European PV systems integrators Belectric, EDF Energies Nouvelles, and Plain Energy have signed long-term deals with CIGS thin-film manufacturer Nanosolar for the supply of up to 1GW of utility panels over the next three to six years.  The agreements are brand new, not extensions or modifications of previous contracts signed in years past with the three companies, all of which are strategic partners, Nanosolar CEO Geoff Tate told PV-Tech.

“There were agreements in the past, but those agreements were signed in 2008, and the world has changed substantially,” he said. “We started from scratch and did new agreements that made sense for where the world is today and what our customers need.”

The larger, more international partners—Belectric and EDF Energies Nouvelles—will account for most of the up to 1GW of demand for their projects in Europe, North America, and emerging markets over the next several years as Nanosolar hits its efficiency and volume targets, while the smaller, more Euro-focused Plain Energy will likely take in a smaller amount .

“They’re both capable of taking a lot from us, and exactly which one turns out to be bigger, it’s hard to say,” explained Tate.

Shipments of panels have already begun, according to Brian Stone, Nanosolar’s VP of worldwide sales and marketing. He said in a phone interview with PV-Tech that the company is “in construction with Energies Nouvelles on a 3MW plant in Bordeaux (Gabardan), France. Those modules were shipped in the first quarter. We have additional plants with [the three integrators] over the balance of this calendar year.”

“The target for this calendar year is to produce 15MW,” he continued. “Quite a bit of it is back-end loaded in the fourth quarter with the arrival of the new manufacturing capacity. The amount of megawatts installed this year will be likely closer to 10MW by these partners.”

“We are ramping volumes right now” at the company’s soon-to-be 115MW-capacity, roll-to-roll CIGS cell-production facility in south San Jose, related Tate. “We have taken over the entire building that we’re in to make room for new equipment that’s being delivered starting in a few weeks.”

“As that equipment gets qualified and released for production, in the fourth-quarter timeframe, we’ll have a >100MW production run rate,” he continued. “Next year, our shipments will be in excess of 100MW, and we expect to double or triple our capacities in every year going forward from there.”

The company sends the processed cells to its large PV panel assembly factory in Luckenwalde, outside of Berlin, which he said has enough capacity as well as room to expand and “can handle all the production we have in our plan right now.”   

Nanosolar recently announced it had achieved NREL/Fraunhofer-certified conversion efficiencies of 13.9% for its printed cells and 11.6% for the proprietary modules; Tate noted that the company is shipping 10%-efficient panels to customers and “is ramping that efficiency. We’ll hit 12% by the start of next year, 13% in 2013, and 14% in 2014.”

“That’s important, but what’s more important to our customers is the cost per watt,” according to the CEO, citing Nanosolar’s goal of hitting 60 cents US within several years. “We’re going to be in the low 60s in 2013, and we will be well below that in 2014.”

“This will put us in a position of, we believe, cost leadership, and that’s going to be at a much lower production volume than First Solar and other companies. So we have room to continue to drive down the cost curve from there as we ramp our volumes,” he claimed.  

 "Nanosolar's commitment to quality, customer relationships, and targeting one of the world's lowest cost solar panels makes it an ideal partner to help us tap into the world’s fastest growing renewable energy markets," said David Corchia, CEO of EDF Energies Nouvelles, in a prepared statement. "Through this partnership with Nanosolar, we look forward to achieving a very competitive levelized cost of energy for our solar installations.”

 Noting how the thin-film PV company’s “industrial printing approach to manufacturing its utility-scale panel combined with its lower balance-of-systems costs will allow solar to be cost competitive with fossil fuels," Bernhard Beck, CEO of Belectric, said his firm looks “forward to combining [its] state-of-the-art, low-cost installation methods with the Nanosolar Utility Panel to further drive down the cost of solar power plants.”

Financial terms of the agreements were not disclosed.