SoloPower launches flexible CIGS line, ships modules, ramps production capacity

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SoloPower has launched the first module of its inaugural line of flexible, high-power, lightweight CIGS thin-film photovoltaic modules. Produced at the company’s San Jose manufacturing facility, the 0.3m x 2.9m SFX1-i module weighs 2.2kg and has an 80Wp power rating and is targeted for large rooftop applications. 

The initial module and a second, larger 260Wp-rated device—the 0.9m x 2.9m, 6kg SFX1-i3—are shipping in sample quantities to several key customers in different geographical areas, with general availability of the new modules expected in the second half of 2010, according to SoloPower. A third module, the 170Wp SFX2 (0.3m x 5.8m, 3.6kg), is also being readied for deployment.

To meet further market demand, the company is adding more than 75MW of CIGS cell and module production capacity at its plant.

The company says that its proprietary roll-to-roll electroplating process, in which copper-indium-gallium-(di)selenide cells are fabricated on rolls of flexible metal-foil substrates and then integrated into laminated, moisture-proof modules, provides cost advantages in terms of low capital expenditures, fast throughput, and high material utilization.

In April, the company announced that the U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) had confirmed record-breaking aperture conversion efficiencies of 11% from production modules taken off SoloPower’s pilot line.

SoloPower CEO Tim Harris stated in the announcement that the “SFX1-i3 lightweight module is optimized for commercial and industrial roofs, allowing our customers to increase their profitability and to complete projects that would not have been possible with other technologies.”

Harris told PV-Tech in a phone interview late last week that given the company’s capacity constraints for the next year or two, “we’re being very selective about modules going out to the right regions, the right customers, the right channels, developing the relationships, the customers, and the capabilities, so that when the high-volume line comes up, we’re ready to do a really fast ramp.”

He said the company has 13 different customers in 13 different locations in the United States, Europe, and the rest of the world (and has signed three “uptake” supply deals recently), adding that the customers plan to have systems in place using SoloPower’s flexible CIGS modules—ranging from 2KW to 100KW–within the next couple of months.

Although SoloPower has received verification from an independent testing lab that its initial modules have passed the requisite UL certification tests, Harris explained that the official certification won’t be awarded until one tardy supplier’s component gets certified in mid-August, since all module elements must be tested individually before the entire module can be certified.

In addition to the original module configurations already submitted for certification, several more should be sent for testing within the next week or so. “Within the next three or four months, we’ll have a slew of configurations—with different junction boxes, frontsheets, suppliers, form factors–getting certified” for UL and IEC, he said.

The expansion of production capacity has moved forward, according to Harris, with long lead-time equipment ordered and other tools being phased in to support the ramp. The plan calls for two complete end-to-end cell-module CIGS manufacturing lines in the San Jose facility—a 10MW-capacity semiautomated line with one-third-meter-wide foil capability and a 75MW-capacity automated line running meter-wide foil.

SoloPower is also awaiting a decision on its application for a federal loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy, which would provide the necessary funds for the company to go to the next stage of capacity expansion. Noting the “deep and thorough due diligence” of the loan application process, Harris believes the government is trying “to get things through [the process] more quickly” and is hopeful for a judgment soon. 

SoloPower’s SFX1-i modules will be on display at two partners’ booths in Moscone West at the Intersolar North America show in San Francisco: Shoals Technologies Group (Level 1—7864) and eIQ (Level 1—7353).

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