Thin film solar hangs on as a niche

Abound Solar. GE Energy. Solibro. MiaSolé. HelioVolt. Masdar PV. Global Solar Energy. Tokyo Electron. Xunlight. BP Solar. Soltecture. Sharp Solar.

The list of thin-film solar companies that were either sold or went bankrupt from 2011 through 2014 reads like a war memorial. Among all of those companies that were investing in new technologies that analysts said could disrupt the dominant market share of crystalline silicon, today only two large names survive: First Solar and Solar Frontier.

As some of the few thin-film companies to ever reach gigawatt scale, these two companies are competing successfully with crystalline silicon, according to a new report by Lux Research.

Lux Press Release_$4.7 Billion in Sales Solar_Image_May_2017_Image_jpgLux’s report looked at the strengths and weaknesses of the two companies, finding that while First Solar has done a better job of commercializing efficiency gains – no doubt in part due to the acquisition of valuable intellectual property from GE Energy – that Solar Frontier is also hanging on by “capitalizing on niches”.

But while Lux applauded Solar Frontier’s diversification away from Japan, the company’s international moves have been slow. First Solar on the other hand, has a very broad international reach, with a strong presence in India and Latin America.

First Solar is in the middle of a big gamble. The company is currently re-tooling to make its large format Series 6, which is expected to bring significant balance of systems advantages and will serve as a high-water mark for large-format solar. And despite technology maturity, such moves always carry unforeseen risks.