The current global PV market is dominated by Crystalline Silicon technology having a market share of the order of 75% of the total PV sales globally. However in recent years there has been a great focus on the thin film technology due to the cost concerns as well as the innovative alternative PV materials such as CdTe, CIGS, etc. The thin film technology have been earlier used in the mobile chargers, calculator solar strips, etc. However the utility scale thin film technology has witnessed exponential growth due to major cost decline in the cost of thin film panels and gains in terms of efficiency of thin film modules. The major thin film module manufacturers are based in Japan, China, and the US.
CIGS – The future market leader
CIGS technology is getting more popular than other thin-film technologies due to its higher efficiency and reduced manufacturing costs. The success of CIGS cells depends on the efficiency, faster and cheaper manufacturing process. The future of CIGS technology is encouraging as a lot of venture capitalist firms are investing in this technology. Investments in excess of $2 billion have already been made for the CIGS market development by various companies. CIGS will most likely be the face of thin film solar PV technology in the future. The technology’s value proposition is that it offers, combined advantages of both c-Si, which gives relatively good efficiency and thin-film PV technologies, which claim potential advantages on cost, flexibility, weight, and manufacturability. From 2010, CIGS segment is expected to capture the maximum share in the thin film module market as most of the CIGS manufacturers will begin to attain production cost and conversion efficiencies on par with other thin film technologies especially CdTe.
Market Expansion Coupled with the Entry of New Players Driving Growth
With over 160 companies producing thin-film solar cells and modules worldwide, the market includes a number of big players with many years of experience and expanding production capacities (First Solar, Kaneka, Mitsubishi, United Solar etc.). There are also a handful of newcomers, a small number of which have the potential to develop into significant players. Many of these companies are ‘pure players’, but a lot of companies already that are established in silicon technology are also attempting to enter the thin-film technology market. Many manufacturers (such as Sharp, ErSol and Q-Cells) see the expansion of their thin-film activities as a type of hedging to their existing technology portfolio, while others are dedicated solely to this technology (e.g. Würth Solar, Kaneka, First Solar and Shell). Thus, with the increasing number of manufacturers focusing on this market would eventually lead to major growth in the near future.
Low Efficiency of Thin Film Technologies is a Significant Inhibitor
Due to the low efficiency levels of the thin film technologies; their cost effectiveness is not competitive at present. Therefore, competing with electricity cost generated through conventional sources of energy is currently not possible for thin film technology manufacturers. This has led to uncertainty in technology demand going forward into the future. Coupled with this, capital constraints due to global financial crunch, has led banks and manufacturers, to shy away from financing thin film technology in favour of more mature and abundant crystalline silicon modules for projects in 2009, which may continue in the coming future, resulting in narrowing the thin film expansion.
Most of the significant thin film module producers use the aSi technology which indicates the effectiveness and innovative potential of this mature technology. While number of companies in a- Si production are larger than other thin film technologies, Cdte technology emerged as a potential challenger and garnered maximum market share in 2009 with First Solar being the market leader. First Solar’s module production was five times the production of the nearest competitor, United Solar. Only one company from the top 10 companies produced significant amount of CIGS modules in 2009, Wuerth Solar. The production numbers for CIGS are expected to change significantly going forward as new entrants plan to begin the production ramp-up, coupled with extensive investment inflow in this segment.