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PrimeStar Solar Preps for CdTe Panel Launch

by Ucilia Wang, June 26, 2009

The success of First Solar has given startup companies developing cadmium-telluride solar panels hope. Why, if First Solar could claim to be the lowest-cost producer in the industry while raking in good profits, then we could do it, too.  PrimeStar Solar is no exception. Brian Murphy, CEO of PrimeStar in Golden, Colo., said at a recent conference that “cadmium-telluride is the only technology proven to move below $1 per watt in manufacturing cost.”  The company is moving toward the launch of its commercial product, set to take place by the end of this year, Murphy said. Murphy was rather mum about his company’s product specs and production plans, however. He said the commercial factory would have a production capacity in the “tens of megawatts.” PrimeStar produced its first thin-film panel in April 2007 and began pilot production last October, he added.

Murphy declined to disclose the manufacturing cost of PrimeStar. And neither would he say how well PrimeStar’s solar panels could convert sunlight into electricity. Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar’s panels could convert nearly 11 percent of sunlight into power. PrimeStar has licensed its technology from nearby National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Back in 2007, the company was awarded $3 million from the Solar American Initiative, administered by the U.S. Department of Energy, for commercializing its technology.

Founded in 2006, the company raised $6.2 million for a first-round fundraising that year. GE Energy invested an undisclosed amount in 2007 and poured in more money to become a majority shareholder last year. PrimeStar hopes to see its panels in power plants serving utilities or on top of large commercial buildings. They’re the same markets that First Solar and other thin-film solar companies are after.

Thin-film panels on the market today aren’t as efficient at generating electricity as the more prevalent crystalline silicon solar panels. So a thin-film energy system would need more solar panels to achieve the same generation capacity as the crystalline silicon variety.

PrimeStar has about 100 employees. The company will have to contend with other startups that are developing cadmium-telluride solar panels, such as Abound Solar in Fort Collins, Colo. Abound only recently began commercial production.