CIS/CIGS: Diversity delivers opportunities and challenges

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CIGS technology – often referred to as CIS – has been advocated by some as delivering advantages to manufacturers in cost reductions and also in delivering efficiencies with the potential to rival crystalline-silicon (c-Si) rivals. However, the technological challenges of achieving these, and the diversity in deposition approaches used by manufacturers, mean that there are very real challenges facing CIGS manufacturers.

These are the findings of a new report, which has concluded that most small CIGS companies, backed by venture-capital (VC) funding, will not survive this period of intense price competition. At the same time however, the report has concluded that there are significant opportunities for equipment suppliers with a "strong CIS background".

Milan Rosina is the author of the "Thin Film Photovoltaics CIS/CIGS Technology Market" report in which "strong industry consolidation" is predicted.

Various CIGS producers apply a range of deposition techniques to their production processes, ranging from vacuum deposition, such as coevaporation of sputtering, to potentially cheaper non-vacuum processes, such as nanoparticle ink-printing and electrodepsition. As such, Rosina concludes, specific equipment processes are difficult to find.

"In contrary to crystalline silicon PV, which largely profited from the equipment and know how developed in silicon microelectronic industry, CIS technology approaches are still very dispersed and base don different materials, cell architectures, module design and manufacturing equipment," she explained in a statement announcing the report’s publication.

Innovative applications, such as in flexible CIGS cells, are investigated in the report as are building integrated (BIPV) solutions.

Global Solar’s flexible roofs

Flexible CIGS module producer Global Solar announced earlier this week that is has completed three BIPV projects in Italy. The three projects have a combined installed capacity of 185 kilowatts (kW). One of the installations, a 100 kW rooftop installation in Milan, saw Global Solar flexible modules affixed to roofing membranes during the manufacturing process.

"Demand for our thin film modules is high in Italy because many roofs have weight limitations and thus traditional glass modules cannot be installed," said Jean-Noel Poirier, Chief Sales Officer of Global Solar Energy, in a statement announcing the installations. "Weighing just 3.5 kilograms per square meter, Global Solar modules allow generating solar energy on industrial roofs which cannot bear heavy loads."

Petrochemical collaboration

Japanese CIGS module manfucturer Solar Frontier also announced today that it has opened installations at Abu Dhabi Oil Refining Company (Takreer) operations. The 35.6 kW systems are spread across four locations at the Takreer facilities in the United Arab Emirates. Solar Fontier’s parent company, Showa Shell Skiyu Group, has long conducted crude-oil transactions with the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.