Dieter Manz, founder of equipment supplier Manz AG, claims that crystalline technology will “lose out” to thin-film as the global solar market grows and gears itself up to much larger scales of production.

Manz believes his company is right to back the growth of thin-film and in particular copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) technologies for solar, predicting that the scope for cost reduction is greater in CIGS than for competing technologies. Manz is currently in the process of selling its first turnkey CIGS fab – a process which according to Dieter Manz is in the advanced stages with more than one possible customer, although he was unable to divulge further details as yet.

In an interview with PV Tech on Wednesday, Manz outlined his position on thin-film and explained that despite the promise of thin-film for emerging market segments such as building integrated PV (BIPV) and rooftop installations, the demand from the utility-scale sector in the world’s biggest PV markets will outstrip growth in those areas by some distance.

“There is a lot of potential for thin-film in the next years, especially in CIGS, that’s why we’ve put a lot of development in our CIGS line,” he said.

“If we talk about the next generation and bigger markets, we are convinced crystalline technology is not the technology of choice. Thin-film will have a much better cost position, thin-film is much more reasonable to make it bigger – if you look at the cost structures of really big factories, 5GW or bigger, thin-film technology has a lot of advantages.”

Manz explained that integrating production processes was one key way costs can be brought down, when enabled by scale. He did however insert the caveat that this scaled-up production would require strong growth in global demand for PV.

“[With thin-film] you don’t have a big supply chain, the most expensive part is the glass itself, so it’s logical that we integrate the glass in the production line, for example. What the flat panel display industry has been doing for years. If you do this in thin-film you can easily come to cost levels of US$0.30 per Watt.

“This requires big factories, the next step in scale, it will not come if the world market is 30GW or 40GW, but it will come if the world market is 100GW one day and we will have much bigger factories. That will be coming out of scale and not so much from [improvements in] technologies. There is a big shift coming to more efficient thin-film technologies. Crystalline [solar cell production] is very labour intensive and the scale required only works in China, where they have tens of thousands of employees. Salaries are low but if labour costs are rising...”

Despite thin-film gaining some mainstream attention as the PV of choice for consumer sales through IKEA in Europe, for example, and large-scale solar development coming under fire in some markets such as the UK, which are moving towards increases in rooftop development instead, Manz remains convinced that utility-scale plants remain the biggest market for solar and biggest opportunity for CIGS.

“We think if you look at the big markets that are growing, China, India and other markets including the US, I’m convinced the biggest growth is still in utility-scale not in the rooftops,” Manz said.

“Maybe also the big commercial rooftops too – and these are the key markets for CIGS, where efficiency is not so important. However the differences in efficiency are getting smaller and smaller, much less than they were a couple of years before. The biggest growth and the biggest market are in favour of thin-film.”

Dieter Manz acknowledged that without a recent €20 million (US$25.7 million) loan for R&D development from the European Investment Bank (EIB), his company could not have pursued this aggressive strategy to gain a competitive foothold in thin-film. He believes that investment cycles will return to solar within a short handful of years and that when they do, “a lot of them will go to thin-film technology and CIGS”.