Global Solar and CIGS Reality

 Global Solar and CIGS Reality

In a CIGS photovoltaic universe full of noisyVC-funded startups like Solyndra and Nanosolar — Global Solar Energy is notable for its low-profile, longevity and actual productionvolumes.  And the fact that they’ve achieved eleven percent averagesolar cell efficiency in large-scale manufacturing.  The firm has 75megawatts of production capacity at two sites.

I spoke withJean-Noel Poirier, the newly installed VP of marketing and businessdevelopment, fresh from a stint at First Solar.

Global Solarclaims to be the only Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide manufacturer infull-scale production on a flexible (stainless steel) substrate.

Other recent notable achievements from Global Solar:

  • The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has confirmed thatGlobal Solar Energy is the first company to exceed the 13 percentefficiency mark using CIGS thin films on a flexible stainless steelsubstrate.  Although Nanosolar claims, "NREL independently verifiedseveral of our cell foils to be as efficient as 15.3 percent.  At 15.3 percent efficiency, they are the most efficient printed solarcell of any kind as well as the most efficient cell on a low-cost metalfoil."  These hero experiments are nice but it’s production efficiency, yield, and cost that matters, anyway.
  • Global Solar announced today that its technology is powering thelargest CIGS single rooftop installation in the world.  The system isproducing 820 kW of solar electricity for a plastics manufacturer inOrgiano, Italy, and was integrated and installed by Spain’s YohkonEnergia and CDM Italy.  The second largest CIGS rooftop installationpowers Global Solar’s factory with 750 kilowatts in Tucson, Arizona, the show-me (your papers) state.

Global Solar has been selling CIGS products on a flexiblesubstrate for more than six years and targets their technology for avariety of applications:

  • Portable solar chargers — mobile power for consumer off-grid and militaryapplications.  Obviously, price per watt is not the primary factor inthis usage of solar – it’s convenience and portability.  A 62 wattportable product has a retail price of about $13 per watt.
  • BIPV — Global Solar is a "supplier of choice" for Dow’s massive solar roof shingle undertaking.
  • Modules — GSE supplies "strings of cells" for module suppliers like Yohkon which fabricate glass-sandwich solar modules from the GSEstrings. GSE does not build the modules themselves.
  • BIPV — GSE also targets the "BIPV" market segment of flexibleglue-on solar, as currently served by Uni-Solar with their amorphoussilicon technology.  Poirier insisted that most warehouse roofs and many commercial and industrial rooftops in Europe have weight limitationsand wind load issues that would be well served by the glass-freelow-weight of flexible substrates. He called it "a niche market but abig niche market."  He also saw Global Solar as being 46 percent moreefficient than the ECD product – which could win GSE the race in thatSpecial Olympics event.

Solyndra and Nanosolar have booked staggering amounts of CIGSbusiness.  They’ve shipped megawatts.  GTM Research’s solar analyst,Shyam Mehta has stated that Solar Frontier (the former Showa ShellSolar) sold approximately 43 megawatts of CIGS PV in 2009. (See Thin Film 2010 and Market Outlook report).  MiaSole, AQT, SoloPower, NuvoSun and others are trying to solve the CIGSriddle.

The current metric for photovoltaic supplers is dollars per watt. Take a look at First Solar’s quarterly reports – it tends to beprominently featured.  It’s inescapable and needs to be confronted todetermine system cost and levelized cost of energy (LCOE).  GlobalSolar’s Poirier said, "Our technology can get below one dollar perwatt."

But he would not disclose the firm’s current price per watt. 

If CIGS players or other aspirants in solar want a piece of the solar pie — they are going to have to drive down costs to meet the priceleaders.  Or they are going to have achieve such high efficiencies as to change the Balance of System / installation cost equation.