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2012 may well shape up as a pivotal year for CIGS thin film solar PV technology. Japan's Solar Frontier, the world's largest manufacturer of thin-film CIGS solar PV modules, has closed a deal to supply EDF Energies Nouvelles' enXco with as much as 150-MWp of CIGS modules for use in the latter's 100+ MW Catalina Solar Project in Kern County, California.

Clean Power

CIGS Thin Film Solar PV Starts 2012 Off on the Good Foot with Solar Frontier-EDF Supply Contract

2012 may well shape up as a pivotal year for CIGS thin film solar PV technology. Japan’s Solar Frontier, the world’s largest manufacturer of thin-film CIGS solar PV modules, has closed a deal to supply EDF Energies Nouvelles’ enXco with as much as 150-MWp of CIGS modules for use in the latter’s 100+ MW Catalina Solar Project in Kern County, California.

Photo courtesy Solar Frontier

Solar Frontier, a subsidiary of Japan’s Showa Shell Sekiyu KK, and France’s EDF Energies Nouvelles yesterday announced the largest deal to date in in the nascent market for thin-film CIGS (Copper-Indium-Gallium-Selenium) solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.

Solar Frontier is to supply up to 150-megawatts -peak (MWp) of its thin-film CIGS panels to enXco, EDF Energies Novelles’ project development group, which is building the 100+ MW Catalina Solar Project in Kern County, California, according to a company news release. Solar Frontier delivered an initial 26 MWp of its CIGS panels for the Catalina project in 4Q 2011.

To be built in two phases, an the first 60 MW of capacity is due on-line by year-end 2012. When the anticipated second phase of construction is completed by June, 2013, the Catalina Solar Project will have a capacity of 100+ MW, enough to supply some 35,000 homes with clean, renewable energy, offsetting some 74,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

Landmark Deal for CIGS Thin Film PV

“This is a landmark moment not only for Solar Frontier but the CI(G)S industry as a whole,” Gregory W. Ashley, Solar Frontier Americas chief operating officer, stated. “We have demonstrated successfully that the unique characteristics of CIS technology are compelling to major customers by delivering more KWh over the lifetime of a project for a lower cost.

“We see this project as a launch pad for ever greater CIS achievement in the United States and across the world. We are pleased to work with enXco, which has shown its commitment to the industry by continuing to develop and build utility scale solar projects.”

Though more efficient in terms of converting sunlight’s energy into usable electricity, improvements in both crystalline silicon and thin-film cadmium-telluride (Cd-Te) PV technology and balance of systems costs, along with the sharp, rapid increases in supply, have raised the competitive bar and made it more difficult for thin-film CIGS solar PV technology to break-in and carve out a share of the growing solar power market.

Solar Frontier’s products are the result of more than 30 years of solar PV research and development on the part of Shell Showa Sekiyu, Japanese academic research institutions and the Japanese government, a testament to their determined, longstanding commitment to developing solar PV.

Form, Function and Flexibility

With the 2011 commissioning of its a 900-MW Kunitomi Plant in Miyazaki, Japan, Solar Frontier is the world’s largest manufacturer of thin-film CIS modules, an achievement Solar Frontier notes is “bringing us to gigawatt class production levels and enabling us to meet worldwide demand for a new standard in affordable solar panel performance.”

Thin-film CIGS modules coming off a pilot production line at Solar Frontier’s new factory have attained 12.2% conversion efficiency on a 30cm x 30cm sub-module. CIGS modules also free of cadmium and lead, heavy metals with potentially toxic environmental and health effects.

Higher solar energy conversion efficiency and the form flexibility and manufacturing efficiency of roll-to-roll thin film production are the main selling points for CIGS thin film as compared to monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar PV technology.

Solar Frontier field data show 10% or more greater efficiency in terms of hourly and peak power output consistently compared to polycrysatalline silicon PV panels, according to the company, while manufacturing CIS PV modules requires 60% less energy than crystalline silicon panels. This translates into a payback time of around one year as compared to more than 1.5 years for polycrystalline silicon PV panels and close to 2.5 years for crystalline silicon PV panels.

While achieving high energy conversion efficiencies and economies of scale in manufacturing are cornerstones of developing a mass market, demand eventually needs to catch up. Solar Frontier’s supply contract with EDF Energies Nouvelles starts off 2012 on ‘the good foot.’

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