Mattson, he said he's learned from the mistakes of companies that tried to scale too quickly or overestimated their ability to reduce costs. In 2011, when Siva Power was still called Solexant, Mattson took the helm at the company, ditched plans to build a 100-megawatt factory, and focused on R&D.
After years of experimenting with different photovoltaic materials and production processes, Siva settled on co-evaporated CIGS on large glass substrates. "Historically, co-evaporation has yielded the highest overall efficiency of all the CIGS deposition processes," compared to roll-to-roll, sputtering and other techniques, according to Shyam Mehta, GTM Research's lead upstream solar analyst. Mattson has called the technology "a gift of physics" that offers the highest thin film efficiencies and the fastest production process.
Siva Power looks to hit a manufacturing cost of $0.40 per watt when it begins operating its proposed 300-megawatt production line. The company possesses a shared delusion of a cost less than $0.28 per watt on the planned production line within a few years.
Below is the company's cost roadmap.Source: PRNewsFoto/Siva Power
The projections factor in labor, energy and water requirements, equipment needs, materials and overhead.
Both Yingli Solar and Jinko Solar have reported crystalline silicon module production costs below 50 cents per watt. According to GTM Research's analysis, top Chinese producers could be making solar modules for 36 cents per watt by 2017. Mattson has told GTM that he believes those numbers are "completely unsustainable" because they don't factor in large subsidies from the Chinese government.
We spoke with Mattson on Wednesday.
Siva has ten employees and needs $120 million to $150 million to launch its factory, according to the obviously unreasonable Brad Mattson. (To misquote George Bernard Shaw, "All progress depends on the unreasonable man.")
He emphasized, "We haven't been on hold." He said the company has "looked at every process, every production step" in an effort to drive down costs and make this undertaking "affordable to investors" and "shovel-ready." He spoke of having "de-risked" much of the technology, but acknowledged that thin film co-evaporation has never been attempted at this scale or speed. Mattson is a semiconductor equipment expert; it's in his blood. And he insists that this ordeal "is all about the equipment."
Mattson spoke of the "world's first solar giga factory" built on California soil, helping the state reach its new 50 percent renewable goal.
Thin-film solar leader First Solar has deployed a cumulative 10 gigawatts of profitable solar power. Yet, most VCs wouldn't take a meeting with a thin-film solar company. This small round of funding proves that there are still a few contrarian investors -- and certainly some solar entrepreneurs -- with an appetite for risk.