Solar startup Miasole is seeking a partner: CEO


By Nichola Groom

LOS ANGELES | Tue Dec 6, 2011 1:26pm EST

(Reuters) – Thin film solar company Miasole is seeking a partner to help support its growth plan, but plans to remain a standalone company for now, its new chief executive said on Monday.

With less than a week on the job, former First Solar Inc (FSLR.O) executive John Carrington said Miasole is among the solar companies being looked at by large strategic investors.

Carrington, who left First Solar Inc. more than two years ago, said he plans to focus on increasing panel efficiency to 15 percent next year. MiaSole, based in Santa Clara, California, currently sells panels that convert about 13 percent of sunlight into electricity.

“I see a very credible road map to 15 percent and I think we can get there in 2012,” Carrington said today in an interview. “That’s more important than scaling up capacity at this point.”

Carrington was executive vice president of global marketing and business development at Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar, the world’s largest thin-film company.

Thin-film solar panels are made with a highly automated process that consumes about half as much energy as the more common silicon panels made mostly in Asia, according to the U.S. Energy Department. MiaSole coats stainless steel cells with a layer of copper-indium-gallium-selenide, or CIGS, that’s sandwiched between sheets of glass.

Thin-film panels tend to be less efficient than panels made with polysilicon. The technology makes up about 15 percent of the global market for solar power, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Laia, who was hired as MiaSole’s CEO in 2007, will step down, the company said without giving a reason for the change.

“A lot of companies are interested in this space, and if we could find the right partner that could help make Miasole a more long-term enduring company that’s good for our shareholders and our employees, then I would support that strategy,” Carrington said in an interview.

“The strategics are actively looking at different players in the market, and I would say that Miasole is a company that is included in that.”

Miasole, a Silicon Valley startup, is one of several up-and-coming U.S. solar companies using copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS, to make solar panels. CIGS panels have long been seen as a potential challenger to traditional silicon-based panels because they cost less to manufacture and have the potential to generate close to as much electricity from the sun’s light.

Its investors include Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, VantagePoint Capital Partners and Firelake Capital Management,

Miasole’s current panel efficiency is 13 percent, though it has a plan to get to 15 percent efficiency “and beyond,” Carrington said. Traditional panels, meanwhile, carry efficiencies in the mid-teens, with premium products approaching 20 percent efficiency.

This year’s dramatic fall in the price of silicon-based panels has put increased pressure on startups to bring a product to market that can compete with ever-cheaper traditional modules.

Solyndra, another California company that along with Miasole and Nanosolar was among the most high-profile U.S. CIGS manufacturers, fell victim to sharply declining solar prices and declared bankruptcy in September.

According to Carrington, however, Miasole’s product offering and cost structures are “very viable,” thanks in part to its low capital requirements compared with the rest of the industry. That will allow the company to expand manufacturing to new, growing markets, he said. The company’s current manufacturing, which will reach 150 megawatts by the end of the year, is in California.

Carrington would not say whether the company would open new manufacturing in 2012, but said it was seeking partnerships in that area.

“If we don’t have something, in my view, something partnered up somewhere in 2012, then I missed,” Carrington said. “For me that would be squarely on the CEO.”

(Reporting by Nichola Groom, editing by Matthew Lewis)


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