HelioVolt was founded in 2001, received its initial VC funding in 2005, and aimed to fabricate CIGS solar panels using a process it called "reactive transfer." Thirteen years and more than $200 million in VC later, HelioVolt has shipped no commercial product of consequence, and has finally admitted defeat. Even its white-knight savior, SK Group, has thrown in the towel. HelioVolt's primary output has been press releases for the press and agita for its investors.
The sad and telling announcement came today. HelioVolt is seeking "strategic investment alternatives," has suspended its manufacturing activities and will reduce its workforce over the next two months. According to hometown paper the Austin Statesman, the firm had 127 employees.
The firm boasted a monolithically integrated module structure (as opposed to a selected cell architecture like Nanosolar), as well as some encouraging NREL efficiency test data. HelioVolt was been backed by , Morgan Stanley, New Enterprise Associates, Paladin Capital Partners Fund, Solucar Energia, Sunton United Energy, Texas Emerging Technology Fund, and Yellowstone Capital. Those VCs fled the company when HelioVolt received a $50 million investment from SK Group, Korea’s third-largest conglomerate, in 2011. HelioVolt also raised $19 million from SK Group last year.
HelioVolt's monolithic-construction panels were imagined to possess the same form factor as First Solar's, with what HelioVolt claimed was a comparable efficiency of approximately 12 percent. Like First Solar, these were to be frameless panels with an edge treatment and power output in the 75-watt to 80-watt range.
B. J. Stanbery, HelioVolt’s founder and CSO, who was employed by the product-free startup for thirteen years, suggested in a statement, “We are initiating this process because our strategic partner, SK Group, for reasons related to their business strategy, has informed us that they will no longer pursue their prior global solar PV goals. While we continue to highly value the relationship with SK and have made tremendous technical progress in partnership with them, we are disappointed by their decision at a moment when we believe the solar market is poised for exceptional growth.”
HelioVolt's board has suggested that it consider investment, joint ventures or an M&A transaction. Or acquisition by Hanergy.
A thin film expert offered this take: "Founded on the idea of a transfer process (FAST) which never worked, HelioVolt went to a two-step process and finally adapted co-evaporation. However, the co-evaporation process the firm decided to copy was that of Solibro -- using point sources and an upwards deposition orientation -- something with severe limitations in manufacturing." The firm was "indecisive as to the technology, and in terms of manufacturing, missed the key metrics of throughput, yield, uptime and efficiency completely."
If you would like to purchase the company, you can reach Dr. B. J. Stanbery at Stanbery@heliovolt.com.
Despite this news, the CIGS material system still has some life in it. Here's a partial list of CIGS solar players:
- Solar Frontier, with 577 megawatts shipped in 2011, is the only CIGS vendor of commercial consequence. Solar Frontier just shipped 86 megawatts of its CIS thin-film panels to EPC firm Chiyoda for use in a number of projects in Japan.
- Solibro, 95 megawatts shipped in 2011 (sold to Hanergy)
- MiaSolé, 60 megawatts shipped in 2011 (sold to Hanergy)
- Global Solar Energy (selling consumer solar, firm recently sold to Hanergy)
- Avancis (module record holder at 16.6 percent)
- HelioVolt (for sale, no commercial production, majority owner is SK Innovation)
- Ascent Solar (selling consumer solar, majority owner is TFG Radiant)
- Stion (limited commercial production, allied with TSMC, now majority-owned by Khosla Ventures)
- SoloPower (dormant, searching for funding)
- Solarion (limited production on PI substrate)
- TSMC (technology licensed from Stion)
- NuvoSun (acquired by Dow)