Startups like MiaSolé, Nanosolar, SoloPower, Solyndra and others attracted massive amounts of funding from some of the valley’s top venture capital firms. But the timing was terrible. Chinese manufacturers began aggressively pricing silicon-based panels and driving costs down just as the CIGS companies were trying to get their manufacturing lines up and running. Then the global recession hit, leaving Silicon Valley littered with CIGS companies that filed for bankruptcy, were sold at fire-sale prices or struggled on.
But while Silicon Valley’s CIGS dream largely imploded, work on the technology continues at the nation’s top energy labs and universities, and some say CIGS still holds enormous potential. Lux Research estimates that the market for solar installations based on CIGS thin-film panels will reach $2 billion in 2015, as manufacturers improve efficiencies.
“The book isn’t entirely closed on CIGS,” said Shayle Kann, vice president for research at Greentech Media. “CIGS was a new technology with complex manufacturing processes that require scale and maturation to be competitive. A lot of companies were trying to scale but it was the worst possible timing: The price of silicon panels was falling through the floor. Solar Frontier is the only CIGS company that is operating at large scale.”