Siva Power, based in San Jose, California, has won a competitive award from the US Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative. The award includes a $3 million grant to help develop its thin-film solar power technology. Siva is developing copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar cells using a co-evaporation process. If this means nothing to you, think of a thin layer of copper, indium, gallium, and selenide on a backing material.
If it still sounds confusing, copper, indium, and gallium are all metals and selenide is a chemical compound similar to selenium. Only a thin layer of them is required to absorb sunlight and produce electricity.
What is the point of CIGS solar technology? Theoretically, the manufacturing costs can be much lower. Siva Power has a goal of producing solar power modules at 40 cents/watt or less. Two years after this goal is achieved, Siva wants to reach 28 cents/watt.
“Unlike silicon PV, our new approach provides a pathway to building the solar industry’s ‘factory of the future’ with gigawatt production capacity, and the world’s lowest cost in solar. Two years of data-driven research and analysis has led us to pursue a co-evaporated CIGS via monolithic integration on glass technology,” explained Siva Power CEO Brad Mattson.
The DOE grant will allow Siva to pursue such goals. 12 times higher manufacturing throughput for CIGS co-evaporation is another goal. Siva also wants to build a 300 MW production facility which would be the world’s largest.
The largest global CIGS manufacturer at the moment is Solar Frontier, located in Japan.
Thin-film solar has tantalizing potential realized. “In 2009 alone, 437 million square feet of windows were installed in non-residential buildings in the United States. That many square feet of standard solar panels would generate around 4 gigawatts of power, roughly the total installed solar capacity in the U.S. today.”
Of course, this enormous potential is why thin-film solar companies continue to develop their technologies and manufacturing capacities. American cities like San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Houston, Miami, Dallas, and San Antonio might some day generate a significant amount of solar power using thin-film solar technology on their many high-rise buildings.
In the midst of all this talk, let’s also not forget that First Solar is far and away the thin-film solar leader, and its Cadmium telluride (CdTe) technology offers many advantages, even if it isn’t being installed on the sides of skyscrapers. Furthermore, it is continuously improving its technology. It’ll be hard to beat in many a solar market by the time Siva Power ramps up production.
Image Credits: Siva Power
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