Using Thin-Film Photovoltaics to Generate Cheap Solar Energy

Using Thin-Film Photovoltaics to Generate Cheap Solar Energy

By Knowledge Sourcing Intelligence Thought Articles

The Global Thin-Film PV Module market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 3.81% over the analyzed period to reach a market size of US$11.557 billion in 2027 from the US$8.896 billion in 2020. The prime reason driving the growth of the market is the increasing emphasis on renewable energy, particularly solar. Further, tariffs on crystalline silicon solar panels imposed by the United States are another major driver of the thin-film PV module market. Rising R&D investments to improve the efficiency of thin-film solar modules create a great opportunity for increased adoption and, thus, share in the global solar PV market. However, thin-film modules are less efficient than silicon solar modules in terms of efficiency. The performance of thin-film modules is reduced due to degradation, which includes initial degradation (light-induced), age-related degradation, and potential-induced degradation.

Increasing emphasis on the renewable energy sector will boost the market growth

Countries around the world have set goals to increase the share of renewable energy sources in total electricity generation in response to growing concerns about environmental sustainability, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction, and rising electricity costs. In July 2021, First Solar announced a $684 million investment in a new, fully vertically integrated photovoltaic (PV) thin film solar module manufacturing facility in India. The advanced facility is expected to be built in the state of Tamil Nadu and to begin operations in the second half of 2023. First Solar will combine its clean energy goals with effective trade and industrial policies aimed at enabling self-sufficient domestic manufacturing and true energy security. The company also has many long-standing customers in the country who will be pleased to have access to an advanced PV module made in India, for India.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), India will overtake the European Union (EU) as the world's third-largest consumer of electricity by 2030, as the country's population and GDP continue to grow. India has committed to making renewables 40 per cent of its energy portfolio by 2030 as part of its climate goals, and the country is expected to account for nearly 20 per cent of the world's installed solar capacity by 2040.

In Australia, for example, the renewable energy target (RET) is a federal government policy that aims to generate at least 33,000 gigatonnes (GW) of total electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Spain's national integrated energy and climate plan also targets 120 GW of installed renewable energy capacity, primarily wind and solar, by 2030. (NECP 2021-30)

Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) market will have a significant share

The Global Thin-Film PV Module market is segmented on the basis of type as Amorphous Silicon (a-Si), Cadmium Telluride (CdTe), Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide (CIGS). The cadmium telluride segment dominated the global thin-film solar cell market in 2020, depending on type, and is expected to remain the fastest-growing segment during the forecast period. This is due to its nontoxic nature, which absorbs a wide range of the light spectrum and performs well in low light but quickly loses efficiency. It also has low manufacturing and maintenance costs.

Less efficiency of thin film PV modules may constrain the market growth

Silicon technology has been around for a while and has proven its worth and mettle, whereas thin film technology is still in its infancy but has the potential to be significantly less expensive and, at the very least, comparable in efficiency and reliability. Crystalline silicon (c-Si) cells have a high-efficiency rate of about 12% to 24.2%, as well as high stability, ease of fabrication, and reliability. Another advantage is longevity: c-Si modules deployed in the 1970s are still in use today, and single crystal panels can withstand the harsh conditions of space travel. Other advantages include high heat resistance and lower installation costs. Furthermore, when it comes to disposal/recycling, silicon is more environmentally friendly.

North America accounts for a sizable portion of the global thin-film module market.

The global thin-film module market has been divided into five major regional markets based on geography: North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa (MEA), and Asia Pacific (APAC). In 2019, North America held a sizable share of the global thin-film module market. With the imposition of tariffs on silicon-based PV modules by the US in 2018, thin-film solar module manufacturing in the country has increased, with US manufacturer First Solar being one of the leading market participants in the global thin-film module market.  In 2019, the country produced more than 600 MW of thin-film modules, according to the EIA (the United States Energy Information Administration). Following the imposition of tariffs, 8 GW of imported PV modules were tariff-free in 2019, with the majority of these modules (4.3 GW) being thin-film modules. First Solar announced the start of production at its new PV module manufacturing facility in Ohio in October 2019. With the addition of this new production facility, the company's total annualised production capacity in the United States increased to 1.9 GW. Both Ohio manufacturing facilities produce Series 6 modules, which are larger CdTe thin-film solar modules that are comparable in size to traditional 72-cell crystalline silicon modules.

Europe will also hold a significant share of the global thin-film module market throughout the forecast period, owing to rising R&D activities and a regional emphasis on reducing carbon footprints. For example, the European Sharc25 research project is working on optimising the conversion efficiency of CIGSe thin-film technology from various perspectives, using a combination of theoretical modelling, experimental characterization, and the sharing of technical know-how among several leading research groups across Europe. European countries are increasing their efforts to meet CO2 reduction targets while also meeting their energy needs. The demand for thin-film solar modules is increasing significantly in Europe, which is positively impacting the region's thin-film module market growth.

Covid Insights

The recent global pandemic caused by COVID-19 had hampered the growth of the thin-film PV module market. On the supply side, global supply chain disruption and reduced productivity across manufacturing facilities as a result of mandatory social distancing measures have crippled thin-film module production. On the demand side, the pandemic had a significant impact on solar installations, with subsequent lockdowns and declining business spending leading to the postponement of several solar projects. Furthermore, the market for thin-film solar cells was negatively impacted by import and export activities, which also had a significant impact on other industries that use these cells.