First Solar, the world's largest thin-film solar panel producer, has set up a Silicon Valley lab for a thin-film technology with the potential for higher efficiency at a lower cost, sources said.
A big move toward panels based on CIGS, or copper indium gallium diselenide, technology would mark a major shift for First Solar into an area pioneered by others and would also lend support to critics who see limited room to improve the efficiency of the company's current cadmium telluride panels.
The company has said its cad-tel panels can exceed 11 percent efficiency in converting sunlight to electricity, and it aims to improve that further.
First Solar acknowledged on Thursday it has a small research and development unit in Silicon Valley but declined to comment further.
The Arizona-based company made a name for itself with these thin-film panels that are less efficient than standard panels based on computer processor-style silicon semiconductors, but are much cheaper to produce per watt of output.
CIGS offers the hope of cheap thin-film production costs with efficiency near the best of silicon solar cells, which can be as high as 20 percent.
First Solar, which has never discussed its Silicon Valley operations publicly, has had a research and development unit there for a couple of years, five industry sources with knowledge of the operation said.
The company is looking at low-cost processes to manufacture CIGS panels, one of the people said, though two other sources said the CIGS research appears to be in its initial stages. … Read more