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Posted on June 1, 2009 by  & 

IDTechEx observe the latest at Berlin's Thin Film Solar Summit

Dr Harry Zervos, technology analyst with IDTechEx attended the Thin Film Solar Summit on the 19th and 20th of May, in Berlin. It was a very interesting meeting of about 120 people, which was mainly dominated by First Solar's achievements towards lowering their manufacturing costs to under 1 dollar.
All other thin film companies are now in a race to catch up and are exploring ways to bring their costs down, either by reduced cost of materials, or increased efficiency and yield. a-Si for example is currently at a cost of about $1.5 with efficiencies of 6.5% (8% for tandem structures with micro-crystalline silicon). Representatives of a-Si companies acknowledge being in a tough position and highlighted the need to increase their efficiencies to around 8% and convince suppliers to bring materials costs down in the next year or so. Crystalline silicon has high efficiency and First Solar has achieved low cost manufacturing, that makes the current climate a difficult one to survive in.
Daniela Schreiber of EuPD research observed how the market would not continue to grow in the same speed. Spain, after 2.6GW of PV cells installed last year, now has a cap in place limiting installations to 500 MW, so, 2GW of capacity will have to be redirected to other markets. The problem is that it is not yet clear where those markets are; France, Italy and Greece, which are viewed as the next potentially big markets, are not moving fast at all. Italy has big issues with bureaucracy that makes people cautious of starting an installation, which might take up to 2 years to be connected to the grid. It's also interesting to note that France's favoring of building integrated PV is seen as an impediment from the thin film industry rather than an advantage as BIPV dramatically increases their costs.
The economic slow down and the lack of markets is going to deal a blow onto thin film companies, except First Solar who is predicted to fight it off with Q-cells to be the biggest supplier in 2009 as the company has already reached 1GW of capacity (with manufacturing in the USA, Germany and Malaysia).
Nanosolar are still plagued with problems that do not allow them to make their technology work efficiently, they are trying to lead a paradigm shift with their innovative printing manufacturing process that could bring their manufacturing costs to levels even lower than those of First Solar. For now though, they do not have any tangible proof of success and so, they are working hard to iron out problems. Stefan Hansen of First Solar said that it took about 10 years to get where they are right now, they too had to struggle with big challenges, such as efficiencies of 3-4%; this means that Nanosolar still has time to make things work as long as it is backed by patient investors. Erik Oldekop of Nanosolar mentioned that the company might have some big announcements in the second half of 2009.
Thin film PV is slowly becoming a rigid industry under the current climate of economic uncertainty, thin film companies are not interested in searching further for innovative markets or applications at the moment (for example, the words flexible PV were not mentioned once during the event). Everybody is now fighting for domination of commercial rooftops and ground mounted installations which are the more traditional markets. With Silicon costs falling dramatically in the next few years, a shakeup which could lead to a reduction of companies active in the field seems unavoidable. Who will survive remains to be seen.
For more attend Photovoltaics Beyond Conventional Silicon USA 2009 Dec 2-3, San Jose, USA.

Authored By:

Principal Analyst

Posted on: June 1, 2009

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