Obama commits $2bn to US thin film firms Money has been pumped into solar in the US over the past week yet there are also signs of more start-up closures and industry consolidation. This sector never has a sleepy moment. Companies and organizations included in this news round-up include: Abengoa Solar Abound Solar Manufacturing Chrysler Astronenergy SPG Solar ITN Energy Systems Ascent Solar Solasta Inc. Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers MIT Enterprise Forum's Ignite Clean Energy Business Competition SV Solar Optisolar and Senergen GBI Research First Solar Kaneka Mitsubishi United Solar Sharp ErSol Q-Cells WÃ
Obama commits $2bn to US thin film firms Money has been pumped into solar in the US over the past week yet there are also signs of more start-up closures and industry consolidation. This sector never has a sleepy moment. Companies and organizations included in this news round-up include: Abengoa Solar Abound Solar Manufacturing Chrysler Astronenergy SPG Solar ITN Energy Systems Ascent Solar Solasta Inc. Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers MIT Enterprise Forum's Ignite Clean Energy Business Competition SV Solar Optisolar and Senergen GBI Research First Solar Kaneka Mitsubishi United Solar Sharp ErSol Q-Cells WÃ¼rth Solar Kaneka and Shell. Intelligence Brief 29 June – 13 July Obama commits $2bn to US thin film firms President Barack Obama and the US government's $863bn Recovery Act will be committing $2bn to fund solar power initiatives. According to news reports two solar firms will be the recipients which include Abengoa Solar which has been awarded $1.45bn in loan guarantees to
build the world's largest solar power facility
in the US state of Arizona. The second company Abound Solar Manufacturing is receiving $400m in loan guarantees towards building its
thin-film solar panel plants marking the first time thin-film panels have been used on a commercial scale. Abengoa's Solana plant is set to be located 70 miles outside Phoenix Arizona. It is expected to produce 280 MW of power enough power to run 70 000 homes. The plant will also be the first large scale plant in the US to store the energy it generates. But the main difference will be the fact that it will be able to
power customers even at night a fact that the President pointed out in his radio address last week. The technology used in the plant will be based on molten salt storage which will pump out an additional six hours of power. Image: Tom Tiller President and CEO Abound Solar Mr. Tiller joined Abound Solar in January 2010 from Polaris Industries where he served as the CEO of the recreational and utility vehicles manufacturer. Prior to joining Polaris Mr. Tiller worked for General Electric for fifteen years where he held the positions of Vice President of Manufacturing for GE Appliances and Vice President & General Manager of GE Silicones. Abound brings life to empty auto parts factory What was originally being built for a 1 400-worker transmission factory for Chrysler until German auto parts maker Getrag stopped construction will now be home to a new solar panel facility owned by Abound Solar. Thin film solar panel manufacturer Abound Solar is taking over the empty auto parts factory in Tipton Indiana in the US. Abound Solar will be the recipient of a $400m worth of federal loan guarantees toward the Indiana plant and one in Colorado (see story in this week
´s Intelligence Brief). Once the equipment and facility is up and running it will claim the spot as the largest solar panel manufacturing facility in the country. This announcement takes a big load of the county's back " county Commissioner Ken Ziegler said according to a Business Week report. "The county just continued to support the company looking to locate here. I am glad it is green energy and not automotive." Tipton Mayor Dan Delph a retired Chrysler worker said that the prospects of a new facility will "diversify the work force away from the automobile industry." China's Astronenergy signs supply agreement with SPG Solar Astronergy a monocrystalline and polycrystalline PV modules manufacturer has signed a supply agreement with California-based SPG Solar where it will be providing 2.2 MW of polycrystalline silicon modules for SPG's solar rooftop project in Florida. According to a PRNewswire report module shipment will begin in July. The deal marks Astronergy's entry into the growing Florida PV market where US President Obama has been recently visiting solar farms. The companies will provide the varied projects with high quality solar modules including their monocrystalline polycrystalline and high-efficiency thin film modules. "The US PV market is one of the markets with the greatest potential " said Astronergy CEO Dr. Liyou Yang. "It's only a matter of time that we see the US photovoltaic market take-off given the Obama Administration's support for renewable energy. "Florida is also located in the most sunshine abundant region of the US so we're very excited to provide SPG solar with our panels and look forward to both our companies' growth. " Astronergy's US branch in California will be monitoring customer requests and act as a link for local logistical support. "I have personally toured Astronergy's factories in China including a hands-on review of their entire manufacturing line and as a result we are looking forward to using Astronergy's quality modules for this project " said SPG Solar's CEO Thomas Rooney. "We have a rigorous vendor selection process and welcome Astronergy as a new supplier for our work in the US market." Founded in 2006 Astronergy is a provider of monocrystalline and polycrystalline PV modules. It is also the first Chinese company and one of the first companies worldwide to bring mass production of a-Si/uc-Si thin film to the market. Astronergy currently has one of the most complete PV product lines in mainland China. ITN Energy Systems and Ascent Solar awarded R&D 100 awards ITN Energy Systems (ITNES) a clean energy and technology incubator and Ascent Solar Technologies have been awarded the prestigious R&D 100 Award presented annually by R&D Magazine to recognize the 100 most technologically significant new products and processes of the year as judged by a panel of experts. Their winning entry is its unique commercially manufactured monolithically integrated CIGS light weight and flexible thin-film modules using a plastic substrate for applications ranging from automotive portable power and roof tops. ITN Energy Systems is the former parent company of Ascent Solar. Dr. Mohan Misra Founder & CEO of ITNES said: "Sharing this award with Ascent Solar Technologies is an honor for us. We continue to develop unique energy technologies that can one day change the way we create energy efficient windows batteries and defense applications." Farhad Moghadam President and CEO of Ascent Solar was pleased to say that Ascent Solar is the only module manufacturer to receive the accolade this year. "With our partners we continue to develop innovative ways to use photovoltaics on a daily basis " said Moghadam. "Our modules enable the personal portability of solar power applications for electrification of transportation and aesthetically pleasing integration of PV into building materials " he said. Ascent Solar Technologies Inc. which spun off in 2005 from ITN Energy Systems is a developer of thin-film photovoltaic modules with substrate materials that can claim to be more flexible and affordable than most traditional solar panels. Solasta shuts doors in US but sells IP to Chinese Solasta Inc. a Newton-based nanostructured solar cell developer has closed its doors according to a report in Greentech Media. The company had received Series A funding from venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers but there is no profile of the company on the investor's website. The company a 2006 second-place winner in MIT Enterprise Forum's Ignite Clean Energy Business Competition developed ultra high efficiency solar cells using nanoscale elements. However there was always a risk for the investors given not only the tough viability of amorphous silicon technology but also the choice of depending on future revenues
through licensing its technology. According to Michael Naughton Solasta's CEO the company is selling its assets which consist of "laboratory-scale solar cell fabrication and characterization equipment and intellectual property. "The former includes a license to the original nanocoax solar technology still held by Boston College as well as additional IP generated by the company " he said in a statement to Greentech Media. "It has been sold to an academic institution in China which plans to continue development toward commercialization. "The company also terminated an active $2.7 million grant from the Department of Energy's Solar Energy Technology Program." Solasta was founded in 2006 by Boston College physics department faculty members including Naughton Zhifeng Ren and Krysztop Kempa. Other solar start-ups that have ceased trading include SV Solar Optisolar and Senergen. OP-ED The latest news of Solasta is likely to set off more closures but also a growing trend of consolidation in the burgeoning solar energy sector as technologies fail to reach milestone targets and VCs hold off on early stage funding overall until revenues can be generated. Much like the dry up of life science investment in the past five years young solar companies will have to create alternative methods to raise revenues. In life science there is an area of revenue generation called "orphan drugs" which tap a small population of users but are nonetheless a paying population. The orphan revenues help pay for the R&D of the blockbuster drugs which in the case of solar are the blockbuster technologies that will allow mass production greater cost-efficiency and international expansion. If other technology market cycles are anything to go by it is likely that the following will become the norm in the next two years: bigger equity slices will have to be sold to VCs more corporate investment and partnerships will have to be initiated and mergers with competing companies will be a route to survival. Comments welcome via email@example.com CIGS growing in popularity says research CIGS technology is getting more popular than other thin-film technologies due to its higher efficiency and reduced manufacturing costs according to research published by GBI Research. The report says that within the global PV market CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide) technology use is expected to come into its own over the next decade. "The success of CIGS cells depends on a more efficient and faster and cheaper manufacturing process said the report. "The future of CIGS technology is encouraging as many venture capitalists are investing in this technology with investments in excess of $2 billion to date. "CIGS will most likely be the face of thin-film solar PV technology in the future " claims GBI Research. The technology's value proposition is that it offers the combined advantages of both c-Si – which gives relatively good efficiency – and thin-film PV technologies which claim potential advantages on cost flexibility weight and manufacturability. The report says that from 2010 CIGS segment is expected to capture the maximum share in the thin-film module market as most of the CIGS manufacturers will begin to attain production cost and conversion efficiencies on par with other thin-film technologies especially Cdte. There are over 160 companies producing thin-film solar cells and modules worldwide the market includes a number of big players including First Solar Kaneka Mitsubishi and United Solar. Manufacturers such as Sharp ErSol and Q-Cells are expected to use their thin film activities
to hedge their technology portfolios. But others will more dedicated to CIGS directly such as WÃ¼rth Solar Kaneka First Solar and Shell. But for capital starved businesses in this segment they will face greater scrutiny not just from the venture capitalists but the environmentalists which will add pressure on management teams. As more corporates look to enter the thin-film segment through thin film partnerships companies will have to differentiate themselves through multiple revenue streams and niche technology and target markets.
When a solar module maker and EPC specialist bags projects in its home market, they are not the only one celebrating. Locally "made" projects often equate to local jobs, which is a much welcome strategy for markets, such as the US and Europe. And possibly now India.
3Sun’s success in South Africa hints at a wider thin-film trend in which the dominant players are cherry-picking the markets they are strongest in.
Heliotrop of France is one of the companies keeping the start-up spirit of CPV alive. Here co-founder and managing director Paul Bellavoine offers his view of the market and why he believes long-term value with research and development, with local industry, is becoming more necessary.