Thin Film Photovoltaic Technology and Market

The future of solar photovoltaic technology goes far beyond silicon, and there are many alternative materials that fall into the "thin film" category. Compared to conventional silicon photovoltaics, these thin-film photovoltaics can offer a number of unique advantages, such as more efficient indoor energy harvesting, simpler fabrication, and lower potential costs. One of the particularly interesting opportunities is that they can power a growing number of IoT devices. This will be a rapidly growing market as home and retail electronics become smarter.

As governments and industries race to achieve net zero emissions, global energy decarbonization is advancing rapidly, and photovoltaics has become one of the fastest growing technologies. Although silicon photovoltaics are affordable and efficient for consumers, their scope of application is increasingly limited by their weight, size, stiffness, and complex manufacturing processes. Thin-film photovoltaics have many advantages that can overcome the limitations of silicon photovoltaics and can meet many emerging applications such as indoor energy harvesting.

Photovoltaic diversification into emerging markets

The thin-film PV market share has been stable at around 5% of annual PV production over the past few years. However, over the next 10 years, the thin-film photovoltaic market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10%. First, these alternative technologies for silicon photovoltaics have improved, with increasing efficiencies, and manufacturing processes have become more economical and streamlined; second, new applications are being developed that break the rigidity, size, and weight issues of traditional silicon photovoltaics. These applications include building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), where photovoltaic panels are directly attached to building facades.

Thin-film photovoltaics can be up to 90% lighter than silicon photovoltaics in many use cases, making them particularly useful in applications where weight is an important factor, such as building facades or weak structures. Certain types of thin-film photovoltaics can also be made translucent, which makes them less aesthetically obtrusive and ideal for deployment in applications such as windows.

Other emerging applications include small self-powered products and the Internet of Things (IoT) segment, which are expected to grow substantially in the coming years as "smart" electronics become pervasive in everyday life. Lightweight thin-film microphotovoltaics could power such devices, becoming a more economical and longer-lasting alternative to installing batteries or wiring electrical connections.

Many smart home or commercial devices (containing various sensors such as temperature, humidity, motion, and security) will become more and more "smart" over the next decade, capable of transmitting sensor data to the cloud for more powerful Function. Such IoT applications will bring huge market opportunities for thin-film photovoltaics.

Which technologies will dominate the thin film photovoltaic market?

Currently, the thin-film photovoltaic market is dominated by cadmium telluride (CdTe), followed by copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS). CdTe is best known in the United States, where it already accounts for 40 percent of utility-scale photovoltaics. Despite concerns about the use of the rare element tellurium, cadmium telluride is poised to maintain its market dominance after significant investment and recovery and recycling programs have already begun.

On the other hand, CIGS technology has been plagued by commercial failures, with the technology's largest manufacturer exiting the market in June 2022. In the next few years, CIGS is expected to be replaced by perovskite photovoltaics, a very young and exciting technology that has significantly improved efficiency in just a few years, with record efficiencies already comparable to Silicon photovoltaics with decades of research history.

Perovskite photovoltaics are ideal for outdoor high power density applications, indoor energy harvesting, and for powering small electronic devices. Perovskite photovoltaics do not use toxic or rare materials, and their fabrication is based on solution-based deposition methods that are well suited for large-scale production. Despite these advantages of perovskite photovoltaics, long-term durability issues have raised concerns for their commercialization.

Organic photovoltaics, another competing technology in this field, have achieved small-scale commercialization in both outdoor and indoor applications. Considering the short lifespan of organic solar cells (typically 5 years), they are more suitable for powering short-term use of electronic devices rather than large-scale outdoor energy harvesting (expected to last more than 15 years). Therefore, the application scope of organic photovoltaics is limited.

Post time: Oct-08-2022