The focus of thin-film suppliers on niche segments of the solar market is likely to slowly pay off over the coming decade, according to a new report by Lux Research.
Bedeviled by slow adoption and lackadaisical supplier consolidation, smaller solar markets such as building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), technology integrated photovolotaics (TIPV), electronics and military applications have failed to ignite over the past few years, despite the best efforts of thin-film suppliers.
Yet a suite of niche applications will help these sectors grow to a combined market worth 1-2 GW by 2024, says Lux Research, providing steady opportunity for thin-film suppliers leverage their equipment in sectors that require flexible and lightweight cells that also boast the required aesthetics.
Lux Research's report, titled Into the Niche: Putting a Magnifying Glass on PV's Tiniest Markets, utilized a logistics curve analysis to predict how the markets for solar PV's smaller sectors are likely to grow over the next ten years. The reports lead author, Lux Research analyst Edward Cahill, said: "Technology barriers including the need for high-quality barrier films, and integrators' hesitance, have slowed growth in these markets to date.
"Market adoption has been limited and will remain small relative to conventional solar demand, but the niche application can be a profitable side business that supports a core business market."
The report suggests that BIPV will account for the majority of niche market growth as demand for solar-producing facades grows. Solar shingles, which can replace solar panels on rooftops, will drive much of the BIPV market over the next decade (accounting for 425 MW globally), but facades will enjoy a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20%, reaching a combined installation volume of 407 MW by 2024, says the report.
One of the fastest-growing segments of the thin-film PV market will be electronics, with solar chargers leading the pack as outdoor enthusiasts and off-grid users grow in number. Solar-powered rechargers are expected to grow 31-fold over the next decade, reaching 125 MW of global capacity by 2024.
Military solar applications will also play their part in swelling the niche PV market, with all manner of solar-powered kit and technology set to help the thin-film sector grow and diversify. Geographically, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) will remain the largest niche PV market, leaping from 66 MW of capacity today to 505 MW in 2024, followed by Asia Pacific, which will grow the fastest to reach 315 MW in a decade, with the Americas enjoying steady growth, from 61 MW to 340 MW.
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