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Silicon vs. CIGS: With Solar Energy, The Issue Is Material
By Michael Kanellos
CNET, Oct. 2, 2006

Silicon or CIGS. In the solar world, them’s fightin’ words.

The booming solar industry is in the midst of an argument over which material will become dominant in the future for harvesting sunlight and turning it into electricity. Solar panels made from crystalline silicon currently account for more than 90 percent of the solar infrastructure today.

Unfortunately, silicon panels remain relatively expensive to make. Without subsidies, it’s still cheaper to get electricity from the grid. A two-year shortage of polysilicon, which may not ease until 2008, has severely limited growth and sales.

Panels that harvest energy with CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) cost far less to make and install, say backers. The material can be sprayed onto foil, plastic or glass or incorporated into cement and other building materials. Conceivably, the entire exterior of a house or building could become a solar generator.

CIGS also doesn’t degrade in sunlight like other thin-film technologies.

“The smartest investors are going short on silicon and long on thin film, especially CIGS,” said Martin Roscheisen, CEO of Nanosolar, a start-up that has received $100 million in venture funds to build a plant capable of producing 430 megawatts-worth of CIGS panels.

“The semiconductor is 100 times thinner. We combine low-cost materials with low-cost processes. The expenses on silicon are extremely high.”

A huge vote of confidence in CIGS came earlier this year when Shell, one of the largest solar companies in the world, sold its silicon solar business to focus on developing CIGS.

So if CIGS is so good, why isn’t there more of it out there? Mind share.

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