A relatively new solar photovoltaic (PV) start-up company called SoloPower has officially opened its first manufacturing plant in Portland, Oregon. This state has been successful in attracting a disproportionate number of high-tech companies versus most all other states due to their aggressive corporate incentives for business development. SoloPower’s flexible solar cells are based on copper indium gallium di selenide (CIGS) thin-film technology similar to the infamous Solyndra solar start-up company, which went bankrupt after receiving ~$500 million in stimulus funding. Unlike other CIGS start-ups, SoloPower uses proprietary roll-to-roll processes via electro-deposition processing to separate itself from the competition.
XsunX, another U.S. CIGS solar start-up, is completing the assembly of its new CIGSolar thin-film PV cell evaporation system this month. The company employed a fast-track completion schedule in order to accelerate its technology demonstration and marketing efforts. This summer, XsunX received equity financing through Ironridge Energy, which allowed it to focus on building a demonstration of the CIGSolar thin-film PV cell evaporation system while simultaneously forming technology marketing operations in its new site in southern California.
It has not been easy for companies like these in one of the most difficult years for solar manufacturing companies on record amid a plethora of companies closing up shop. Venture capital (VC) funding in the solar sector in the third quarter of 2012 reached its lowest levels since 2008, according to a new report this week from Mercom Capital Group. VC funding totaled only $72 million in 14 deals in the third quarter versus $376 million over 32 deals in the second quarter of the year, which was an 81 percent drop-off.
On the bright side, global solar installations have been on the upswing from just 7 GW in 2009 to a forecasted 29 GW by the end of 2012. CIGS solar start-ups like XsunX and SoloPower are benefitting from rapid and aggressive consolidation across the thin-film solar industry, as more companies exit due to challenging market conditions. Furthermore, if successful in gaining significant traction in the market, they will be in a better position in a post anti-dumping climate, as the US Commerce Department has set a new precedent in protecting US solar manufacturers from unfair foreign trade practices by companies like China.
Approximately half of China’s PV manufacturing firms have ceased production, according to a recent report on the Chinese newspaper Guangzhou Daily and as cited by Digitimes. This decline is likely due to the combination of U.S. trade violations, falling prices and contraction in the European market derived from reduced subsidies. Chinese manufacturers are also dealing with higher costs in order to mitigate future environmental catastrophes, as have happened over the past year due to previous weak government regulations.