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Photovoltaics still set to grow

09 Jan 2009

Thin-film PV materials are well positioned for the future, despite the global economy.

“Once we have returned to economic normalcy, PV will be an economical alternative.”

Although projected growth for the thin-film photovoltaic (TFPV) sector is likely to suffer as the result of the economic downturn, it still represents an attractive market for materials firms, according to a new report from NanoMarkets.

Overall PV revenues are expected to reach $2.4 billion in 2011 and grow to just under $7.5 billion in 2015, according to the report, Materials for Thin Film and Organic Photovoltaics.

The financial climate will delay improvements for some of the advanced materials under development in the sector and slow the progress that thin-film PV has been making at the expense of traditional crystalline silicon photovoltaics. However, thin-film materials are expected to experience significant new demand as economic conditions inflate the price of traditional energy sources.

"The TFPV market will continue to be dominated by amorphous silicon (a-Si) for the next several years, before cadmium telluride (CdTe) overtakes it around 2014," said the report. "Developments in copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) and copper indium selenide (CIS) technology hinges on a variety of manufacturing and materials challenges being overcome."

Other more exotic PV materials, including various exotic compound semiconductors such as InP along with carbon nanotubes, may well be at the beginning of their commercialization phase by 2014, and be poised to play significant roles.

The report notes that government policy plays a key role in the PV markets in most countries. "It is plausible that at some point in the future, government in one or more major countries would mandate the use of PV for all or certain kinds of buildings and that TFPV would prove an especially effective way of fulfilling that mandate," it observes. "Another high-growth scenario would be one in which the world quickly returns to long-term significant real growth, but without any technological relief to the basic supply of traditional energy sources."

In such a situation, the price of energy could quickly rise to the point where TFPV would become very attractive.

High growth would also be promoted if some of the newer thin-film PV technologies achieve the cost/watt numbers that are predicted. "The biggest potential for revolutionary change in this regard is to be found in CIGS, but another possible low-cost TFPV technology that could make a big difference in the long term is PV created with nanosilicon inks," said the report.

For all players in the sector, 2009 will be a difficult year, with many TFPV firms aiming just to maintain a stable position. "The firms best able to weather the storm will be those that have cash in the bank, a proven low-cost manufacturing solution and good management," NanoMarkets note.

Despite the economy, the overall message in the survey is positive. "The solar industry has far more opportunities than it did in the 1970s. Once we have returned to economic normalcy, PV is likely to be seen as a mainstream economical alternative."

TRIOPTICS GmbHLaCroix Precision OpticsHÜBNER PhotonicsBerkeley Nucleonics CorporationLASEROPTIK GmbHMad City Labs, Inc.Universe Kogaku America Inc.
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