* Q-Cells launching thin film product in North America
* Product will target residential, commercial rooftops
* CIGS panels are more efficient than First Solar panels
By Nichola Groom
LOS ANGELES, June 29 German solar company
Q-Cells QCEG.DE unveiled its thin film modules in the United
States on Wednesday as it seeks to cash in on growing demand in
North America while lessening its reliance on the European
market, where government support for solar is declining.
The company, which entered the North American market just a
year ago and thus far has had a tiny presence in the
utility-scale solar market, said it introduced its copper
indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar modules to get into the
business for commercial and residential rooftop solar systems.
"Here in North America, with this announcement, it's
rounding out and completing our presence here with all the
market segments," said Marc van Gerven, managing director of
Q-Cells' North American business, adding that the move was part
of Q-Cells' two-year effort to "internationalize."
But Q-Cells is also walking into a highly competitive
market, particularly as the United States is home to top thin
film company First Solar Inc (FSLR.O), whose cadmium telluride
panels are the lowest cost in the industry.
CIGS technology holds the promise of having cheap
production costs combined with cell efficiency near the best of
traditional silicon-based panels.
Q-Cells' Q.SMART CIGS panels are better suited to rooftops
than First Solar's technology, van Gerven said. The modules
have an average efficiency of 13 percent, compared with 11.7
percent for First Solar.
Its thin film products are also well-suited to rooftops
that have less direct sunlight, and do not degrade as quickly
as rival technologies, van Gerven said.
CIGS panels have been slower to achieve mass production
than other solar technologies because of the complicated
manufacturing process needed to combine the four materials. In
addition, CIGS has had stiff competition from silicon-based
panels, prices for which have plummeted in the last few years
due to the rise of cheap Chinese products.
Several Silicon Valley start-ups -- including Miasole,
Nanosolar and Solyndra -- are on their way to ramping up
production of CIGS modules, but Q-Cells said its CIGS
technology, which has already been deployed in several projects
in Europe, is already ready for the mass market.
"We are not promising anything, we are delivering," said
van Gerven. The company has a production capacity of 135
megawatts of CIGS panels at its facility in Germany.
Q-Cells is able to command a premium price for its CIGS not
just because they are more efficient than First Solar panels
but because they are backed by a 25-year warranty and expertise
in developing solar systems, van Gerven said.
"All that together allows us to have a premium relationship
in the market," van Gerven said. "It's not only because you
have a few more percentage points efficiency. That's not going
to do the trick."
(Editing by Steve Orlofsky)