Renewable Energy, Solar

Thin Film’s Time in the Sun

First Solar’s thin-film technology is now challenging silicon panels at large-scale solar-power facilities.

July 27 (Technology Review) – The low manufacturing cost of photovoltaics that employ thin films of cadmium-telluride semiconductor have long been seen as having the potential for lifting solar power from its niche status as a very expensive power source, delivering less than a twentieth of 1 percent of U.S. electricity.

Now, after two decades in which cadmium-telluride technology was dogged by low power output and reliability problems, it’s suddenly elbowing its way into renewable-energy markets and competing with today’s dominant solar technology: silicon solar panels. The company behind this technology turnaround is Phoenix-based First Solar, which says that the technology could eventually be cost competitive with conventional fossil-fuel sources of electricity.

First Solar has racked up a string of large contracts and investments over the past year for its thin-film technology. First Solar closed a $400 million initial public offering in November and clinched a deal three months later to supply a 40-megawatt solar-panel farm in Germany that will be one of the world’s largest. And earlier this month, the company revealed that it has signed long-term contracts with European and Canadian buyers to supply 685 megawatts of modules worth $1.28 billion. The latter figure is especially impressive considering that all the solar-module factories in the United States shipped less than 200 megawatts’ worth of photovoltaics last year.

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