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Next-gen solar tech makes big leagues

Solar Frontier's thin-film technology will be used at a 150 megawatt solar farm in California because of price and year-round production.

Solar Frontier's CIS solar technology will be used at a solar farm in California, similar to this one in Germany. Solar Frontier

A solar farm in California will be the largest to use an emerging type of thin-film solar technology, another competitive force bringing down the price of solar.

Japan-based Solar Frontier will supply solar panels built with solar cells that use a combination of copper, indium, and selenide. The project, which will produce 150 megawatts at peak times, will be in Kearn County, California and is expected to be completed next June.

Project developer Enxco and Solar Frontier said the thin-film technology has a favorable year-round energy production, not only during its peak output. The technology is "compelling to major customers by delivering more kilowatt hours over the lifetime of a project for a lower cost," Gregory Ashley, the chief operating officer of Solar Frontier Americas, said yesterday in a statement.

The project is something of a milestone for this type of thin-film solar technology. Dozens of companies have pursued similar CIGS (copper, indium, gallium, and selenide) processes, but few have been able to reach this scale. Thin-film solar cells are cheaper because they use less material than traditional silicon cells, but their efficiency at converting sunlight to usable energy is lower.

Now, thin-film manufacturers are ratcheting up their efficiency and trying to bring down cost by manufacturing at larger scale. More established thin-film technologies are cadmium telluride, used by First Solar and General Electric, and amorphous silicon.