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Solar Thin Film fighting a Losing Battle against Cheap Silicon Panels Onslaught ? (Solar Frontier)

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Cheap Solar Panels made by Chinese companies are putting other solar technologies under existential pressures. Thin Film Solar is no different as many smaller thin film companies Solyndra the most famous amongst them have gone under . Other companies in the stealth mode like Nanosolar, Miasole and others might never come out as the 80c/watt price of the cheapest solar module means that thin film solar panels have very little room to compete.l

First Solar the Big Daddy of Thin FIlm Solar Panels too is under pressure and if not for the DOE funded solar farms in California would have been facing a huge global marketshare loss. There are only a few thin film companies that can hope to compete . Those that can have big parents with massive balance sheets like Solar Frontier backed by Showa and Shell, Sharp ,TSMC and others . VC and PE backed startups have a snowball chance in hell of surviving because they need to get their costs to 50c/watt an impossibility even for First Solar leave alone poor startups.

However the reason that Thin Film Solar is the sheer amount of investment and R&D dollars that is going into crystalline silicon solar panels compared to that of other technologies. Besides the big solar panel manufacturers , big solar equipment firms like Applied Materials, GT Solar and others are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the silicon solar technology. This gives a huge advantage to silicon technology compared to thin film technology

Solar Thin Film Companies under Siege

Solar Thin Film Companies are coming under siege again due to the relentless fall in the prices of crystalline silicon panels in recent months of 2011.Note large number of thin film companies went bankrupt the last time polysilicon prices fell off a cliff in the post Lehman crisis period in 2008 end.Applied Material the biggest solar equipment company killed off its SunFab Division which has a large customer list.Applied Materials saw the writing on the wall and concentrated its efforts on crystalline silicon equipment buying HCT Shaping and Baccini to become a billion dollar supplier of solar equipment.A number of weaker hands in solar thin film went out of business.However the prodigious growth in solar demand in 2010 saw large investments being made again.The biggest failure (not complete yet) seems to be the DOE and Obama darling CIGs startup Solyndra which has already used up a billion dollars with nothing much to write home about .Now Republicans are investigating whether the more than $500 million US government loan was done improperly.Abound Solar a CdTe startup has also managed a $400 million loan and  I doubt whether it will manage to ever pay off the loan given that the lowest cost manufacturer of solar panels First Solar itself is under pressure from sharp cost reduction by integrated solar panel companies like Trina Solar.

Solar Frontier has bagged a 150 MW deal to supply EDF for a project in California. Note Solar Frontier has a massive 900 MW facility in Japan and would need many such deals to survive .

With a new $100-million-plus contract to install its thin film solar panels in the Mojave Desert, Japan-based Solar Frontier KK is emerging as a formidable new contender in the crowded solar market.

EnXco, a subsidiary of EDF Energies Nouvelles Co., agreed to purchase up to 150 megawatts of the panels, in the largest deal ever for this type of thin film technology. The panels are using a semiconductor blend of copper indium gallium and selenium, or CIGS, which until now has been deployed on a much smaller scale.

The enXco deal is notable as it represents market acceptance of CIGS panels, which have had limited success to date. Last year First Solar abandoned its research and development effort in CIGS, and Solyndra LLC, which also used CIGS as the basis for its solar panels, saw costs spin out of control and declared bankruptcy.

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Sneha Shah

I am Sneha, the Editor-in-chief for the Blog. We would be glad to receive suggestions, inputs & comments on GWI from you guys to keep it going! You can contact me for consultancy/trade inquires by writing an email to

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