First Solar has been around for, well, what seems like forever. It was founded in 1999, well before the solar boom took off and solar power became big business. Back then, there were all kinds of claims about how little solar power could ever contribute to the electricity supply. It was seen by many as a joke, and many utilities claimed no more than 1% or 2% of a grid’s electricity could come from solar — or the grid would crash.
First Solar was born long before most solar companies. It was a baby when there was only the tiniest market available to feed and raise it. Yet it survived. And then it survived several boom–bust cycles in the solar industry. It survived — perhaps most surprisingly — the rapid scaling up of crystalline silicon solar PV, with its dramatic cost drops, and the extremely competitive landscape the company then found itself in. Somehow, First Solar’s innovation, R&D, business acumen, practicality, and reputation carried it forward. So, when First Solar does something, I take note.
The most recent news from the US-based company is that it has bought Evolar AB, a Swedish startup leading the way on perovskite solar technology. Perovskite solar tech has gotten a lot of attention for several years — yet it has no footprint in the commercial market. Many people claim it’s a distracting hype machine that delays more useful action. I don’t have enough expertise to have a strong opinion on this, but my ears certainly perked up when I saw news of this acquisition. I don’t take First Solar to be a company that throws away money, and I do think it is a company that knows the ins and outs of solar tech as well as just about any other entity out there. So, what does it see in Evolar’s perovskite solar tech?
Word is that First Solar paid about $38 million at closing and will pay another $42 million if specific technical milestones are achieved.
“The acquisition is expected to accelerate the development of next generation PV technology, including high efficiency tandem devices, by integrating Evolar’s know-how with First Solar’s existing research and development (R&D) streams, intellectual property portfolio, and expertise in developing and commercially scaling thin film PV,” First Solar writes. Approximately 30 Evolar R&D staff are joining 60 First Solar scientists to advance this mission.
“With this acquisition, along with our new innovation center in the United States and longstanding commitment to R&D, we are investing not just in First Solar’s future, but the future of solar energy,” said Mark Widmar, chief executive officer, First Solar. “We anticipate that high efficiency tandem PV modules will define the future, speeding up decarbonization by allowing us to convert sunlight into clean electricity more efficiently. This acquisition supplements our existing R&D streams with expertise in thin film semiconductors that complement CadTel. We expect that it will accelerate our efforts to develop tandem technology that continues our commitment to ultra-low carbon, responsibly produced solar.”
Evolar’s Swedish laboratory in Uppsala will “continue to conduct research activity,” and this is notably the first time First Solar will have a European R&D facility.
Will First Solar and Evolar crack the code on how to make perovskite solar cells and modules commercially viable? Who knows? First Solar certainly can’t promise that, but when such a prudent company known for surviving many different solar eras and remaining in the solar panel big leagues as long as anyone is putting $38–80 million into a new technological path forward, I take that as promising. I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear of First Solar’s foray into perovskite solar power. Though, whether perovskite PV will ever reach 1 gigawatt of production a year is still anyone’s guess.
Evolar is a very young company, and it’s surprising how much it achieved in its short life. “Founded in 2019 by veterans of the copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) industry, Evolar focused on developing solutions, including manufacturing equipment, for commercializing a tandem solar technology utilizing perovskite thin films. Made up of some of Europe’s foremost experts in thin film PV, Evolar has produced several thin film efficiency records, including the current 23.6 percent world record for CIGS research solar cells. Its team works closely with leading European research institutions, including Uppsala University.”
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