Global Thin-film PV module market was valued at US$9.027 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 3.74% over the forecast period to reach a total market size of US$11.253 billion in 2025. Thin-film solar modules are made from thin-film solar cells. Thin-film solar cells (TFSCs) are the second-generation solar cells which are made from multiple thin-film layers of photovoltaic (PV) materials. These solar cells have a very thin layer of thickness, measured in nanometers, as compared to conventional P-N junction solar cells. As such, thin-film PV modules are more flexible and lighter in weight and are used in developing integrated photovoltaics. The thin-film technology has been relatively economical despite being lesser efficient compared to the conventional c-Si (crystalline silicon) technology. However, this technology has significantly improved owing to constant research and development over the years. As a result of R&D, the efficiency of CdTe and CIGS PV cells is now over 21 per cent which has outperformed multi-crystalline silicon which still dominates the solar PV module industry.
The installation process of thin-film solar panels or modules is also much easier and takes fewer efforts than the conventional silicon panels or modules. This is because thin-film solar panels are flexible and lightweight and so, can be applied in the areas where conventional solar panels cannot be installed. Moreover, thin-film modules are made from thin-film solar cells which contain a significantly lesser quantity of silicon which results in fewer emissions during their production as compared to standard solar modules. These modules need a larger area to be installed such as commercial/institutional buildings, streets, forest areas, and in large open/rooftop spaces. For example, thin-film modules can be used in street lights and traffic. These modules can also be installed on the rooftop of buses to power small appliances such as fans and Wi-Fi modems.
Rising focus on renewable energy sector, especially solar, is significantly driving the demand for thin-film modules, thereby fuelling the market growth. Countries across the globe have set targets to increase the share renewable energy sources in the total electricity generation on account of growing concerns regarding environmental sustainability, reduction in greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions, and rising cost of electricity. For example, In Australia, the country’s renewable energy target (RET) is a federal government policy which aims to generate at least 33,000 gigawatt-hours (GW) of the total electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Spain also aims at 120 GW of installed renewable energy, primarily wind and solar, capacity by 2030 under the country’s national integrated energy and climate plan (NECP 2021-30). Canada, with one of the cleanest electricity systems in the world, has also the target of increasing the share of zero-emitting renewable sources to 90 per cent by 2030 from around 80 per cent figure in 2016. In India, the government aims to install 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by the year 2022, out of which solar includes 100 GW. All these targets and goals to increase the overall share of renewable energy sources in the total electricity generation is substantially driving the demand for thin-film modules worldwide.
Another major driver of thin-film PV module market is the tariffs on crystalline silicon solar panels being imposed by the United States. The United States, for instance, imposed tariffs on silicon solar cells and modules in January 2018. Since thin-film solar module is exempt from the 30 per cent solar panel tariff, the demand for thin-film solar modules is significantly boosting in this country. As such, thin-film panel manufacturer, First Solar, expanded its Vietnam manufacturing plant with the construction of a new 1.2-GW facility in Ohio in order to meet its utility-scale demand.
However, thin-film modules still holds around 5 per cent of the global solar PV market while silicon-based solar modules hold around 95 per cent of the global solar PV market. The importance of the thin-film technology for large-scale power generation gained momentum in around 2006 with the upsurge of the cost of silicon due to increased demand. However, silicon prices started declining from 2012 onwards which, combined with the greater efficiency of c-Si modules as compared to thin-film modules, shifted production towards c-Si technology. In terms of efficiency, thin-film modules are less efficient as compared to the silicon solar modules. The performance of thin-film modules is reduced due to degradation- the initial degradation (light-induced), age-related degradation, and potential-induced degradation.
Rising investments in research and development (R&D) to increase the efficiency of thin-film solar modules creates a great opportunity for an increase in their adoption and thus, share in the global solar PV market. For example, in December 2019, German-Chinese joint venture, NICE Solar Energy GmbH, achieved a new world-record efficiency rate of 17.6 per cent for CIGS thin-film solar modules. In September 2019, the Schwäbisch Hall-based enterprise NICE Solar Energy, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), and the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) joined forces to work on the Capitano project. The aim of this project is to combine perovskite semiconductor-based thin-film solar modules with semiconductors made of CIGS (copper, indium, gallium, and selenium). This combination can result in efficient tandem solar cells with all the advantages of thin-film technology and an efficiency factor of around 30 per cent.
North America holds a significant share in the global thin-film module market
By geography, the global thin-film module market has been segmented into five major regional markets- North America, South America, Europe, Middle East and Africa (MEA), and Asia Pacific (APAC).
North America accounted for a substantial share in the global thin-film module market in 2019. With tariff imposition on silicon-based PV modules by the United States in 2018, thin-film solar module manufacturing has increased in the country, with U.S. manufacturer First Solar being one of the major market players in the global thin-film module market. According to the EIA (the U.S. Energy Information Administration), the country manufactured more than 600 MW of thin-film modules in 2019. After this tariff imposition, 8 GW of imported PV modules did not tariff in 2019 while the majority of these modules (4.3 GW) were thin-film modules. In October 2019, First Solar announced the start of production at its new PV module manufacturing facility in Ohio. This new production facility made the company’s total annualized production capacity equal to 1.9 GW in the United States. Both Ohio production facilities manufacture Series 6 module, which is a larger CdTe thin-film solar module and comparable in size to conventional 72-cell crystalline silicon modules. Europe also holds a decent share in the global thin-film module market throughout the forecast period owing to rising R&D activities and high focus on the reduction of carbon footprints across the region. For instance, the European Sharc25 research project is working on the optimizing the conversion efficiency of CIGSe thin-film technology from various angles, with a combination of theoretical modelling, experimental characterization, and sharing technical know-how among several leading research groups throughout the European region. The European countries are continuously increasing the speed to meet their CO2 reduction targets while addressing their energy needs, the demand for thin-film solar modules is rising at a considerable rate in Europe, thus positively impacting the thin film module market growth in the region. First Solar thin-film modules were selected by Photosol in 2017 to power 14 solar power plants, with a total capacity of 106.5 MW, located in Central and Southwest France. In 2018, Hanergy Thin Film Power Group announced the completion of Europe’s biggest flexible module solar project in Den Bosch, the Netherlands by its U.S.-based subsidiary MiaSolé. Under this project, the company installed 418 lightweight flexible modules on the roof of Maaaspoort Sports Center. Asia Pacific (APAC) thin-film module regional market is projected to grow at a noteworthy compound annual growth rate (CAGR) during the forecast period.
Impact of COVID-19 on the global thin-film PV module market
The recent global pandemic outbreak caused due COVID-19 has negatively impacted the growth of thin-film PV module market. On the supply side, global supply chain disruption and reduction in productivity across manufacturing facilities due to mandatory social distancing measures has crippled the production of thin-film modules. On the demand side, solar installation have been hit hard by this pandemic with subsequent lockdown and declining business spending leading to postpone of several solar projects.
Prominent key market players in the global thin-film PV module market include SOLAR FRONTIER K.K., United Solar Ovonic LLC, Soltecture Solartechnik GmbH, TS Solar GmbH, NanoPV Solar Inc, SoloPower Systems, Inc., Hanergy Thin Film Power Group Europe, FLISOM Flexible Solar Modules, First Solar, Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc., Antec Solar GmbH, and Toledo Solar Inc. These companies hold a noteworthy share in the market on account of their good brand image and product offerings. Major players in the global thin-film PV module market have been covered along with their relative competitive position and strategies. The report also mentions recent deals and investments of different market players over the last two years.