This February, Solar Frontier started commercial operations at their Kunitomi solar module factory in Miyazaki, Japan. Construction of the plant began in September of 2009, and now that the plant is online, it boasts to be the largest Copper-Indium-Selenium (CIS) thin-film solar model manufacturing center in the world.
Once at full capacity this summer, the Kunitomi plant will nearly reach the gigawatt-scale in terms of production. The plant has already received safety and performance certification from Japanese and European standards organizations, and hopes to garner the same from the U.S. in time to meet their deadline for worldwide shipping. The center will produce two types of solar modules, one more square in size (49.5 wide x 38.5 tall x 1.4 inches thick) and one more rectangular (48.6 wide x 26.4 tall x 1.4 inches thick).
Solar Frontier has chosen CIS solar cell modules over more standard crystalline silicon cells because they claim the overall energy efficiency is greater. According to a report from BP Solar’s Chief Scientist, crystalline silicon still have more potential for energy conversion rates, but Solar Frontier says the total cost of production and manufacturing efficiency is less, making CIS solar modules a better choice.
The thinner, more flexible solar modules seem to be catching on stateside as well. Recently SoloPower announced they would be moving to Oregon in order to establish a 300 megawatt production plant, roughly one-third the size of the Kunitomi plant in Japan.