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US Solar PV Market Grows Despite PV Manufacturer Failures

It's the same story again and again in the PV industry for the past year. While low module pricing is driving increased demand for solar power installations, that same low pricing is driving struggling module manufacturers right out of the market.

The latest casualty is Sunnyvale-Calif. based thin-film manufacturer AQT Solar, which according to VentureWire is seeking a buyer or a partner willing to bail out the company.  The firm has retained Gerbsman Partners to help find a company interested in purchaseing its assets and Intellectual Property (IP). 

AQT was founded in 2007 and had received more than $30 million in funding. The latest news the company had announced was that it was working on new thin-film solar PV technology that used copper, zinc, tin and sulfur (CZTS) to make solar cells that were, according to the company, less expensive to manufacturer. Tin and sulfur are cheaper and more abundant raw materials and indium and gallium, which the company had previously been using to manufacture CIGS (copper, indium, gallium, selenide) solar cells.

In June, the company CEO, Michael Bartholomeusz, promised that he would commercialize the CZTS technology in 2013 but a researcher from NREL at the time said that it was too early in the R&D phase to start talking about commercialization timelines.

According to a statement on the Gerbsman Partners blog, AQT’s IP includes 25 patents “in core process technology and critical up and downstream innovations.”  The company currently employs more than 40 people and also has about $10 million in fixed assets.

Raj Prabhu, Managing Partner of Mercom Capital Group said, “VC’s have invested heavily in CIGS companies,” in the past few years.  He said that his company, Mercom, has tracked CIGS companies receiving almost $700 million in VC funding since 2011.  But the technology lost its competitive edge once the price of silicon dropped, bringing crystalline silicon solar panel costs with it and, “making it really tough for CIGS companies to compete,” said Prabhu.

“AQT is joining a long list of CIGS companies that have struggled to compete in this tough environment,” he concluded.

Yet despite the struggles of U.S. solar PV manufacturing companies, the U.S. market is still bursting with development opportunities.  The PV market in the Americas more than doubled in the first half of 2012 to reach 1.7 gigawatts (GW) and is set to reach almost 4.3 GW for the full year according to the Q3 PV Demand Report from IMS Research, which was released today. Aside from China, the report found that the USA would be the largest single contributor to global PV growth in 2012, accounting for 40 percent of new capacity growth.

Global demand is predicted to accelerate in the second half of 2012, despite the slowing of key European markets, Germany and Italy, according to the report. IMS Research predicts installations will hit a new half-yearly record of almost 18 GW in the second half of 2012, driven by markets such as China and Japan, as well as the Americas. China recently approved 1.7 GW of Golden Sun projects, which must be completed by the end of the year, whilst Japan’s new FiT became effective on 1st July and will help spark a surge in demand towards the end of 2012.

Lead image: Up and down via Shutterstock

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