Munich, Germany [RenewableEnergyAccess.com] The difficulty in securing a feedstock supply to produce conventional wafer-based solar cells has encouraged a frenzy of industry projects related to thin-film solar cells.
WTC, a Munich, Germany-based consulting company, has tracked down more than 130 international manufacturers which are involved in the thin-film solar cell production process—from the cutting edge pilot lines to the major manufacturing plants—and has created a solar cells database listing.
Solar technology is a growing market. Last year saw First Solar, Nanosolar and Ersol announce investments in the range of $100 million each to build new thin-film plants. At this rate, thin-film cells could represent about 20% of the PV technology installed on a year-to-year basis worldwide in 2012.
WTC estimates that the market for thin-film cells is set to explode in the next few years, reaching $1.5 billion in 2012. While America has been steadily losing ground to Japan and Europe in wafer-based cells, about half of the thin-film cells are made by US companies and this share is expected to remain high; although the production may not be located in the US.
Thin-film cells have the potential to achieve mass production at low costs. The target for some manufacturers is to achieve $1.3 per watt (W) by 2012, i.e. a module that can deliver 1 W peak would cost $1.30 to produce. This would represent a marked improvement over today’s cost, estimated to be in the range of $2-5/W. New opportunities are thus arising for semiconductor equipment and materials suppliers to make these manufacturing targets a reality.
Furthermore, the production process for thin-film cells requires less semiconductor material and energy. In times of climate change, this is one of the most important aspects of thin-film technology’s opportunity in the future.
With a booming photovoltaic market on the one side, and investors willing to fund their expansion on the other, thin-film solar cell manufacturers are rapidly developing their technologies and building out the production capacity that can help them tap the market.