MiaSole: Cost Is King In Solar Shakeout

on September 26, 2011 at 2:00 PM

In an ever tightening solar market, the weak may only have a few more months to live, warned MiaSolé VP Marketing Rob DeLine in an interview with AOL Energy.

“Cost is king. If you don’t have a path to a cost structure that allows you some breathing space you’re going to have some trouble,” he said.

MiaSolé is a thin-film CIGS (copper, indium, gallium, selenide) photovoltaic (PV) module manufacturing company based in Silicon Valley that, as of now, manufactures exclusively in California, partly because there it says it can best protect its intellectual property and unique solar design.

The flexible cells are generally laid out in rows and covered on either side with glass plating for rooftop installations. A single strip of cells (there are normally over 80 in a panel) looks like this:

DeLine said the company is working towards ramping up production in preparation for contracts to serve “multi-megawatt” size projects–in fact, MiaSolé is the process of closing a deal for an 11 MW solar farm in northern Germany that will be announced in coming months.

Even though distributed generation (DG) may be cheaper in terms of transmission costs, and the market may favor it in the long run, DeLine said small-scale projects won’t help a manufacturer become “bankable.” And investors are looking for companies whose technology has been proven in utility-scale projects, DeLine said.

MiaSolé has already raised $450 million from private venture capital investors and strategic financing from several large corporations. Although the company may apply for DOE loan guarantees going forward, particularly as it thinks about building a new manufacturing facility in the coming months, it is not yet participating in government financing.

But remaining cost-competitive is not simple. MiaSolé has been focusing on increasing efficiency of both solar panels and its manufacturing process so that it can make the most of its existing facilities.

DeLine said streamlining that “rigorous” process is not simple and requires “a lot of discipline, documentation and communication.” The cost of slacking off is severe and runs as high as bankruptcy.

The market is set to consolidate dramatically over the news few months and years, DeLine said. At that point, costs will bottom out and only the strongest companies will remain standing. But with demand increasing exponentially around the world, DeLine noted that there is “a lot of opportunity.”

His vision for the company in 5-10 years: to be “one of the guys standing,” DeLine said. “It’s going take a lot of work to get there.”

Photo Caption: MiaSolé finished solar panels.