Thin-Film Solar to Grab 28 Percent Solar Market by 2012


Thin-film solar technology, or thin layers of photovoltaics that can be printed onto flexible surfaces, will make up 28 percent of the solar market by 2012, says a report out this morning from Lux Research. Thin-film solar technology, which is being developed with materials like amorphous silicon, cadmium-telluride and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), is the next generation in solar technology and, through low cost materials and manufacturing processes, is poised to bring down the cost of solar production dramatically.

In dollar amounts, thin film is projected to bring in $19.7 billion in sales in that time frame. That’s significant sales for a technology that’s just starting to gain traction. Companies making more mature versions of thin-film solar, using amorphous silicon and cadmium telluride, are aggressively ramping up their lines. This includes companies such as investment darling First Solar, as well as Calyxo and Primestar. Lux says cadmium telluride manufacturing can be less than a third of the cost of traditional silicon solar panels.

As the Lux report points out, the companies making the cutting edge versions of thin film based on CIGS are just starting to reach the market. Nanosolar touted its 1GW, 100-feet-per-minute thin-film solar equipment in mid-June and Arizona-based Global Solar is supposed to start producing its CIGS-based thin-film solar strings this month.

But given the number of companies betting on thin-film technology — over 100, says Lux — there will be a lot of losers. Particularly because many of those have “unproven or undifferentiated technologies,” according to Lux. While thin-film solar is set to steal significant market share from traditional solar technology, these next four years will be a major weeding out period.

Another interesting aspect of Lux’s report is that other competing solar technologies seem to have some major hurdles that will hold them back. High-concentrating photovoltaic solar systems “will disappoint through 2009,” partly because of complex systems. Solar thermal technology (those big plants being built in the deserts) will gain traction with utilities but “face an uphill adoption battle because of limited power distribution infrastructure and the beginnings of regulatory aversion towards large-scale solar installations.”

Image courtesy of Nanosolar.


Stephen B

The capital costs required to make other forms of solar PV are massive compared to what Nanosolar has developed. They have a machine that can make a gigawatt of capacity in a year, and it only costs 1.65 million. That just crushes the competition.

Add to that the report that they could in theory increase their production rate from 100 feet per second to 2000 (going from 1 GW/year to 200 GW a year, which is the equivalent of going from one large nuclear power plant to 200 of them in terms of peak power rating), and you have a game changing company.

I’d say we live in pretty exciting times.


Deep Patel

Yes thin film could have a significant impact in the industry, and there are a lot of players jumping into the thin film bandwagon. Every time I attend a renewable energy confrence I see an additional number of thin film vendors taking “pre-orders” for their product. But the guy from LUX research is right, a majority of these players will not survive the 5 year period until solar power goes mainstream.

I don’t agree with his statement on concentrated solar power, I’ve seen some great solutions and innovation going into the CPV sector, even big blue (IBM) has jumped into the market figuring out how to minimize the heating issues with CPV products. SunCube, a developer of CPV solutions has been successfully testing their products with great results.

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