First Solar skunk works

FSLRlogo [Sunnyvale, California USA]

CdTe development or CIGS entry?

I started looking for the First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR) research outpost in Silicon Valley sometime after the defection of Solyndra Chief Scientist Markus Beck to the Chief Technologist position at the world’s number one photovoltaic (PV) and thin film module manufacturer.

From First Solar skunk works

Marked only by a large sign with the street name and number, the unpretentious 10000 square foot (~929 square meters) building is located on a low traffic road in an average industrial park not far from the local Lockheed Martin facility. A First Solar sign, large or small, is no where in sight.

A $2500 building permit was issued by the City of Sunnyvale on 09-Sep-09 enabling Evergreen Engineering to complete a “RACKS & EQUIPMENT INSTALL FOR FIRST SOLAR”. Yes, that’s the same date as Nanosolar’s mass production announcement last year. Irony?

Where the lab has no name?
Supporting the skunk works designation, the location is unlisted on the First Solar
contact page unlike the project office across the San Francisco Bay in Oakland.

I contacted First Solar over the weekend and was surprised when they responded to my questions: “What is First Solar doing at the unmarked location? Is it an extension of the project business or a skunk works project?

The First Solar spokesperson said: “Our Sunnyvale facility is a small R&D group.

A Grubb & Ellis Company R&D/FLEX SPACE Flyer from last year notes features suitable for a small lab. Early last year, “Rumor: First Solar Looks to Experiment With CIGS” by Michael Kanellos for Greentech Media speculated CdTe (cadmium telluride) expert First Solar was investigating the CIGS (copper indium gallium diselenide) material set for potential PV commercialization.

From the First Solar Career openings for Sunnyvale, it does appear a new product or form factor is under development since a Product Design & Reliability Engineer is sought, and an Automation Engineer is needed to “Coordinate Functional Acceptance Testing, Installation and Qualification of Automation equipments to meet aggressive schedule of Factory start-up in Q4 2010”.

Although the lab’s work appears to be headed to production late 2010, it remains unclear if the efforts are directed towards a CdTe Model A or an entry into CIGS photovoltaic modules.

(Full disclosure: I own some shares of FSLR stock.)
Skunk Works® is a registered trademark of Lockheed Martin Corporation.

5 comments

  1. Good bit of sleuthing, Ed. I’ve been told by several, usually reliable industry sources that the work at FSLR’s “skunk works” is indeed focusing on CIGS, although no one at the company will (or would) confirm it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    First solar are planning to work on CIGS actually.
    They were talking on this dated back to winter 2008 as far as I knew.
    Several major researchers in CIGS academic society were contacted by FS.

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