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MiaSolé latest CIGS solar firm to restructure

09 Aug 2012

Santa Clara solar panel maker is cutting costs but expects to finalize new partnership within 90 days.

Californian photovoltaic panel maker MiaSolé, regarded as one of the leading exponents of copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) technology, is the latest to feel the pinch of solar market Darwinism.

Alongside the former Q-Cells subsidiary Solibro and Solar Frontier, MiaSolé has been able to drive down the cost of CIGS products more than most companies developing the thin-film technology, but with the cost of crystalline silicon panels dropping more quickly it has had to take action to preserve cash - despite raising $55 million as recently as March.

“In a move designed to reduce costs and focus the company on critical functions, Miasolé will reorganize its workforce to retain employees in the technology, commercial and flexible product areas, and make reductions in manufacturing and operations,” said the firm in a statement.

“This restructuring will ensure continued CIGS technology development, execution on our sales pipeline and ongoing development of our flexible product, which NREL [the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory] recently verified at 15.5% efficiency.”

That conversion efficiency level represents a world record, and follows a 17.3% result with a champion (non-flexible) cell, but neither of those technologies is yet at the production-worthy stage. The company’s MS Series-02 range of products are said to offer an efficiency of “up to” 14.5%.

John Carrington, the MiaSolé CEO and former First Solar executive, said: “In the near term we need to conserve costs to enable a strategic partnership. The company is looking forward to aligning with a partner and collectively executing on our technology roadmap…I am confident based on current discussions that we will finalize a partnership within the next 60-90 days.”

Big backers
Backed by some of the biggest venture capitalists in the technology sector, including Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, Vantagepoint and Bessemer, MiaSolé also has a close relationship with fellow Santa Clara resident Intel, which is lending support in the form of volume manufacturing expertise.

Ahead of the restructuring, the company employed 350 people and was operating two production facilities in its native California, where it uses a sputtering process to deposit the active material of the thin-film panels.

Other heavily-funded CIGS companies to have fallen by the wayside in the face of cut-throat competition from Chinese rivals making crystalline silicon panels include the notorious Solyndra, and more recently Germany’s Soltecture (formerly Sulfurcell).

But it has not all been bad news for thin-film CIGS – in the past few months HelioVolt has attracted $50 million funding from Korea, while Nanosolar raised $20 million in another venture round and China’s Hanergy has agreed to acquire Solibro from bankrupt Q-Cells.

In addition, the new industry-led US Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium (PVMC) has signed up previous Miasolé CEO Joseph Laia as one of the co-chairs for an effort that is aiming to develop a CIGS technology roadmap and push the material to higher conversion efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Whether or not any of those moves will be sufficient to sustain the emerging industry in the face of the market onslaught from crystalline silicon manufacturers remains to be seen.

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