Ascent's China JV hits 'key milestone'

Ascent Solar Technologies, the US-based maker of flexible CIGS modules, has agreed with its Chinese partner on a fair value for its proprietary technology, moving it closer to opening its factory in Jiangsu province.

Last December, Nasdaq-listed Ascent, whose thin-film modules are targeted at consumer and other off-grid applications, announced a joint venture with the city of Suqian, in China’s Jiangsu province.

The deal saw Suqian promise to inject the yuan equivalent of $32m into the joint venture and offer up rent-free use of a factory and office space in an industrial space for five years, with the factory to be gradually ramped to 100MW.

Colorado-based Ascent, meanwhile, agreed to stump up the equivalent of $129m, with most of that value to come from the contribution of its technology and equipment. Key to the deal was finding agreement on the value of such assets.

On Monday Ascent announced that the Suqian government has agreed to a value of 480m yuan ($77m) for Ascent’s proprietary technology – equivalent to 60% of the contribution it needs to make toward the joint venture in the initial phases.

Ascent’s remaining 40% contribution will come in the form of equipment to be transferred from Colorado – still to be valued – and cash.

The agreement on the value of Ascent’s proprietary technology “underscores the belief by the Suqian government that Ascent’s CIGS ... technology has a bright future”, says Ascent chief executive Victor Lee.

“We plan to move quickly to next steps in the partnership, with the goal of achieving scaled manufacturing capacity enabling dramatic cost reduction of our CIGS modules.”

A hotbed of exciting start-ups only a few years ago, the US thin-film PV space has since become a graveyard for once-promising companies – from Solyndra to Unisolar. A few, like MiaSole and Global Solar, managed to sell themselves to foreign companies like China's Hanergy.

While most thin-film PV companies have targeted the mainstream utility-scale and rooftop PV markets, Ascent has tried to differentiate itself by focusing on the still-niche market of kit used to recharge mobile phones and camping gear.

The company believes the market addressing on-the-trot charging of electrical devices is only beginning to emerge, and last year it opened its first retail shops in California and Japan for its EnerPlex line of products.

Adding on the possibility for flexible thin-film PV systems on things like planes and buses, and the small but growing building-integrated PV market, Ascent claims it sees a “total addressable market” for its modules in excess of 15GW each year.

The company nevertheless remains tiny and unprofitable even by the standards of the PV sector, having cracked the $1m mark for revenues for the first time onlylast year – against an operating loss of $27m.