Interesting article. We're seeing the commoditisation of the solar panel manufacturers. Here's additional coverage raises other points - http://venturebeat.com/2007/05/14/signet-solar-enters-crowded-solar-field/
Thanks to Al Gore's blow hard proficiency and government subsidies purchasing the raw materials needed to harness solar power proves more expensive than buying black market kidneys. So, a Silicon Valley start-up has stepped in hoping to reduce the cost of solar energy by tapping the manufacturing know-how behind flat panel TVs …
"Signet thinks it can reduce the cost of solar modules to between $3 and $4 per watt next year"
I am not sure how they can sell any thin-film panels at that price in 2008. There are certified panels for sale at $3.8 per Watt to be found at http://www.enf.cn/ecom/ - and that is for very small orders, not bulk price.
Thin-film in China is currently selling at an average of $2.4 per Watt. If they don't come in under the market price for silicon panels I can't see how it will sell, since a non-proven technology vs. a technology that is proven to last for decades in the field needs a cost advantage to sell.
"With the larger modules, there's less wiring, less framing, less handling and less overall infrastructure,"
Yes, except for the fact that thin-film panels are much less efficient and so their large panels may even produce less power as the smaller standard panels (which are all generally larger than the 1m*0.8m they are noting, they must be picking some old panels to compare with).
Thin film silicon cells degrade upon exposure to sunlight, say from 7% down to 5% efficiency. If the thin film being advocated is silicon based, it is outdated. Though individual cells may top out at 13%. Compare this to 17% to 19% for Sunpower single crystal silicon panels with individual cells topping out at 21.5% . Single crystal (and multicrystal) cell do not initially degrade in sunlight.
Thin film silicon cells actually work better than single crystal cells for hand held calculators in a dim lighting environment. They may even do well in a cloudy environment. Bright sun light? I doubt that silicon amorphus thin film is practical.
Now, if this startup was proposing something like thin film cadmium telluride, polycrystalline panels at 16% efficiency, there would be cause for optimism. Or better still, copper indium arsenide diselenide, polycrystalline thin file panels at 18% efficiency, would be cause for celebration. They probably degrade in bright sunlight like thin film silicon. But, the higher effieciency may compensate.