June 29, 2011 / 1:16 PM / 8 years ago

Q-Cells wants its solar panels on U.S. rooftops

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - German solar company Q-Cells 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, 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

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