Technology Review has an update on thin film solar company Nanosolar, noting their 640 MW per year fully automated manufacturing facility for CIGS solar cells in Germany is now operational (though only producing 1MW per month of panels initially) - Advanced Solar Panels Coming to Market.
Solar cells made of the CIGS semiconductor, which is composed of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium, have long been considered a potential challenger to conventional solar cells made of silicon. At least in the lab, CIGS cells have reached efficiencies comparable to silicon-based solar cells. And in theory, they could be made using inexpensive printing processes, leading to much less expensive solar power. But developing manufacturing processes that maintain the high efficiencies has proven difficult.
Nanosolar claims to have solved these problems. Its solar cells still aren't as efficient as laboratory cells--the best of them convert 16.4 percent of the energy in sunlight into electricity, as opposed to over 20 percent in the lab. And on average, the company's solar panels convert just 11 percent of that energy into electricity, says Martin Roscheisen, Nanosolar's CEO. But that's high enough to compete with conventional solar panels, he says, due to modifications that improve performance and lower installation costs. He estimates that in sunny locations, power plants made using these panels could produce electricity at five to six cents per kilowatt hour, based on Department of Energy methods for calculating the amortized cost of solar panels over their lifetimes. That's near the cost of electricity from coal and significantly less than most solar power, which costs about 18 to 22 cents per kilowatt hour.