Ascent Solar makes solar cells from copper-indium-gallium-diselenide thin-film semiconductors (CIGS). CIGS has proven to be more efficient than the other thin-film technologies, Cadmium Telluride and amorphous silicon. Although thin-film technologies have proven to be cheaper to produce than the standard poly-crystalline silicon silicon panels, they are less efficient and require more space to produce the same quantity of electricity. The company uses its PV modules to produce building integrated photovoltaic systems (BIPV), electronic integrated photovoltaic systems (EIPV), and commodity solar panel systems. BIPV systems have solar modules incorporated directly into building and construction materials, while EIPV systems have solar modules incorporated directly into portable electronic devices.
As traditional sources of energy are getting more expensive, more difficult to access, and more harmful to the environment, governments are turning to sources of renewable energy like Ascent Solar's photovoltaic systems, giving homeowners and utilities incentives for adoption like tax breaks and renewable energy mandates. Solar power is not yet competitive with conventional forms of electricity, however, and relies on federal and state incentives. Advances in technology are expected to make solar power competitive with coal-based power, perhaps even within the decade. Ascent Solar has responded by expanding into regions where solar energy is in great demand and is well-subsidized, like Europe and Japan. Also, the company is not affected by silicon shortages that hamper the rest of the PV market because it uses a technology that does not require silicon.
I have looked into this issue as well, and finnidg data does take some serious searching. Part of the problem is that it is very hard to fully calculate the energy inputs required to create a system, let alone to correctly average these costs across the many types of PV systems available. In speaking to solar installation experts, what I understand is that today's solar panels are lasting a tremendously long time. As with hybrid car batteries, there is a set period of years covered by warranty and a period of years that the cells are expected to still gather a large (90% or so) amount of their stated power. But, the reality is that installers are seeing the systems work at 95% efficiency multiple decades after installation. This makes the calculation even harder (we don't know when the system will actually stop saving energy), but has helped me to believe that the PV systems will save a significant amount of energy over their usable lifetime. This will only improve over time as the new systems we keep reading about come to market.In searching for answers I found some research I have linked to this answer. Basically- Australian study concludes a system lasts 30 years, takes the first 8-11 to pay back the energy (60% of which is from the wafer manufacture). However, they note that systems may last 40-50 years! They further project that a system created in 2010 will likely require only 2 years to pay back, due to the increasingly efficient technology.- June 2006 article on a study that averages several studies to conclude a payback time of 4 years.- National Renewable Energy Laboratory study concluded a 4 year pay back.The above articles also make it clear that there is a very favorable net pollution reduction as well. PV seems to be a great way to go!I don't want to stray off topic too much, but you may also wish to look into solar water heaters, which are often simpler (likely lower energy input) and generate the same energy reduction for a home (but at a lower $ cost).
The "Million Solar Roofs" program in the state of California aims to create 3000 MW of solar electricity by 2017. As a part of this program, the "California Solar Initiative" was launched in 2006, offering more than $2 billion in incentives over the next decade to consumers of solar power.
Ascent Solar can only thrive in environments where government subsidies make the company's cells cost-competitive with traditional forms of energy. Ascent Solar has responded by entering into strategic partnerships with companies that have an established presence in areas where the development of solar power is encouraged, namely Europe and Japan. As solar technology continues to develop and its costs reduce even further, the solar industry will become less dependent on government subsidies.
Ascent Solar Technologies Inc, a producer of flexible thin-film photovoltaic modules, declared that it has earned the distinction of becoming the first thin-film flexible monolithically integrated CIGS modules producer to be given a total IEC 61646 certification for meeting the requirements of environment testing.
Ascent Solar plans to manufacture its solar cells on long sheets of plastic substrate that will be stored and packaged in rolls. The company’s roll formats are ideal for integration with various construction materials, precluding the need for wires, cables, connectors, etc. required for silicon-based solar power panels. The roll format can also reduce the number of separate modules needed by up to 90% while covering up to 35% more area. In fact, Ascent Solar expects to be able to reduce the cost to produce electricity to a mere $0.05/kWh with its PV modules. Despite falling housing values and a tough market for new home builders, houses that are built with integrated solar systems are flying off the market - at twice the rate of grid-based houses. Coupled with legislative rebates, housing manufacturers have more incentive to install photovoltaic systems to their construction plans. For example, the California Solar Initiative offers incentives starting at $2.5 per watt for systems up to one megawatt in size.
Polysilicon production remains the dominant form of solar cell manufacturing while thin-film production accounts for about 12% of total photovoltaic production. While thin-film module efficiencies are not yet competitive with polysilicon modules, the thin-film alternatives have the edge in raw material costs and production speed.
Ascent Solar is still a relatively small player in the solar market, and sells a technology type that is younger than most other solar power technologies. Ascent Solar competes against manufacturers of various technology types, including traditional silicon-based solar cells and the many thin-film alternatives. ASTI's competitors include: