iSuppli’s latest projection states that thin-film technology will significantly take over from the established crystalline technology, more than doubling in market share by 2013. The value chain research and advisory services company claims that by this time, thin-film will account for 31% of the market, up from 14% in 2008.
“The market viability of thin-film has been solidly established by First Solar as it rockets to become the world’s top solar panel maker this year, with more than a gigawatt of production,” said Greg Sheppard, chief research officer for iSuppli. “At the same time, the company has driven its cost of production to less than 90 cents per watt, keeping its costs at approximately half the level of crystalline module producers.”
For years now, the battle for market share has been driven by efficiency, as although crystalline cells are more expensive, they are far more efficient than thin-film. This meant that for the same amount of efficiency, the thin-film modules would need to take up a lot more space – typically between 15-40% more space to achieve the same total system wattage output as crystalline.
However, the average thin-film solar panel price is expected to decline to US$1.40 in 2010, down 17.6% from US$1.70 in 2009, while average prices for crystalline panels are expected to drop to US$2.00 in 2010, down 20% from US$2.50 in 2009.
Through 2012, crystalline prices will continue to close the thin-film pricing gap to some extent as its purveyors collectively have more money to keep pouring on capital spending, technology R&D developments and manufacturing refinements, iSuppli expects.
The conversion efficiency of thin-film, although only set at approximately 10% at the moment, is expected to increase within the next couple of years. This alongside the fact that most of these thin-film technologies rely on variants of Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD), or screen printing, to deposit the layers of materials on various substrates, such as glass and various plastics. Some recent technologies employ variants of ink-jet printing to more quickly deposit the materials. These advancements allow for increased uptake of thin-film, especially in the BIPV sector, where aesthetics are becoming a necessity.
Another further accelerator of thin-film technology is the rising availability of turn-key production lines from companies such as Applied Materials, Oerlikon, and Centrotherm.