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CIGS solar maker Ascent to raise $20M in offering

11 Nov 2010

Additional capital needed to complete new 30 MW solar fab and cover operating costs ahead of production ramp.

Denver-based Ascent Solar, which specializes in flexible thin-film photovoltaics, is set to raise $20.25 million in its latest public offering of stock. The company is selling 5.25 million shares at $4.15 each to raise funds needed to further add to the equipment installed at its new manufacturing facility.

Ascent, whose modules are based on copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS), is currently kitting out the new fab (FAB2), which is expected to have an annual production capacity of 30 MW when completed. Ascent’s proprietary manufacturing process includes a laser patterning stage to create interconnected photovoltaic cells.

At the moment, Ascent’s manufacturing capacity is mostly limited to its 1.5 MW “FAB1” pilot production line, which it completed in 2009, although the company says that commercial production has now begun at FAB2. Partly because of the limited production capacity at present, the company has generated revenues of just $1.3 million in the first nine months of 2010, and it has racked up a net loss of more than $21 million during that time.

Ascent currently lists $11.5 million in cash and $24 million in investments on its balance sheet, but additional capital is needed to cover the operating losses (Ascent currently has 118 employees) and expenditure needed to complete the 30 MW “FAB2” build-out.

Technological progress
Founded in 2005, the company completed its initial public offering in July 2006. It has made good progress on technology development in the past year, with the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recording a conversion efficiency of 14 per cent for a high-performance Ascent module. Ascent also developed its novel 5 meter-long flexible module (pictured), with a conversion efficiency of 9.1 per cent under standard operating conditions.

Recent progress on the commercial front includes distribution deals with Radiant Holding in China and DisaSolar in France, where the two companies recently demonstrated that Ascent’s PV modules could be integrated into train rooftops. The 5 meter modules have also been released commercially under the product name “WaveSol”, with a power output rated at 320 W.

Ascent is aiming to be the first solar company to produce large-format CIGS modules using a roll-to-roll volume production approach. However, establishing the 30 MW fab has been an expensive business, with associated capital expenditure estimated at between $102 million and $107 million. About three-quarters of the required equipment is now in place, and the proceeds of the latest offering will go towards completing the necessary purchases as it looks to ramp production next year.

“A significant component of our costs for the nine months ended September 30 related to the qualification and hiring of additional personnel for operations and installation and qualification of our new FAB2 production line, along with infrastructure costs to support our expansion,” the company stated in a recent Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) filing. “We anticipate that our operational expenditures will continue to increase throughout 2010 as we increase the size of our workforce and scale up FAB2. We do not expect that our sales revenue in 2010 from the FAB1 and FAB2 production lines will support our operating cash requirements.”

Ascent has big plans to expand well beyond the FAB2 capability, however. According to a recent investor presentation by the company, production volumes will ramp to 30 MW next year, and to 150 MW in 2012 - Ascent has applied to the US Department of Energy for a loan guarantee relating to its planned “FAB3” facility, which it hopes will provide the 150 MW capacity.

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