Siva guns for $0.28/W CIGS panel

Siva Power, the California-based PV start-up known formerly as Solexant, has unveiled a technology “roadmap” that it says will allow it to produce CIGS thin-film modules in the US at $0.28/W by the end of the decade.

Even coming close to that figure would be a game-changer for the PV industry and, indeed, solar energy globally.

Currently, the best crystalline silicon (c-Si) producers in China produce at around $0.55-$0.70/W, while the most competitive modules based on copper, indium, gallium, selenide (CIGS) thin-film technology are produced for around $0.74/W.

Siva Power, based in San Jose, aims to have a 300MW production line up and running within four years, producing at $0.40/W, and believes two years of operational experience will drive that down to $0.28/W.

By that time, its modules will have a conversion efficiency of 14.5%-16.5%, the company says.

The company is "geography agnostic", saying that it could hit those production costs in either the US or China.

At the heart of Siva Power’s claim are two inter-linked weaknesses of c-Si. Silicon wafers are very fragile, and because of that factories must employ many production lines running simultaneously – each typically no bigger than 30MW.

By comparison, Siva Power intends for its first full-scale factory to use a single production line of 300MW. It can achieve such scale, it says, because its co-evaporated CIGS modules will be made on the vastly stronger substrate of glass.

Such glass can already be produced quickly and cheaply thanks to the boom of the flat-panel display sector in recent years.

Having a single production line at 300MW, rather than 10 lines at 30MW each, “greatly reduces” the need for labour and land.

"Silicon photovoltaic technology still relies on brute force replication of small production lines,” says Siva chief executive Brad Mattson. “The next wave of solar will require advanced manufacturing, high-speed automated production lines based on thin film PV."

Mattson joined Solexant – which emerged from stealth mode last year and shifted from cadmium telluride to CIGS – after a career that has included stints at Applied Materials and Vantage Point Capital Partners.

Siva’s chief technology officer Markus Beck was vice president of PV development at Samsung before joining the company, and before that he worked for cadmium telluride giant First Solar and failed CIGS firm Solyndra.

The big challenge for Siva will be raising money to build its first factory.

However, the announcement comes amid a renewed focus on disruptive technologies within the PV industry, after several years of utter domination by the c-Si sector, which is largely based in China.

SolarCity, the largest rooftop PV installer in the US, last month announced plans to acquire Silevo, a maker of high-efficiency modules, and build a factory in New York state.

The world’s largest CIGS producer at present is Japan’s Solar Frontier, with China’s Hanergy – having acquired players like MiaSole and Solibro in recent years – in a race to catch up.