Thin film on path to greater growth by 2020

A recent study by the Global Industry Analysts (GIA) estimate that the thin film PV market is set to reach $22.8bn by the year 2020, and indicates that the rise of solar power as an alternative to fossil fuels is set to continue.

The report concludes that there are many significant factors that are driving the growth in the thin film PV segment, including many examples of government support and incentives to invest in the solar market.

In particular governments in the United States, Canada, and Japan have encouraged companies to manufacture thin film cells, as they utilise a lower amount of raw material in the manufacturing process reducing costs.

Great strides

Another major step forward has been that recent research has produced great strides forward for cell efficiency ratings, with a recent world record of 20.9% being achieved by Solar Frontier, in joint research with the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization on a CIS cell.

Another record of 18.3% in CdTe cells was achieved by GE Global Research, this represents an about turn from days of yore, when thin film technology consistently trailed behind silicon panels, with lower efficiency resulting in larger spaces being required for thin film PV.

Although despite these breakthroughs, the report still says that concerns remain over low cell conversion efficiency ratings, the figure the study gives is a general efficiency rating of around 10%, that is responsible for limiting growth.

Financial favourite  

The rise in popularity of CIS cells, GIA says, has attracted the attention of venture capital companies looking to invest, as growth prospects are viewed as being favourable.

Due to its low cost and high efficiency, the study has found that investments in CIS are outstripping financing other thin film cells.

Geographically,developing countries are emerging as torchbearers for growth in the thin film market, the huge popularity that the solar market enjoys in these countries is attributed to a steady decline in prices, due to aid from developed countries and worldwide organisations.

Although GIA believes that the European and the Asia-Pacific thin film markets are the most dynamic and active.

While Germany and Italy are currently Europe’s leaders in thin film, in the Asia Pacific region the Chinese market represents the single largest in that region, according to the report.

The paper reads: “The Chinese government is focused on initiating a number of solar projects ranging from generating solar electricity for local communities to developing solar cities. The government is offering free land, subsidised power and cheap capital for producers, who are initiating the solar power projects. As a result, the thin film market witnessed increased demand in the country, as thin film solar cells are necessary for low cost and efficient energy generation.”

Emerging markets embrace thin film

In several other emerging markets the popularity of thin film PV is gathering pace, particularly in India where the climactic conditions are a driving force behind an increased market share.

India is joined by South Korea and Malaysia in adopting the progress of thin film technology, making the Asia Pacific region the fastest growing global market says GIA.

The European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) has also compiled research that suggests solar is a growing force amongst European Union (EU) member state countries in 2012,with 16,672 MW solar energy capacity being added.

Their figures from 2012 would corroborate the findings from the GIA that Germany and Italy are the largest European markets, with contributions of 6.7% and 5.6% respectively, to the electricity demand from solar power from the EU.

Ioannis-Thomas Theologitis, Business Analyst of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association says: “We would agree that the largest thin film PV market is in Europe but with the ongoing internationalisation trends of PV markets, this may change in the future. The size of the European PV market in general is of course one element. The European PV market is the biggest one in terms of cumulative capacity and still reached more than 10 GW of new installations in 2013. Other elements, including price, also explains this trend.”

“Germany was leading the way, as it has been doing for the thin film PV market in general for some time. There may be obstacles ahead for the development of thin film, and we are still in the process of analysing these potential elements, that we hope to publish soon.”

Obstacles ahead

There are obstacles for the thin film market that can be identified. They exist in areas such as ensuring that full commercialisation is achieved for the recent spate of technology breakthroughs, where the input of industry partners will be crucial for future growth.

This would be a contributing factor to what the GIA report predicts will happen in the future, a fully sustainable and healthy solar market, that would no longer require subsidies or support from governments.

There is a growing list of countries who have reached grid parity, and regions such as the Middle East, with the Caribbean and Latin America also experiencing growth in solar power, with thin film PV at the heart of that growth.