Can Thin Film Manufacturing Survive in Sub-Dollar-Per-Watt Market?
No other PV technology has seen as many false fits and starts or held as much promise as thin-film PV. During the height of the polysilicon bottleneck between 2004 and 2009, thin-film PV’s prospects seemed unparalleled. Shipments of thin film grew from a paltry 68 megawatts in 2004 to 2 gigawatts in 2009 — a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 97 percent. By the end of 2009, thin film commanded 18 percent of the total market with no signs of slowing, unless one properly read the polysilicon tea leaves.
Spurred by spot polysilicon prices that blew beyond $400 per kilogram, thin-film solar startups quickly amassed coffers combining to total nearly $3 billion of publicly announced private investment by the end of 2009, peaking at $1.1 billion in 2008. Recipients were almost exclusively Silicon Valley CIGS startups, with names like Solyndra, Nanosolar, and MiaSolé depositing the biggest checks. By late 2009, a new presidential administration had freed public debt financing for solar projects and manufacturers through the Department of Energy (DOE) Loan Guarantee Program. The first loan went to cylindrical CIGS manufacturer Solyndra for a total of $535 million. By the end of the program in 2011, the DOE had loaned nearly $1.3 billion for solar manufacturers, of which $1.1 billion was allocated to thin-film solar manufacturers.
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