DSC PV market poised for significant expansion

While the commercialization of the industry is just beginning, "it is now a real, albeit small and emerging, business," according to a new report by NanoMarkets.

The performance of DSCs is now comparable with amorphous silicon (a-Si) photovoltaics, but with much more potential than a-Si for performance improvements.

In the report, it is estimated that the total market value of DSC modules at the application level will grow from about US$40 million (€30.2 million) in 2012, to over $500 million (€378 million) by 2015.

If building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) applications for DSC PV take off, the report anticipates the market value will exceed $4.4 billion (€3.3 billion) by 2019. At the same time, the market for DSC materials is expected to grow from a value of just under $12 million (€9 million) in 2012, to over $1.2 billion (€900 million) by 2019, presenting a significant jump in the market.

"Until recently, DSC was lumped together with organic PV (OPV) technology, and both were considered suitable only for very small-scale, expensive, and low-efficiency applications," the report says. "But in the last year, development and commercialization of DSC has clearly outpaced that of OPV.

"In NanoMarkets’ opinion, the success of DSC may be attributed to the fact that it is simply a more robust technology. It is less dependent upon pristine, flat, thin material layers, and it is less inherently sensitive to moisture-induced degradation than is OPV."

At this early stage, the majority of sales are of demonstration or proof-of-concept projects and for small, niche products, like solar chargers for backpacks. There are also the usual roadblocks that the industry is now all too familiar with: the arduous task and cost of up scaling and an overall lull in the photovoltaics market.

"While DSC’s status as a ‘third generation’ PV technology provides it some immunity from the goings-on of the wider, conventional and utility-scale PV market, DSC will not escape completely unscathed," the report said. "Growth in the DSC industry must thus be seen in the context of the wider market, and so we have moderated growth rates for DSC compared to projections in previous years."

Technological improvements

On the efficiency front, nearly all DSC firms have made improvements in recent times. Two companies receive a special mention by the report.

U.K.-based firm G24 Innovations (G24i) announced a record 26 percent average conversion efficiency for an indoor/energy-harvesting cell fabricated using a new dye and electrolyte material set from development partner École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

Separately, Japanese firm Fujikura announced the development, and pilot production, of an 18 percent average efficiency cell, also designed for low-light environments. This development is a significant achievement and the firm has made a prototype module to demonstrate the technology. However, Fujikura has not yet taken any big steps toward moving this technology into a commercial product line, with the project stuck in the R&D phase.

Both of these achievements represent lab-based numbers and the report suggests that G24i would have to produce a production-line cell operating at half of the record levels to constitute a breakthrough for the industry. Fujikura would have to manufacture a module working at three-quarters of its prototype numbers to achieve the same.

Medium-term and beyond

The primary market that DSC can grow in will be in BIPV, which is where the report sees the most potential. To get there, DSC firms will have to sure up the lifetime of their BIPV applications, which are currently nowhere near good enough to compete.

The twenty-plus year expectation on BIPV solar cells will need to be met for success in this area. As solid-state electrolytes become more popular – usurping the currently used and less reliable liquid electrolytes – longer lifetimes and easier printing will follow.

There has also been a noticeable shift in the industry’s marketing and business development strategy recently, which suggests an attempt to promote its valuable characteristics, such as low cost manufacturing potential, efficiency in low light and off angle settings, and, sometimes, better heat tolerance.

The ability of DSC to operate in low light and its energy harvesting suitability are two of the factors that will push it beyond the R&D phase. These off-grid, small-area applications will provide the industry with its initial commercialization opportunities and near-term revenue generation.

The applications also require less in terms of the technical aspects and are less competitive than trying to break into more large-scale and conventional applications. NanoMarkets predicts that the portable power applications of DSC will the major factor driving the market from up around 1,000 percent over the next seven years.