Despite the carnage in the thin film solar sector (see bankruptcies or fire sales of CIGS players MiaSole, Ascent, HelioVolt, AQT, Solyndra, Global Solar, etc.), Stion just closed on $25 million of an anticipated $55 million VC round, according to an SEC filing.
Almost a year ago today, the firm closed on the biggest photovoltaic VC round of 2011 with $130 million in private equity, led by AVACO and Korean private equity funds. AVACO is a supplier of thin-film processing equipment.
The most recent funding looks to have come from existing investors, which include Khosla Ventures, Taiwan Semiconductor, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Braemar Energy Ventures and General Catalyst Partners. Stion also just received $2 million from the DOE's Sunshot program.
In June of this year, Stion announced a 13.4 percent module efficiency for its commercial modules built at its Hattiesburg, Mississippi factory. The firm's 145-watt module had one of the highest efficiencies verified by NREL for a monolithically integrated CIGS module manufactured on a commercial production line, according to a release by the firm. Stion began commercial shipments from its Hattiesburg factory in the first quarter of 2012.
The firm has a tandem design in the works and has licensed its technology to Taiwanese foundry TSMC. Stion claims an 18.8 percent aperture efficiency for its prototype tandem modules.
In an earlier interview, Chet Farris, the CEO, had claimed:
- The company's CIGS-based product will offer "silicon efficiency at thin film costs."
- Stion has demonstrated 14.1 percent efficiency on full-size panels with its single-junction product.
- Stion is currently producing 2-foot-by-5-foot panels at 120 watts to 130 watts for all solar sectors.
- The firm has a roadmap to 15 percent efficiency and is sold out of short-term capacity.
- Farris also claimed that Stion can get to market in "half the time and with one-tenth the money."
In May of this year, Stion sent out an email blast offering solar modules "for as low as $.75 per watt." Neither the email nor a subsequently contacted representative of the company disclosed the volumes available or the terms of the offer for modules at that price. Aaron Thurlow, then Stion's VP of West Coast Sales, did say that these were fully UL-compliant modules shipping from Stion's Hattiesburg, Mississippi factory.
As GTM Research Solar Analyst MJ Shiao has discussed in his thin film market analysis, thin film vendors have a small window of opportunity to be competitive -- but the firms have to get their factories running at capacity to realize the cost promise of the technology.
In terms of volume, the only two players of note in thin film are First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR) with massive amounts of cadmium telluride panels deployed and Solar Frontier shipping hundreds of megawatts of CIGS. A thin film startup has to prove performance and pricing on par with crystalline silicon and then make the leap to perceived bankability to be a viable supplier in today's challenging marketplace.