Organic PV Not Ready for Primetime

Organic PV (OPV), polymer-based solar that can be integrated into building materials, paints and clothing, is often hailed as the next step in solar technology. But don’t expect OPV to make a splash yet: A new report out from Lux Research projects the market will only grow to $159 million in the next decade.

By comparison, the U.S. PV industry (manufacturing, sales and installation) was worth about $6 billion in 2010, according to GTM Research and SEIA

OPV can be produced quickly and cheaply on roll-to-roll manufacturing lines. However, as the Lux report points out, cell degradation issues and low efficiencies mean that OPV is not a viable alternative to conventional silicon PV and leading thin films – and won’t be in the next decade.

Companies producing OPV devices have recognized this, and are mostly focusing on charging applications (solar cells on backpacks) and remote power applications, rather than trying to make the jump to grid-based electricity production.

“While part of OPV’s appeal is the hope of low costs, we found it won’t beat crystalline silicon or inorganic thin film on cost per watt,” said Alex Carter, a Lux Research Associate and the report’s lead author. “As a result, developers will focus on niche applications where OPV provides other capabilities like transparency and flexibility.”

The report, titled estimates prospective growth for OPV modules, which use organic (carbon-containing) polymers or molecules to convert light to electricity. The report calculates adoption potential for OPV’s two main technology categories – bulk heterojunction (BHJ) OPV devices and dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSC) – in five different market segments: building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), developing world applications, defense, consumer electronics, and signage.

To estimate likely prospects for OPV through 2020, Lux Research calculated the total market size addressable by OPV in the five segments listed above. It then projected potential market share for both BHJ OPV and DSSCs. Among its key findings:

  • OPV will reach $159 million on the back of BIPV and defense. Lux Research projects an OPV market reaching 97 MW and $159 million in 2020. Here, defense signifies the largest market, with BIPV close behind. BHJ technology dominates early but, as flexible DSSC devices mature, they gain to capture 53% of the market in 2020.
  • BIPV provides niches for both BHJ and DSSC. The report examines three variations on BIPV: flexible membranes for roofing and shade structures like awnings, solar shingles for pitched roofing, and rigid windows and fade elements. BIPV – overall – will grow to 27 MW of demand and a $44 million market, with around two thirds of that based on flexible membranes, and most of the balance from windows and facades. BHJ takes 47% of the market here by MW, but only 39% by revenues
  • Defense applications are driven by portable power for soldiers. The ease of integrating OPV into certain flexible structures and the ability to pattern it could help set it apart for some applications – like integration into tents and even uniforms – and allow it to gain some market share. In defense applications, OPV will expand to 34 MW in 2020, pulling in $64 million in revenues – split 60:40 between DSSC and BHJ.

For a discussion on how to test and evaluate organic PV technologies, watch the roundtable below.

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