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How Thin Film Plans to Beat Chinese Solar

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The thin film solar market has been in the headlines of late with the departure of key First Solar (FSLR) executive Bruce Sohn and the speculation [wholly unsubstantiated, and Sohn has a two-year no-compete agreement] that Sohn might join a First Solar competitor weighing on First Solar shares.

The big General Electric (GE)push in the cadmium telluride market where First Solar is the dominant force also sparked debate about the future competition in the solar space.

The CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) thin film market has suffered its share of growing pains. Solyndra has descended from being a "sure bet" IPO to being a "money sink" that has had to scale back its ambitions -- pulling its IPO, shutting down a plant and laying off workers -- and has become fodder for politicians who see a too cozy relationship between the Obama administration and some green energy venture capitalists. A few years ago, firms like Solyndra and Google (GOOG)-backed Nanosolar were talking big about beating the pants off of First Solar. It hasn't happened yet.

However, all the focus on taking down First Solar by the thin film upstarts misses the mark, according to MiaSolé CEO Joseph Laia. The MiaSolé CEO also says the growing pains in the thin film market are now in the past, at least for MiaSolé, and the company is about to transition out of the "science" phase and to a commercially scaled thin film core manufacturing process that challenges the largest solar module companies, including the dominant Chinese module makers Yingli Green Energy (YGE), Trina Solar (TSL) and Suntech Power (STP).

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To that end, MiaSolé announced this week a deal with Intel through which Intel (INTC) will provide customized manufacturing services and systems, strategic consulting, operational knowledge and training to MiaSolé as the company ramps its manufacturing facilities in 2011 and 2012. The company plans to reach 150 megawatts of production by year-end.

It's also worth noting that Nanosolar announced on Thursday that it had signed contracts to supply up to 1 gigawatt of its thin-film photovoltaic panels to European solar power plant builders over the next three to six years, though solar company health is typically measured over a much shorter time line for shipments.

In a wide-ranging discussion with TheStreet, the MiaSolé CEO talked about the pitfalls of taking on First Solar, the future of the thin film market, and why the company is positioned to challenge the Chinese solar companies.

Here is the state of the thin film solar market from the perspective of the MiaSolé corner office.

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