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Solexant to take on First Solar on cost: CEO

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Solar cell developer Solexant Corp is starting a new financing round that it hopes will bring its thin-film solar panels to market and take on low-cost leader First Solar Inc

Solar cell developer Solexant Corp is starting a new financing round that it hopes will bring its thin-film solar panels to market and take on low-cost leader First Solar Inc, company Chief Executive and President Damoder Reddy told Reuters on Monday.

San Jose, California-based Solexant is looking to raise $50 million by the first quarter of 2010, Reddy said in a phone interview from Germany. That will finance a 100-megawatt production line planned to come online in 2011.

The company already had raised $22.5 million from two rounds of financing from its investors -- X/Seed Company, Trident Capital, Medley Partners and Firelake Capital.

Solexant, founded in 2006, has developed nanocrystal technology for thin-film solar panels that will undercut industry leaders.

U.S.-based First Solar is the world's lowest-cost producer of photovoltaic modules, which turn sunlight into electricity. Its cadmium telluride-based panels cost about 87 cents per kilowatt to manufacture, although they are less efficient than silicon-based panels.

TAKING ON FIRST SOLAR

Reddy said Solexant's technology goes beyond Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar's ability to reduce cost.

"The critical factor for any of the solar technologies is the cost per watt generating solar energy. I think if we can cut the manufacturing cost to 50 cents per watt, which will allow us to sell modules as low as $1 per watt, which would then make the total installation cost somewhere between $2 and $2.50 (per watt)," Reddy said.

"We believe that actually will open up significant new markets," he added.

The executive said that Solexant expects to accomplish that at "a fairly small-sized production plant" of 100 megawatts and doesn't need a gigawatt plant to reach that cost structure.

Overall Solexant plans to compete with First Solar on three related fronts: lower production cost, being more capital efficient with its manufacturing facilities, and undercut First Solar on total system cost, including installation, by about 25 percent, Reddy said.

"With those we think we can compete with First Solar very well in spite of the fact they are much bigger with much higher capacity than what we will have," Reddy said.

TECHNOLOGY UNDER WRAPS

Reddy said Solexant is keeping its thin-film technology confidential before its product is on the market. He said, however, that the technology uses nanocrystals and makes an ink "so that we can actually print this using roll-to-roll manufacturing."

The efficiency of the panels is expected to be "comparable" with that of First Solar.

If financing goes as planned, Solexant plans to ramp up production in 2011 and to see significant sales in 2012.

Over the next three to five years, the company expects to target its panels in Europe and the United States for mid-sized solar projects -- not those in the range of hundreds of megawatts but projects in the tens of megawatts, Reddy said.

The company also has received $900,000 in funds from the Department of Energy to develop a long-range technology that is still in the early research stage and is looking to achieve solar cell technology with efficiencies of 30 or 40 percent.

Reddy said it is still too early to talk of an IPO for the company, but that is Solexant's long-term plan.

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