October 27, 2006 12:40 PM PDT

Solar start-up snags $35 million as CIGS ignites

Venture capitalists are getting hooked on CIGS.

Miasole, a start-up specializing in solar cells made from copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS, has raised $35 million in another round of venture financing. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company had already raised $21.4 million.

CIGS has emerged as a technology that could challenge silicon solar panels. CIGS solar cells aren't as efficient at harvesting sunlight as silicon solar cells, but proponents say they will be much cheaper to manufacture.

CIGS panels use far less raw material than silicon solar panels and the factories themselves cost less to build, proponents say. Miasole CEO David Pearce has said that, for $25 million, Miasole can build a factory capable of churning out 100 megawatts of solar panels a year. (Pearce confirmed the $35 million investment in a brief phone call Friday, but did not comment on other topics.)

Although some have challenged Pearce's estimates as too low, CIGS factories are generally considered to be less capital intensive. A silicon solar factory capable of churning out 30 megawatts worth of panels a year can cost around $70 million.

The difference comes from the fact that silicon panels are made with processes similar to those for chips. CIGS materials are sputtered (or in some cases printed) onto thin, flexible foils or polymer sheets, typically with the same equipment used to make hard drives. The material is patterned on the foils with silk screens.

"We can make it in a T-shirt logo if you want," Terry Schuyler, vice president of sales and marketing at rival CIGS manufacturer DayStar Technologies, joked in a recent interview.

Shortages of silicon have crimped sales in the solar industry. Although some analysts have said indium--the "I" in CIGS and a material used in LCD TVs--could be in short supply at some point, executives in the CIGS business have downplayed these concerns. Indium is actually fairly common in the earth, according to Schuyler.

The catch? CIGS solar cells are mostly only made now in small batches for experimental installations. Miasole and DayStar, which plans to begin volume manufacturing in the first part of 2007, will be two of the first to move toward mass-manufacturing.

Investors, though, are flocking to the concept. Nanosolar, another CIGS company, raised $100 million earlier this year to build factories capable of putting out 430 megawatts of panels a year. (The number means that, if you got together all of the solar panels produced by the factory in a year, they could produce at a given time 430 megawatts worth of power. A major, coal-burning power plant can churn out about 500 megawatts a year.)

If Nanosolar can build its factory, it will become one of the largest solar-panel manufacturers in the world. Investors in the company include Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Google, however, chose to go with silicon solar panels from Sharp, the current world leader in solar, for its plans to build the largest solar installation in the United States. Sharp concentrates on silicon, but is also looking at other materials.

Earlier this fall, Pearce said that Miasole's factory capacity is scheduled to reach 200 megawatts a year by the end of the 2007. He also said the company has set a goal of $100 million in revenue for 2007 and of profitability in that year. Miasole hopes to have an initial public offering in 12 to 18 months.

HelioVolt, another CIGS manufacturer, is also seeking funds. It has already landed venture funds from New Enterprise Associates, among others.

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7 comments

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Sounds good, but where are the details?
Ok, so CIGS isn't as efficient as current silicon panels, but what are the numbers? Also, how about lifetime considerations, mechanical durability... If they are 10% less efficient but 50% cheaper, great.. unless you have to replace them every 2 years. Unless cold climate freeze-thaw cycles kill half of them in one season. This is a techno-geek-ish newsletter - Show me the numbers!!!
Posted by chrisw63 (26 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nano Tech
Nanotech has a website. Thay are neer San Francisco. I first found out about it from RenewableEnergyAccess.com's email newsletter
Posted by stevenmcs (47 comments )
Link Flag
I'd like to see more real info and less hyperbole.
I don't see any comparative figures anywhere or for that matter any figures
One site suggests that CIGS are 18% efficient in the lab and another site talks about some kind of silicon cell being 24.5% efficient. CIGS lifetime of around 13-15 years but can currently degrade in high temp and high humidity.

In upstate NY what ever outdoor equipment has to be able to take from the 90's to maybe -20 degrees. All of the sites I've checked out who are making CIGS have no actual products to sell off the shelf, only made to order. This sounds like they aren't cheap enough yet.

Miasole or is it Mi as ole, what an unfortunate choice of name.
Posted by Gravitas (6 comments )
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Cancer city
You hear about all this new tech but where are the health studies.

Wouldn't having a massive power grid on your roof constitute a cancer risk.
maybe maybe not but why not ask these questions? At At least there should be guidelines as to how close at what amount of power they should be placed to humans. Not in the Blind Bushie era I guess.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
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Not likely
You wouldn't be exposed to anymore electrical power than you are now. This isn't a Utility's power plant, most of the installations generate roughly what the home uses. The solar cells do not emmit high frequency radiation, they provide direct current (zero frequency). The output needs to be run through a DC to AC inverter to make it usable for house appliances but those are inside shielded metal boxes. The chance of getting cancer from a solar array is like the change of getting cancer from the breaker box in your house.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
Alternative solar generation
Cnet also posted an article of converting solar energy to electricity using reflective panels to concentrate the light to either solar cells or a sterling engine. How cost effective are they compared to the film mentioned in this article?
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
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