Mountain View. Nanosolar, the heavily-funded copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar panel maker, is going commercial, says co-founder Brian Sager.

"We're past our R&D. The whole idea here is to buy multiple lines of manufacturing equipment and scale as the market demands," he said during an impromptu meeting after a press conference for Cobalt Biofuels. "We're really only limited by market economics."

He reiterated that Nanosolar has hit 16.4 percent efficiency in the lab, which is the highest efficiency number I can recall for a private sector CIGS company. The National Renewable Energy Lab has published results on a CIGS cell that is just below 20 percent efficiency and rumors have swirled that NREL has gone beyond 20 percent. Still, most private companies have talked about champion lab cells hitting 12 or so percent efficiencies.

Nanosolar is shipping product (how much--who knows?) in the 10 to 12 percent efficiency range; the lab results, though, indicate that the number could improve in the near future.

CIGS solar cells are expected to leapfrog past cadmium telluride in efficiency. In theory, both CIGS and cad tel can solar cells can achieve a maximum efficiency of 29 to 33 percent. In real world terms, however, CIGS is expected to come out on top. It will be a topsy turvy race worth watching. Despite the promise of CIGS, many manufacturers have stumbled on their way to mass production. Meanwhile, First Solar sells panels with an efficiency near 11 percent and can manufacture modules for around 87 cents a watt, a tough standard to beat.

CIGS competitor Miasole has started to sell CIGS cells at a 10.2 to 10.5 percent efficiency and likely has higher performance cells in the lab.