Air of optimism returning to the PV industry

Date
10/15/2014

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Optimism is fast returning to the entire photovoltaic industry despite some still having approximately 20% over-capacity. The sales are up and the estimates for shipments in 2014 range from 41 to 49 GW, up from 30 GW in 2012. This is welcome news as the industry experienced several difficult years characterised by over-capacity and reduced demand, triggering an intense wave of consolidation globally.

The IDTechEx Printed Electronics and Energy Harvesting events focus on emerging thin and/or flexible photovoltaic technologies. This co-located event will cover printed electronics, energy harvesting, supercapacitors, wearable technologies and 3D printing and will attract in excess of 2,500 attendees and 200 exhibitors.

These new technologies are likely to be most applicable in the many diverse niches corners of the greater photovoltaic market since they are largely locked out of the main utility and power-generation market by the technological and commercial strength of the incumbent silicon wafer technology. Our event concentrates on these diverse emerging technologies and their associated niche market opportunities.

Also crucially, the event will focus on the many enabling technologies that are integral parts of the technology ecosystem for thin and flexible solar cell technologies. These include materials, flexible transparent conductors, conductive inks, and flexible barrier layer technologies.

Emerging thin and flexible solar cell

Armor will present on organic photovoltaic (OPVs) technology. OPVs have been struggling to make rapid commercial headway but Armor is hoping to bring in real industrial expertise and scale to help transform a business landscape otherwise dominated by small and/or early-stage companies.

CSIRO will outline the manufacturing evolution that is taking place in the printing of solar cells. Despite the lackluster success to this date, printing remains a seductive value proposition as it can lower CapEx and increase throughput. It is a hard technology to master however with slow technical evolution.

AltaDevices will discuss their thin and flexible PV technology based on Gallium Arsenide. This technology is based on a polymer carrier film and is only 110 um thick. Yet it can reach 25% efficiency. AltaDevices will specifically focus on powering autonomous sensors, a market trend that is hot now thanks to the hype around Internet of Things.

Electric Film will focus on light energy harvesting technology optimised for indoor and low/mixed light applications. This is a potential opportunity for differentiation against incumbent technologies as most do not perform well under indoor or artificial lighting conditions.

The Tech Group will discuss solid state dye sensitised solar cell technology with a focus on building-integrated applications. DSSC solutions may have a differentiated advantage here, similar to OPVs, given that they are translucent.

IDTechEx notes that the solid-state pervoskite solar cell technology has injected a breath of fresh air in the thin film photovoltaic community. It has demonstrated a very steep learning curve, going from 4% to 19.3% in five years and overtaking organic solar cells in the process. It is an inorganic translucent material and can therefore be applied to, for example, windows. This technology that is in the spotlight now however is not without its fair share of technical and commercial challenges. Best performing structures contain lead, which is toxic and subject to regulation particularly in Europe. The manufacture of these structures often required complex bespoke deposition processes that are not readily scalable. And then there is the incumbent technology (silicon wafer) which is well-entrenched.

The IDTechEx event will crucially concentrate on the many enabling technologies that are integral parts of the technology ecosystem for thin and flexible solar cell technologies. These include flexible transparent conductors as well as flexible barrier layer technologies, a technical challenge and unmet need that continue to be difficult to address.

Encapsulation layer technologies

High-performance and flexible barrier layers continue to be a technical challenge and unmet need that is difficult to address. The need is particularly strong for organic PV. We note that barrier layer films are needed in many sectors of organic flexible electronics such as OLED displays and OLED lighting too.

3M will discuss its multi-layer barrier film technology as well as adhesives. 3M has reported excellent lab results and is ahead of many others in terms of commercialisations. Vitriflex will also lecture on its promising one-chamber solution for manufacturing barriers that can simplify the production process.

Tera-Barrier will also discuss its multi-layer barrier solution. They differentiae by using a nanoparticle layer instead of an inorganic thin film in their dyads. The advantage, it is claimed, is that nanoparticles can plug pin-holes.

Schott is commercializing thin flexible glass. This technology is an excellent barrier and can withstand high temperature processing, but is difficult to handle due to crack formation at the edges.
Kateeva has attracted substantial investment in recent months. They are commercialising a platform for ink printer-based barrier solutions for pixelated displays and are thought to have had success in working with big end users.

Lotus is commercializing a roll-to-roll atomic layer deposition technology. ALD typically gives thin film layers with excellent properties such as low pin hole density although the growth rate is flow

Vinci Technologies has developed a system for measuring the properties of ultra low barrier layers. The barrier layer permeation rates are required to be so low that they are below the detection limit of many standard solutions and there is debate on the best and most reliable approach to characterise and benchmark barriers.

Transparent conductive films

Flexible solar cells will also need flexible transparent conductive layers. ITO will crack if bent too much and/or too many times. At the same time, ITO may not have sufficient conductivity for very large area application so may need to be, at least, complemented with a lower sheet resistance solution. The good news is that there is a multitude of emerging technologies that are emerging. We bring the leaders in many of the alternative technologies to our conference.

Canatu discuss the latest on its carbon nanobud based technology. They achieve moderate sheet resistance but high robustness, flexibility/stretchability, and thinness (no layers required to fine tune or match the refractive index).

Heraeus GmbH and Agfa will discuss organic PEDOT:PSS solution. This solution also achieves moderate sheet resistance but can be low cost and flexible. It is likely to find favour as a hybrid solution in which it acts a planarising agent.

Cambrios will also present in our masterclass outlining the latest development for its silver nanotechnology as well as a number of commercialisation challenges. C3nano will also give an overview of its advanced materials for use as solution processable and flexible transparent conductive films.

Printable Electronics Research Centre will also discuss metal mesh. This research centre developed the technology that is licensed to O-Film, one of the commercial leaders in making metal mesh transparent conductive films.

The IDTechEx Printed Electronics and Energy Harvesting event will take place on November 19 & 20 in Santa Clara. This co-located event will cover printed electronics, energy harvesting, supercapacitors, wearable technologies and 3D printing and will attract in excess of 2,500 attendees and 200 exhibitors.

IDTechEx

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