Thin film fights for survival

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"With solar module prices dropping by over 50 percent in the past year, thin film PV manufacturers are entrenched in a fight for survival," states GTM Research. It says that while thin film enjoyed the solar spotlight in 2009 and 2010 – due to a temporary supply bottleneck, polysilicon prices rose from USD$55 per kilogram (/kg) to a high of $75/kg in 2010, leading many to believe a way had been found to compete with silicon module manufacturers – falling crystalline (c-Si) photovoltaic module prices and higher efficiencies are proving too competitive.

"With tier one c-Si PV prices dropping to averages of $0.87 per watt in 2012, thin film manufacturers must now be more frugal, technologically aggressive and creative in implementing downstream strategies that will help them survive current competition and develop secure markets down the road," writes MJ Shiao, senior analyst at GTM Research and the report’s lead author.

CIGS a winner

In 2012, GTM Research forecasts that global thin film production will fall below $3 billion. However, by 2015 to 2016, it believes the market should have recovered to reach $7.6 billion. "The industry’s rebound will be predicated on the continued, though muted, success of First Solar and the execution of efficiency, yield and scale roadmaps from other thin film manufactures," it explains.

While it points to First Solar, which uses cadmium telluride, as being integral to thin film’s success, GTM Research writes that CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-diselenide) is expected to show strong growth, and should hit four gigawatts of production in 2016. In addition to Solar Frontier, MiaSole and TSMC were identified as promising future players, with manufacturing costs approaching $0.50 per watt.

"Venture investments in CIGS surpassed $305 million in the past two quarters, albeit at depressed valuations. Coupled with increased interest from global industrial conglomerates on the sidelines, GTM Research predicts major acquisitions in the near future," continues the company.

Senior analysts, MJ Shiao concluded, "Only those that have the delicate recipe that balances high yields and efficiencies, cash preservation in a bitter demand market, a pinch of downstream integration, and a corporate balance sheet to soften bankability doubts will taste the sweetness of market success."

Thin film forum

The fourth Photovoltaics Thin-Film week is currently underway. It runs from April 16 to 20, in Berlin, Germany, and comprises scientific and technological workshops, and an industry forum.

Organized by Solarpraxis, the Thin Film Industry Forum 2012 will look at the issues surrounding the technology, including the current political environment, international market development, financing and marketing, and materials. It will take place from April 19 to 20.