Solar revival sparking next-gen tech revolution, says IHS

Analysts at IHS Technology say that next-generation PV technologies such as n-type substrates and diamond wire will become more mainstream in 2014 as solar companies ramp up their capital expenditure.

Added buoyancy and confidence in global solar markets, coinciding with refreshed spending cycles, will help solar’s transition from standardized technologies to advanced PV techniques, say the analysts, who also estimate that capital spending will reach $3.4 billion in 2014.

"Innovative technologies will be atop the agendas of major solar manufacturers globally now that supply and demand has come to closer alignment," said IHS solar demand analyst, Jon Campos.

"While most experts thought that overcapacity issues would remain significantly longer, the fundamental assumptions made by IHS were that the industry would move toward market equilibrium behind increasing demand in the emerging markets, and that PV manufacturers would turn to advanced technologies to compete with traditional forms of energy production – assumptions that are now coming to fruition," added Campos.

Diamond wire, n-type and CdTe on the up

The PV Manufacturing Technology Report – World 2014 from IHS suggests that solar manufacturers that have survived the last 18 month shakeout will be seeking cost-effective alternative slicing tools, with diamond wire set to replace steel wire as the tool of choice. Last year, diamond wire accounted for 5.5 GW of the marketplace, with IHS forecasting that figure to grow to 27.2 GW by 2017, and 43.1 GW by 2020.

Industry norms will also shift in the monocrystalline market, where N-type cells will begin to replace p-type substrates thanks to their higher tolerance to common impurities and high minority carrier diffusion lengths. The N-type technology is also less susceptible to light-induced degradation (LID), and IHS reckon the market could mature from 5% currently to 32% by 2020.

Finally, the new capital expenditure cycle will be good news for companies such as First Solar and Solar Frontier, the two dominant players in the thin-film industry, which is set to grown further in 2014. CdTe technology will continue its dominance, says IHS, with both technologies enjoying increased take-up after falling last year to their lowest level in five years.