Solar Frontier delivered 13.2 megawatts of its CIS thin-film solar modules to NRG Solar this month.

That single 13.2-megawatt shipment equals or eclipses what Nanosolar or Soltecture, both CIGS aspirants, shipped in all of 2011.

NRG, one of the world's largest solar developers, is overseeing the construction of the 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch, which will be one of the world’s biggest photovoltaic (PV) solar power plants. The Solar Frontier shipment is not for any one specific project.

NRG Solar operates and owns solar farms and has more than 2,000 megawatts of solar projects in development or construction across the southwestern U.S. NRG Solar is part of NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG), with over 25 gigawatts of power generation capacity.

Japan's Solar Frontier is, by far, the leader in CIGS thin-film solar panel production.

While most of the CIGS startups have at various times produced more hype than panels, Solar Frontier has quietly ramped up production and honed its efficiency.

The firm recently signed an agreement with enXco, an enormous energy project developer, on a $100-million-plus supply agreement for up to 150 megawatts of Solar Frontier’s CIS solar modules. Solar Frontier delivered 26 megawatts of panels in the final quarter of last year for the Catalina Solar Project in Kern County, California to supply power to San Diego Gas & Electric. 

GTM Research has these estimates for production numbers in 2011:

* Solar Frontier, 577 megawatts
* MiaSolé, 60 megawatts
* Solibro, 95 megawatts
* Avancis, 25 megawatts
* Global Solar, 19 megawatts
* Nanosolar, 10 megawatts
* Soltecture, 14 megawatts

Solar Frontier shipped 46 megawatts in 2009 and 70 megawatts in 2010. The 577 megawatts shipped in 2011 is a formidable increase, and makes the company the second largest provider of thin-film modules, ranking behind the two gigawatts that First Solar shipped in 2011.

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.

The firm has not disclosed cost-per-watt figures.

It remains to be seen if Solar Frontier can meet the profit levels that First Solar has achieved over the past several years. Still, its manufacturing performance has been impressive and landing NRG as a major customer is an important milestone.