In early December, we attended the Fourth Thin Film Summit USA in San Francisco, where we heard an interesting company presentation from Brian Stone at Nanosolar – a noteworthy venture-backed copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) module producer. After raising nearly $400 million prior to 2009, the company has remained largely quiet for the past year. Lux last profiled* Nanosolar in late 2009.
Brian presented Nanosolar’s utility panels – an application-specific product, not unlike the utility panels offered by First Solar and crystalline silicon (x-Si) incumbents like Trina Solar. The panels, he said, delivered 11% efficiency, with a roadmap to 16% by 2015. He also highlighted a few pilot projects at Nanosolar, including plans for 8 MW to 10 MW of production in early 2012.
Brian also shed some light on the company’s cost structure, citing $0.65/W to $0.70/W for materials today, decreasing to $0.30/W to $0.35/W – however, we still believe that nanoink costs remain a major bottleneck* for the company. At 2.5 GW annual capacity, Nanosolar anticipates total module costs of $0.40/W to $0.45/W. Today, he cited total production costs between $1.10/W and $1.20/W. Lastly, Brian highlighted balance of systems savings in the company’s pilot projects, citing $0.10/W to $0.15/W savings by using Nanosolar panels.
Despite its ambitious roadmap to low production costs, we think Nanosolar’s lack of competitiveness today will prohibit it from reaching its goals.
It is targeting utility-scale projects, but an 11% efficient panel won’t allow it to compete with cadmium telluride (CdTe) leader First Solar, which can also develop utility-scale projects internally. Even amorphous silicon (a-Si) can prove competitive against an 11% efficient CIGS panel, depending on location. On the other hand, CIGS is gaining traction in commercial rooftop applications, which are less space-constrained than residential rooftops.
In general, it’s clear that Nanosolar could very well be a victim of the solar shakeout in 2012 without additional investment. The company is simply not keeping up with the leaders in the CIGS market, like Stion and Solibro – both of which are above 13% production efficiency – and capacity leader Solar Frontier. That competitive landscape, in addition to bolstered competition from x-Si and CdTe, place Nanosolar squarely on the outside looking in.
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