Thin Film Brief 25 May – 10 June 2014

Ascent Solar raises up to $6m

Companies mentioned include: Ascent Solar, Ironridge Global Partners, Samsung Electronics, Apple Inc., Skytron-energy, AEG Power Solutions, First Solar, Avancis, German Institute for Building Technology, Texas A&M University, US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Kaneka Americas Holding Scholarship fund, TSMC Solar, Bridge to India, TSMC Solar

Thin Film Brief 25 May – 10 June 2014

Ascent Solar raises up to $6m

US thin film module maker Ascent Solar Technologies has raised $6m, according to a SEC filing posted on the company’s web site this month. The company attracted the much needed cash to keep afloat and went to existing backer, Ironridge Global Partners, for the funds, according to a separate SEC filing.

The funding came in two $3m tranches, with Ascent Solar receiving the first tranche in April and the second in May.

The CIGS module maker is focusing more on consumer thin film powered devices and the defense market, shying away from the large scale solar power projects. Ascent’s products include solar-powered charging cases for Apple Inc.’s iPhone and Samsung Electronics Co. (005930)’s Galaxy smartphone. Its mobile phone charging EnerPlex products are expected to be available online through Wal-Mart Store.

In a Bloomberg interview it was reported that the company is working hard to get its products in one of the “bigger big-box retailers” sometime this year, according to its vice president of corporate strategy.

Ascent had also raised $10m from small cap turnaround investor Ironridge in February, according to an investor press release on the CIGS player’s web site.

In recent trading Ascent Solar’s shares traded at 38 cents and the company had a market capitalization of $37m, according to a news report.

It has raised more than $100m since it was founded in 2005, however, has not been able to report a profitable quarter since going public in 2006, according to Bloomberg research.

PV-Insider also reported recently that Ascent developed a solar power drone aircraft alongside  Silent Falcon UAS Technologies, fitting nicely with its product strategy with the US military power sector.

In addition to having a manufacturing facility in its home town of Thornton it also has a deal with China’s city of Suqian to construct a factory, of which Suqian is committing a reported $32.5m, according to an Xconomy news report.

First Solar acquires solar O&M firm

First Solar is scaling up its solar service operations with the acquisition of Berlin-based skytron-energy, a subsidiary of AEG Power Solutions, which provides utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) power plant management systems, Operations and Maintenance (O&M) services, data monitoring technology, and equipment to solar power plants throughout Europe.

Currently, skytron has installed monitoring and control systems in more than 600 plants across Europe with a total peak capacity of 5 gigawatts (GWp), more than doubling First Solar's global portfolio of monitored assets. The acquisition is subject to consent by the German merger control authorities. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The acquisition supports First Solar's initiative to provide full, end-to-end energy solutions that vertically integrate solar services and solutions.

Bob Callery, First Solar's Vice President of Operations and Maintenance, said of the strategic move, "Skytron has a high quality, operations-based foundation and a strong portfolio of valued customers. They bring considerable strategic value to our global O&M offering, as well as a pathway to expand our services across the entire solar value chain.”

Citing a GTM Research report, Callery said the O&M market size in Europe was 25 gigawatts (GW) in 2013, and is projected to grow to 35GW by 2017. Skytron grew its monitored fleet by 37 percent in 2013, and First Solar grew its global monitored fleet by 176 percent in that same period. "There is clearly an opportunity for skytron and First Solar to provide innovative, reliable solutions and expertise to power plant owners," Callery added.

According to Callery, skytron will operate as a subsidiary of First Solar, and will maintain its own brand identity. Skytron-energy employees will remain with the organization and operations will continue without disruption, he said.

In other company news, First Solar in late May completed the sale of the 250MWAC Silver State South Solar Project to a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Silver State South is located on approximately 3,000 acres of federally managed land in Clark County, Nevada. The project is adjacent to the 50MWAC Silver State North project, which was developed and built by First Solar and commissioned in 2012.

First Solar developed and designed the Silver State South project, and will provide Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) services to NextEra. All the power from Silver State South will be sold to Southern California Edison under a long-term power purchase agreement.

Avancis bags approval for frameless thin-film CIS PV module

Avancis GmbH of Torgau, Germany, which manufactures copper indium selenide (CIS) thin-film photovoltaic modules, has received general building approval (abZ) from the German Institute for Building Technology (DIBt) for its newest-generation PowerMax SMART frameless thin-film module. The manufacturer claims that the frameless modules can be installed on roofs, facades and building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) systems.

“This means a major milestone for Avancis,” says managing director & chief technology officer Dr Franz Karg. “It shows that our quality standards have been proven concerning performance, safety and building-related applicability as well as the consistent further development of our frameless modules,” he adds.

With approval by DIBt, separate approval of the module for use on roofs and facades is no longer necessary. Also, obtaining individual licenses is no longer necessary. “We give architects, designers and construction companies a building-regulated thin-film module at hand which meets the highest standards of safety, efficiency, design and aesthetics,” says Karg.

In January, Avancis set a new efficiency record of 16.6% for CIS thin-film modules, as confirmed by the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Kaneka awards 2014 Junior Faculty Scholarship

Dr. Jodie Lutkenhaus, assistant professor and the William and Ruth Neely Faculty Fellow in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University, has been awarded the 2014 KANEKA Junior Faculty Scholarship for her excellence in research. The President of Kaneka Americas Holding, Shinji Mizusawa, awarded the scholarship to Lutkenhaus at the Polymer Technology Industrial Consortium meeting in April.

The Kaneka Americas Holding Scholarship fund was established to provide scholarship and award funding to promote and support material science related research activities for students and faculty at Texas A&M University.

Lutkenhaus joined the faculty at Texas A&M in 2010, and her research interests focus on designing organic thin films and nanostructures to enable the development of novel organic energy systems and smart coatings.

Areas of investigation include learning how polymer thin films behave in confinement; fabrication of polymer nanowires and nanotubules; polyelectrolytes and layer-by-layer assembly; designing lithium-ion battery electrode and electrolyte materials; and understanding electrochemical processes within these materials.

The scholarships are set to continue until 2016 (with possibility for continuation), and are awarded to junior faculty, exchange students/visiting scholars, graduating Ph.D. students, graduate students, and undergraduate students who conduct research in material science or organic chemistry fields, or take at least a material science and engineering course for undergraduate students.

First Solar launches new module, power block

First Solar has launched a new modular AC Power Block solar power plant solution and its next generation First Solar Series 4 thin film photovoltaic (PV) module.

Purpose-built for power plant owners and developers seeking to minimize project risk and maximize energy production and revenue, the AC Power Block is a configurable system solution that can be scaled to address a wide range of project conditions, said the thin film module maker.

The pre-engineered system is available in modular units ranging from 800 kilowatts (kW) to 3.8 megawatts (MW). Based on First Solar's proven PV plant design and energy prediction model, the AC Power Block is backed by an industry-leading first year energy performance guarantee and a 25-year capacity warranty.

First Solar's new Series 4 PV module offers up to eight percent more energy than conventional crystalline silicon modules with the same power rating, and is compatible with advanced 1500-volt plant architectures. The Series 4A variant features a new anti-reflective coated glass, which enhances energy production. The module is backed by First Solar's 25-year Linear Performance Warranty.

India anti-dumping duties manufacturers could backfire

Solar analysts following the India market, such as Bridge to India have reported that with the current status of80% of modules used in India are foreign imports, the government’s decision there to place anti-dumping duties of certain countries could be considered, “ill-conceived” and “ill-timed”.

The imposed duties will mean that the cost of solar will leap by up to 70 paisa per kWh (less than US$0.01), with 1GW of existing projects subsequently scrapped, said a Bridge to India analyst.

The duties will raise prices by 10%, meaning just for the 7.5GW of government-backed projects planned by 2017, it would now cost bill payers and taxpayers US$600m, according to Bridge to India estimates.

One analyst believes that the duties may shake investor confidence, setting the market back by as much as two years.

Although some domestic manufacturers may benefit, all of the solar industry is predicted to suffer long term, said a Bridge to India analyst. The duties have hit China hardest, with a US$0.81/W duty.

TSMC Solar hires former NREL CIGS pioneer

TSMC Solar has hired Dr. Rommel Noufi, a CIGS technologist and pioneer at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to consult to augment its CIGS R&D programme, the company has reported.

Dr. Noufi is a 33-year veteran of the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) where he was Principal Scientist and led the team driving CIGS and CdTe cell research. He has authored over 190 publications and has 8 patents.

Commenting on the decision to engage Dr. Noufi, TSMC Solar President Ying-Chen Chao said, "Dr. Noufi played a key role in the development of CIGS as a leading photovoltaic material. The addition of his deep CIGS experience to our R&D effort puts us on solid footing to maintain our rapid improvement of module efficiency over the next several years."

Dr. Noufi sees great potential for CIGS efficiency improvements, "CIGS efficiencies in the lab have reached 20.9%, with a clear path to achieving 23%. With its strong R&D, manufacturing and equipment engineering skill set TSMC Solar is uniquely equipped to develop this potential and bring it into production."

TSMC Solar produced a TUV-SUD verified, 15.7% efficient module with production equipment on its production line in mid-2013. The company is currently expanding its capacity from 40MW to reach 120MW in Q4 of this year.

TSMC is a semiconductor foundry segment specialist with market capitalization exceeding $100bn. TSMC's solar business was founded in May 2009 and is headquartered in Taichung, Taiwan, with regional sales offices in Hamburg, Germany and San Jose, California.