Sunday, January 16, 2011

Solaria's President Talking About Thin Film

Which US companies will be able to compete with Trina, Yingli, and other Chinese companies who can keep module costs in the neighborhood of $1.10 per watt?

Over the last week, I have been watching Solaria. The company caught my attention from comments made by the company's president late last year. At a panel discussion, Suvi Sharma, Solaria's President, said: "Aside from First Solar, there is no bankable thin-film." Great way to catch people's attention.

Solaria is a Fremont, CA-based company that builds crystalline silicon solar panels that look like standard form-factor 60-cell panels. They are about 14 percent efficient modules and put out approximately 230 watts. The twist is that Solaria concentrates the sunlight using a simple 2X lensing system and reduces the amount of silicon that goes into each panel by half. Additionally, Solaria claims it can ride innovation gains in crystalline silicon to produce cheaper and more efficient panels since the cell is 75 percent to 80 percent of the cost of the module. There is also a roadmap to 3X concentration.

Solaria's thesis is roughly this: most of the capital expense and cost in building a PV module is early in the process -- in silicon, ingot, wafer, and cell. By reducing the amount of silicon, Solaria claims that the price of the module is reduced and the capex required to get the solar industry to meaningful scale (i.e., to 50 GW or to 100 GW) is vastly reduced. The plan is to replace expensive photovoltaics with low-cost optics.

Solaria's big challenge is to prove itself as bankable. Once that's accomplished, the company will compete with the Chinese PV manufacturers. I will be watching in 2011 whether they can succeed.

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