California-based CIGS thin-film company takes $18.7 million

Sunnyvale, California-based CIGS user AQT Solar Inc. took $18.7 million from investors as it prepares to double production capacity for its thin-film solar cells.

The company will use the round proceeds to add a second production line at its headquarters and release 30 megawatts’ worth of thin-film solar cells a year from its current 15 MW.

The company’s products are made of copper indium gallium selenide, known to be less efficient at turning sunlight into electricity than silicon but less costly to make.

Instead of using large sheets of metal or glass, AQT makes thin-film solar cells using small pieces of glass the size of silicon cells themselves.

The company says the product can replace silicon cells since CIGS panels can now be assembled without modifying existing equipment originally used for assembling silicon panels.

In total, AQT Solar has raised around $40 million, the company said.

Based on a filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, AQT initially expected to raise $21.7 million from the present round.

AQT’s first installation was Sol Pacifico, a 2-MW solar farm intended to power a resort in Baja Mexico.

The market

CIGS is the material of choice for startups like Stion and HelioVolt Corporation, which seemed to have fared better than silicon-based solar companies amid falling commodity prices in 2011 – with the exception of Solyndra’s bankruptcy.

Texas-based Stion in December, for instance, brought in $130 million in a funding round with Korean investors. SK Group, South Korea’s third largest conglomerate and the country’s top oil refiner, also invested $50 million dollars into California-based HelioVolt Corporation last September.

Nanosolar Inc, another CIGS panel maker headquartered in California, also won contracts from three European renewable energy project developers to supply up to 1 gigawatt of CIGS panels last April.

Bigger companies in the energy industry like General Electric Company prefer to use cadmium telluride for thin-film solar panels. The material currently dominates the market and First Solar Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of thin-film solar panels, also bases its products on this technology. – Oliver M. Bayani



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