Published on November 12th, 2009 | by Zachary Shahan12
Thin-Film Solar Panels to Double their Share of the Market by 2013?
November 12th, 2009 by Zachary Shahan
A new report by iSuppli Corp. predicts that by 2013, 31% of the solar panel market will be accounted for by thin-film solar panels. These thin-film panels are rapidly replacing traditional crystalline photovoltaic panels.
Thin-film solar is being used in a variety of new applications, from solar roof shingles to solar tiles (like clay tiles) to solar panels glued right onto the roof. Its flexibility in use is one major benefit of this technology.
Lower cost is the number one factor responsible for its anticipated growth, but there are trade-offs as well.
In 2008, thin-film solar panels accounted for 14% of the market (in terms of watts). Thin-film solar panels are quite established now, especially by leading producer First Solar Inc. They are also nearly twice as cheap as crystalline panels now.
“The market viability of thin-film has been solidly established by First Solar Inc. as it rockets to become the world’s top solar panel maker this year, with more than a gigawatt of production,” said Greg Sheppard, chief research officer for iSuppli. “At the same time, the company has driven its cost of production to less than 90 cents per watt, keeping its costs at approximately half the level of crystalline module producers.”
As a result of these factors, iSuppli thinks that thin-film panels will grow from having 14% of the market share to 31% within a few years.
Trade-offs Between Thin-Film and Crystalline Solar Panels
Thin-film panels are considerably less efficient in converting sunlight to electricity, but on the other hand, they are much cheaper to produce.
So, on the one hand, people may choose the cheaper thin-film panels, but when space is limited (not uncommon, especially for residential applications), crystalline panels may be the preferred choice.
“A thin-film installation can take 15 percent to 40 percent more space to achieve the same total system wattage output as crystalline. This tends to limit its appeal in certain applications,” iSuppli reports.
Crystalline and Thin-Film Prices for 2009, and Anticipated Price Drops
For 2009, the average price for thin-film panels is about $1.70. For crystalline panels, it is about $2.50. By 2010, iSuppli predicts that thin-film panels will drop to $1.40 (17.6% drop) and crystalline panels to $2.00 (20% drop).
ISuppli expects a larger drop in crystalline prices in the coming years because there is more money going into R&D, capital spending and manufacturing refinement for those. However, it expects that thin-film panels will still be cheaper through 2012.
Another Reason for Thin-Film Technology’s Production Boom
Another reason thin-film panels are booming now and expected to take a larger and larger share of the market is that certain production lines — turn-key production lines — are growing. Numerous companies, such as Applied Materials (USA), Oerlikon (Switzerland), Mirle Automation (Taiwan), ULVAC (Japan), and Centrotherm (Germany), are making this happen and this is a major boost to thin-film solar panel production.
Image Credit: First Solar