The Promising CIGS Solar Market Needs To Prove Itself

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Will anyone in the Copper Indium Gallium (di)Selenide (CIGS) solar panel market establish themselves as a leader or will it end up a boondoggle?

CIGS are amongst the most efficient thin film solar panels at converting sunlight into energy. We’ve seen estimates that say CIGS convert between 14% and 16% of the sun’s power to energy, while Cadmium Telluride, which is what industry leader First Solar uses, only converts between 10% and 12%.

In comparison to the money that’s flooded the CIGS space, revenue from the technology is projected to be very light. There are 35 different manufacturers of CIGS solar panels. Almost $2 billion has poured into funding just five companies that produce CIGS panels, Greentech Media points out: Solyndra $600M+, Nanosolar $500M, MiaSol $300M, SoloPower  $235M+, SulfurCell $165M+. But in February, Lux Research estimated that CIGS solar production would only produce $321 million in revenue in 2009. In four years, they forecast it expanding to just $950 million. That’s a pittance for the billions laid out on the technology.

This isn’t necessarily all that strange. Plenty of venture capital firms lay out money for investments that never pan out. And $2 billion is nothing compared to the $8 billion web video start-ups procured in the past few years.

Global Solar which uses CIGS tells Greentech Media that it thinks it will hit 100 MW capacity by 2011. That’s pretty tiny compared to most heavy hitters in the solar industry, though. SunTech expects to ship 800 MW for 2009, which is expected to be a down year. JA Solar, expects to ship 550 MW. Both of those companies use silicon. First Solar is shipping around the same amount.

Nanosolar says it has developed technology to speed up the manufacturing process, which ought to help increase production. But until one of these companies proves they can scale CIGS panels in the next few years, the billions spent on research could end up wasted.

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