Nanosolar, a Silicon Valley thin-film solar startup, has been ridiculed for its reluctance to release any sort of information about its technology since it debuted in 2002. And now the company has proved all its detractors wrong, announcing yesterday that it has $4.1 billion in orders for its relatively cheap thin-film photovoltaic solar panels.
Nanosolar produces its solar cells, which consist of copper, indium, gallium and selenide (CIGS), on aluminum foil as part of a cost-efficient process that the company claims is both cheaper and more efficient than the production process of rival thin film company First Solar. The company boasts, in fact, that its solar panels can achieve an efficiency of up to 16.4%–higher than any other printed solar cell. And since Nanosolar can make a handy profit by selling its panels at $1 per watt, the company is able compete with fossil fuels.
The true test for Nanosolar will be whether it can quickly ramp up its production process to challenge First Solar, which just started working on the world’s largest solar plant in Ordos, China. The company claims that its San Jose plant produces one million solar cells each month, and the company’s German factory has a manufacturing capacity of 640 megawatt. Not bad, but not up to First Solar’s projected capacity of 1,189 megawatts by the end of 2009, either.
But while Nanosolar and First Solar may be competing for thin film solar dominance, the combined production abilities of both companies could be enough to send the price of thin film solar into a downward spiral. And that’s good news for both companies.