09 Jan 2013
Chinese energy giant confirms buy-out of CIGS PV technology leader, adding to its thin-film solar stable.
The Beijing-headquartered Hanergy group has formally completed its acquisition of the thin-film copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) photovoltaics pioneer MiaSolé.
Based in Santa Clara, California, and heavily backed by venture investors, MiaSolé has long been regarded as a leader in the CIGS space, but like virtually all other companies trying to compete with low-cost silicon solar modules, it had struggled of late.
Last August, it announced a major reorganization plan, cutting back its manufacturing efforts and workforce. At the time, CEO John Carrington had said that it was necessary for the company to conserve cash to enable a “strategic partnership”.
MiaSolé joins Q-Cells’ highly regarded Solibro division as a subsidiary of Hanergy, which claims to be China’s largest privately held energy company. It has long-standing expertise in hydroelectric and wind power, and has been investing heavily in solar of late – its buy-out of Solibro last year came after the German parent company had entered into bankruptcy.
In a release announcing the completion of its latest deal, Hanergy highlighted MiaSolé’s achievement last year of an NREL-accredited 15.5% conversion efficiency for a commercial-sized flexible PV module. The Chinese company added that this figure should be increased to more than 17% within two years.
700 companies scrutinized
Hanergy chairman Li Hejun said in the firm’s official release that it had taken a year and a half and scrutinized more than 700 companies in Europe, the US, Japan and elsewhere before deciding to buy MiaSolé.
As a result of the latest deals, Hanergy claims to have a thin-film solar production capacity of some 3 GW - more even than the long-time thin-film PV leader First Solar, whose modules are based on CdTe material.
However, much of Hanergy’s capacity will currently be underutilized as the solar industry continues to go through a huge restructuring caused by a global excess in the supply of traditional crystalline silicon modules, and reduced subsidies in key markets.
The acquisition of MiaSolé clearly represents a long-term strategic move, and according to Carrington the change in ownership will enable it to focus on technology research and development while preparing for a future production ramp.
MiaSolé represented one of the most heavily backed PV companies in Silicon Valley, with top-tier investors including Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, VantagePoint Venture Partners, Firelake Capital Management, Passport Capital, Arcelor Mittal and Ecofin said to have plowed more than half a billion dollars into the firm.
Hanergy’s release suggests that MiaSolé’s operations in Sunnyvale will be retained, providing jobs for “more than” 100 people.
Hanergy has recently signed a deal with the Swedish homewares giant Ikea and its suppliers to cooperate on solar rooftop power station projects – precisely the kinds of installations that have previously been identified by myriad thin-film CIGS firms as ideal for the lightweight technology.
• Solar Frontier, the subsidiary of Japan-based Showa Shell Sekiyu, has just announced a record-breaking efficiency mark for cadmium-free thin-film solar cells. In a collaboration with Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), a small (0.5 cm2) cell showed a conversion efficiency of 19.7%.
Measured by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), the new figure represents an increase of more than 1% on the previous record of 18.6%, which the company says was set ten years ago (see related story).
MiaSolé corporate video: