Global Solar rolls out flexible CIGS module for commercial/industrial rooftop BIPV sector

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In the latest sign of the coming of age of flexible CIGS photovoltaic devices, Global Solar Energy has unveiled a lightweight module targeted at the commercial and industrial flat-rooftop market. The copper-indium-gallium (di)selenide module, called the PowerFLEX BIPV, has a large 5.75m × 0.50m format and a 300W power rating.

Company officials told PV-Tech that the new thin-film PV product has been submitted for UL, IEC, and JEC certification, which they expect to be completed by the end of the year, with the commercial launch set for the first quarter of 2010.

Jean-Noel Poirier, Global Solar’s VP of marketing and business development, said that “the core channel partners are the roofing companies, the roofing membrane manufacturing companies.” Global Solar has been sending samples to these customers in anticipation of the market rollout.

“They want a piece of the PV action…they want a PV product specially designed for roofs,” he added.

CFO/COO Steve Alexander credits “the nine or ten key early adopters” that helped “ensure that we’re making a product that is exponentially better than anything else out there today, and they’ve been really key in the final development of this product. They’re perfectly happy to do their objective qualification alongside our certification, so we come together at the same time, and we’re ready to sell to them and they’re ready to [buy], for the 2011 purchase cycle.”

The Tucson, AZ-based company cites several advantages of its flexible modules over traditional roof-mounted rigid glass module-based systems, including the light weight, nonpenetrating and nonperforating installation, minimal wind load, conformal integration, and aesthetic appeal.

It also sees 30-40% savings in balance of systems (BOS) and installation costs, since the modules lie flat on the roof with no mounting structure and can occupy more rooftop real estate, thus increasing the watts per project.

Global Solar’s PowerFLEX BIPV will have a 25-year power output warranty (with the standard 90% performance guarantee at 10 years and 80% at 25 years) and a five-year product and workmanship warranty, according to Poirier.

He said that the company has run the modules through 3000 hours of damp heat testing on its own test equipment—three times the amount of time required for IEC certification.

The new product will go head to head with ECD Unisolar’s flexible amorphous-silicon thin-film PV module laminate line, as well as with emerging solar roofing solutions from fellow CIGS manufacturers, Ascent Solar and SoloPower. Citing a 12.6% aperture conversion efficiency, Global Solar claims the highest efficiency and power density per rooftop on the market.

“The value proposition is very much driven by the combination of efficiency and form factor,” Poirier told PV-Tech. “We can put a lot of watts in a large format and can generate economies of scale at BOS and installation.”

Alexander explained that the company “didn’t have to retool the factory to do this product. We took the existing string-module line and added a lamination/finishing operation.” He expects that once sales ramp up next year, about two-thirds of production will be dedicated to the BIPV line.

Because of the extreme moisture sensivity of the quartenary PV material, the barrier encapsulation layer has been identified as the key challenge for flexible CIGS modules to overcome in order for them to be market ready. Alexander believes Global Solar has an advantage over the other polycrystalline thin-film companies in that regard.

“Because we got into production before everyone else, we had the benefit of working with every one of the materials suppliers, and we continue to work with almost all of them, even the ones that our competitors are working with. We don’t know what, for example, SoloPower is doing exactly, but we know what their vapor-barrier [materials] suppliers are offering.”

“There are a lot of technically viable solutions out there, but the challenge is having a commercially viable solution. Because we’re ready and we’re fortunate enough to have tested the whole market for those films, we’ve been able to settle on some good solutions that have been very effective for us and that we can actually buy,” he added.

Although the new module has BIPV—building integrated photovoltaics—in its name, Poirier emphasized that the real addressable market is “rooftops with weight-bearing limits… commercial roofs with weight limitations where you can’t put glass PV modules on them without reinforcing the building.”

With that in mind, he believes that about 30-40% of commercial and industrial rooftops worldwide fall into that category and that the PV market for the subsector that Global Solar is targeting will reach somewhere between 1GW and 3GW by 2015.

(Global Solar will be showcasing the PowerFLEX BIPV module at Booth L3/H3/A6 at the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition in Valencia, Spain, Sept. 6-9.)

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