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2011 was a "break-out" year for emerging thin-film CIGS solar photovoltaic (PV) technology and manufacturers. The next four years will see the CIGS market double in size, according to a new industry report from Lux Research, which evaluates and ranks competitors across parameters, including technical value and business execution.

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Lux Ranks Thin-Film CIGS Solar PV Manufacturers in Light of Forecast Growth Surge

2011 was a “break-out” year for emerging thin-film CIGS solar photovoltaic (PV) technology and manufacturers. The next four years will see the CIGS market double in size, according to a new industry report from Lux Research, which evaluates and ranks competitors across parameters, including technical value and business execution.

Photo courtesy Ascent Solar

There have been a couple or few high-profile CIGS(Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) thin-film solar photovoltaic (PV) contracts announced recently. If a forecast from Lux Research turns out to be on the mark, 2012 should be the start of a period of rapid expansion in the market for CIGS thin-film solar PV. The Boston-based research firm forecasts that the market for CIGS solar PV installations will double in size to $2.35 billion in 2015.

Production cost reductions, improved module energy conversion efficiencies and growing adoption on commercial rooftops turned 2011 into a “breakout year” for CIGS PV manufacturers, according to a Lux press release.

Though significant obstacles – product lifetime and bankability among them – stand in the way of individual manufacturers, CIGS PV capacity, as well as revenue, will nearly double come 2015, to nearly 2.3 gigawatts (GW) from the current 1.2 GW level, Lux researchers forecast in “Sorting through the Maze of CIGS Technologies: Who Will Cash in on the Breakout Year?

Stronger Manufacturers to Come Out of Industry Shake-Out

Lux foresees a shake-out among CIGS thin-film PV manufacturers. Among those it sees weathering the competition successfully are Japan’s Solar Frontier, Germany’s Avancis and Solibro, a subsidiary of Germany’s Q-Cells. Key to their success will be the ability to forge strategic partnerships and make the investments critical scale up capacities and improve production processes.

“Manufacturers have begun ramping meaningful capacities and there have been tremendous improvements in module efficiency,” notes Pallavi Madakasira, Lux Research Analyst and lead author of the report. “Now, strategic partnerships between start-ups and industrial conglomerates are likely to determine this technology’s overall viability and competitiveness.”

Curiously, Colorado’s Ascent Solar does not appear to be included in the report. China’s TFG Radiant Group recently upped its stake in the Thornton, Colo.-based CIGS thin-film manufacturer in early January.

Lux Innovation Grid Rankings

In the Lux Innovation Grid included in the report, Lux’s research team evaluates and compares market participants’ competitive positions based on two parameters: Technical Value and Business Execution. Those strong in both areas make it into the upper “Dominant” quadrant. Added on is a third parameter, company maturity, that yields an overall “Lux Take” on each manufacturer.

Based on the Lux Innovation Grid analysis:

  • “Solar Frontier is a clear winner, with a solid position in the ‘Dominant’ quadrant – and was the only firm to earn a ‘Strong Positive’ take.” Lux also notes that the Japan-based CIGS manufacturer excels in business execution and is selling more than 30 megawatts of panels in India and is making “inroads into new and emerging markets.”
  • Stion, Miasole and Nuvosun have the potential to “emerge as champions,” Lux researchers write. All three earned “Dominant” rankings on the Lux Innovation Grid, though their success will depend on their ability to efficiently ramp-up and utilize capacity, build customer relationships and strategic partnerships and execute consistently with regard to module costs, yield and module efficiency.
  • In contrast, Lux’s research team views ISET, Flisom and AQT as acquisition targets. All three ranked as “High Potential,” with strong technical value but weaker business execution capability.
  • Global Solar, Avancis and Solibro are “likely to consolidate,” according to Lux. “Global Solar has demonstrated slow but steady progress and is currently selling its PowerFLEX Technology, a shingle product, to Dow. Still, to succeed it needs to adopt a less conservative approach. Avancis has a joint venture with Hyundai Heavy Industries for CIGS module production in Asia. As for Solibro it will need to quickly and independently strengthen its financial position to succeed.”

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I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.

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