SoloPower trumpets certification for flexible solar modules

Silicon Valley-based company claims industry-first UL certification for solar modules made from thin-film CIGS material which are making their way to market from multiple suppliers.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
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SoloPower's flexible solar modules are designed for cheaper installation on roofs of commercial buildings.
SoloPower's flexible solar modules are designed for cheaper installation on roofs of commercial buildings SoloPower

SoloPower said Tuesday that it has received UL certification for its flexible solar modules, helping the thin-film solar products compete against the incumbent solar technology.

San Jose, Calif.-based SoloPower said that the certification from Underwriters Laboratories is the first for a company making flexible modules from a combination of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium (CIGS).

The flexible solar modules are designed for commercial rooftops where they can be rolled out and attached to roofs without racking systems. Thin-film solar cells are generally less efficient than traditional polycrystalline silicon material, but SoloPower and other thin-film companies say that their installation costs are lower and the reliability comparable.

"The certification of SoloPower's flexible CIGS module is an important step toward the realization of lightweight, high-power, flexible solar modules with potential to expand the roof-top solar market and reduce balance of system costs. It is an important milestone for the industry," said Rommel Noufi, principal scientist of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in a statement.

SoloPower CEO Tim Harris said that the company plans to add a second manufacturing line to ramp up volume of the modules, which are aimed primarily at commercial customers.

Over the past seven years, dozens of companies were funded by venture capitalists to pursue CIGS solar modules but the technology has still made only a limited commercial impact, in part because of falling prices from silicon and other thin-film solar module makers.

But there are signs that thin-film CIGS cells are making their mark, particularly for flexible modules that can be installed quickly or integrated into roofing materials.

Last week, CIGS maker Global Solar, based in Tucson, Ariz., introduced its own line of flexible solar modules designed for commercial rooftops. Silicon Valley-based Miasole in August announced a deal with Chinese project developer Juwi to supply 50 megawatts worth of panels next year and 600 megawatts over multiple years.

Also in August, AQT Solar had a grand opening for its solar cell manufacturing line in Sunnyvale, Calif., which uses modified ="20001852">hard-drive equipment to make CIGS cells. The company said that it has initial orders for 20 megawatts worth of modules.