Thin-film solar panels — solar PV panels that use alternatives to silicon to convert sunlight to electricity — have one big champion. That’s First Solar, the world-leading producer of cadmium-telluride panels. The other thin-film chemistry of copper indium gallium selenide — CIGS — holds less than 2 percent of global market share. But a few other CIGS companies are selling in the 100’s of megawatts today, including Japan’s Solar Frontier, which specializes in CIGS, and Germany’s Q-Cells, which makes both polysilicon solar panels and CIGS panels through its Swedish acquisition Solibro. Today, Q-Cells launched sales of its CIGS panels in the United States, seeking to colonize a new market that’s actually growing, rather than shrinking, as is the case for Europe’s previously leading markets of Germany and Italy. Q-Cells started selling its silicon solar panels in North America a year ago, but it doubtless wants to position its CIGS cells as a contender to First Solar, since CIGS panels tend to have slightly higher efficiencies than First Solar’s cadmium-telluride panels. Can CIGS catch up? With Q-Cells and Solar Frontier making their marks, and General Electric planning to enter the market with a 400MW production line, investors are likely anxious to see if the very richly funded CIGS startups such as Miasole, Nanosolar and Solyndra can get off the ground.
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