NPD Solarbuzz: CIGS suffering in a PV thin-film market in decline

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According to the latest findings from NPD Solarbuzz, the continued competitiveness of conventional c-Si technologies and market overcapacity is taking its toll on PV thin-film market share.

The PV thin-film market was said to have peaked back in 2009 as the shortage of polysilicon and peak prices attracted investment, capacity and downstream installations, which led to a 16% global market share that year, up from only 3% in 2000.

However, NPD Solarbuzz is forecasting thin-film PV market share to continue to decline, retaining only a 7% share of new PV production during 2017.

The market research firm noted that in contrast, annual investments in new thin-film equipment exceeded US$1 billion from 2007 to 2012, due to new entrants. The challenges of taking thin-film from lab to fab have taken their toll on many of these start-ups over the last 2-years with many going bankrupt or acquired.

According to NPD Solarbuzz, thin-film investments are forecast to decline to just US$340 million in 2013, highlighting a significant pause and possible further retraction in thin-films advancement in the next few years.

Finlay Colville, vice-president at NPD Solarbuzz said, “For thin-film to return to double-digit market share, investments are required from new entrants. While the focus in the past was for new thin-film capacity in Europe and the U.S., emerging regions across the Middle-East, Africa and Latin America may provide the funding and resources for the next investment cycle.”

However, deep financial pockets and first move advantage have led to the thin-film market being dominated by just two companies, First Solar and Solar Frontier and a recent shift in business models to become PV energy providers (PVEP) rather than simply a module supplier.

The business model requires greater financial commitments, few start-ups can compete with. The market research firm noted that these two leading companies are expected to account for almost 75% of thin-film production in 2014. Each is expected to add new thin-film manufacturing capacity during 2014-2017, providing further buffers to potential rivals ability to be cost competitive.

CIGS suffering

Copper, indium, gallium, selenide (CIGS) thin-film technology companies have not faired any better, despite well-known higher efficiencies than a-Si and CdTe alternatives that could lead to lower costs with scale.

“Excluding Solar Frontier, annual investments into new CIGS fab tooling ranged from $360 million to $770 million during 2008 to 2012, but are forecast to decline below $50 million in 2013,” added Colville. “Ramped manufacturing capacity from this chasing pack represented 600MW during 2013, but production levels are likely to be less than 25% of this figure.”

Pushing cell/module efficiencies for CIGS producers may be the only way to be competitive, while seeking niche markets in the near-term.

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