What Happened to the Thin Film Solar Market?
There is no thin-film solar market. There’s First Solar with cadmium telluride (CdTe), Solar Frontier with CIGS, and until recently Sharp in amorphous silicon (a-Si), with a few smaller players following behind. There are also a few companies looking at very thin c-Si, such as Twin Creeks or 1366 Technologies.
In CIGS, the distress sales of MiaSolé, HelioVolt, Solibro, and Ascent to Asian conglomerates offer some hope that this now-honed technology might be ruthlessly optimized by these large firms. Thin-film solar requires massive capital and human resources — there’s no real ecosystem for each firm’s proprietary processes. The next generation of thin film is coming from Hanergy, SK Innovation, TSMC , Hyundai, LG, AUO, Mitsubishi or Samsung, all of whom now have CIGS or a-Si know-how.
The endgame yields a few competent long-term thin film players in each materials system. First Solar expects to deploy more than 2.6 gigawatts of solar installations in 2012 with revenue forecast in the range of $3.6 billion at one of the lowest panel costs in the industry.
Sharp is backing away from its amorphous silicon business, retiring 160 megawatts out of its 320 megawatts in Japan earlier this year. Reuters sources have the cash-strapped firm withdrawing its U.S. and EU solar divisions. Perhaps Sharp can focus on Japan’s growing residential market but it looks like Sharp is bowing out.
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