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Organic PV market grows but only within niches

10 Jul 2008

Significant progress in efficiency and lifetime is needed before OPVs replace conventional technologies in demanding applications.

Large-area, high-efficiency applications for fully organic photovoltaics (OPVs) will not become feasible before 2015, although applications where lower efficiencies can be accepted, such as outdoor recreational applications, will grow sooner.

According to a roadmap from the Organic Electronics Association (OE-A), a working group within Germany's VDMA engineering federation, niche markets such as textiles and advertising will be the only feasible applications for OPVs over the next five years. Rooftop grid-connected and building-integrated OPVs will become widespread only when units able to survive for 20 years can be mass-produced.

Although efficiency levels of 10% are expected within approximately three years, at least 15% efficiency from individual OPV cells must be achieved to compete with conventional silicon or copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) materials.

The other key application parameters for OPVs include the price in Euro/Watt under full solar radiation, and the weight in Watts/gram. The development of flexible or rollable OPV cells that can withstand significant bending radii is an important potential advantage of the technology, allowing penetration into wider consumer applications using thin and lightweight cells.

Manufacturing cost is identified as a critical barrier. The OE-A predicts that a cost of less than 20 eurocents per Watt peak will be needed before the production of OPV cells can be competitive, although slightly higher costs might be acceptable if the high-end lifetimes of 20 years are realized. Prices may fall significantly in the future for OPVs due to expiration of patent protection on some key materials. If prices become low enough to severely reduce initial investment, this might create a window for systems with slightly lower lifetimes.

For mass production, manufacturers are expected to utilize hybrid systems or thin-film inorganic materials, unless significant breakthroughs in fully organic photovoltaics are achieved. These may include combinations of organic and inorganic materials (eg. nanoparticles of Si with organic precursors), or organometallics and other printable inorganic or precursor systems that can be laser sintered after printing.

OE-A Roadmap for Organic and Printed Electronics is available from the Organic Electronics Association.

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