Sun & Wind Energy 5/2009

First of all, Sempra Generations, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, in December completed a 10 MW thin-film plant in Nevada – which is the largest thin-film installation in North America today. The company says it believes the project – which uses thin film manufactured by First Solar of Arizona – produces the least expensive solar energy in the world. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) of California has signed a 20-year contract for the output of the plant. What’s more, even bigger plants are on the horizon. For example, OptiSolar, based in California, has proposed the 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm project in California, which would use relatively low-cost, thin-dlim PV panels, according to the company. PG&E has signed a contract to purchase the output of the plant, which would begin power delivery in 2011 and be fully operational by 2013.

Growing market share
Thin-film technologies, which reduce the amount of light-absorbing material used to manufacture a solar cell, are grabbing up some of the market shares formally taken by the conventional crystalline silicon panels. Because thin-film photovoltaics can produce electricity at lower prices than crystallines silicon and don’t use much of the shortage plagued silicon, they’re gaining in popularity and are seen as more attractive under certain circumstances. Because they’re less efficient, they’re more appealing when there’s scarce, the higher-efficiency crystalline will be cheaper, notes Jerry Caldwell, senior project engineer for Recurrent Energy in California, “This is a very exciting time for the thin-film sector with as much financial backing as it’s gotten in the last few years…