Back on June 21, 2006, while I was attending the PV Industry Forum in Freiburg im Breisgau, Nanosolar Inc., a “global leader in solar power innovation”, announced their plans to build a 430MWp solar cell production factory, when fully equipped (about 200 million cells per year), in the San Francisco Bay area. In addition, a panel assembly factory, designed to produce more than one million solar panels per year, is expected to be built near Berlin, Germany.
At the same time, Nanosolar announced the completion of a Series C Preferred Stock financing greater than $75 million along with government factory subsidies lifting Nanosolar’s cash assets to over $100 million. Among the venture roll call of investors were Grazia Equity, the original backers of Conergy AG, and Christian Reitberger, the original backer of Q-Cells.
Founded by CEO Martin Roscheisen, Nanosolar claims to have developed a process to print/solution coat CIGS (Copper-Indium-Gallium-Diselenide) solar cells with a nanoparticle ink on a foil substrate. This breakthrough continuous process enables low cost and high yield production versus traditional thin film vacuum deposition techniques such as sputtering or evaporation as well as lower capital expenditures per unit of production.
GP View: Nanosolar has the potential to revolutionize photovoltaics and the economics of solar energy = if they can deliver on their grandiose vision=. The road to solar thin film production is littered with numerous commercial failures. Nanosolar has kept their nanoparticle ink technology and its technical specifications top secret. No efficiency targets for volume production have been announced, and, despite accelerated life testing, the durability of Nanosolar’s foil based CIGS solar cells are unproven in real world deployments. Also, per Nanosolar’s own manufacturing capital estimates, their new $100M in funding is perhaps sufficient to build about one-half or ~215MWp of their planned factory capacity. In 2008, 215MWp could represent at most 5% of worldwide crystalline silicon and thin film solar capacity. Perhaps the real test of Nanosolar’s technology will be the timing of their IPO; if Nanosolar can wait for production to ramp and prove their revolutionary technology, this will be the clearest signal of their confidence in CIGS nanoparticle ink and their vision of photovoltaics on every roof.