The path to market for perovskites

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Perovskites, it seems, have been on the brink of commercialization for a couple of years. While companies working with the technology have been able to pick up plenty of investment cash – and the research sector has a seemingly endless interest in the material – industry remains wary of the technology, and with good reason.

A paper published by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology takes a ‘techno-economic’ approach to analyzing market opportunities for perovskites. The study, Economically Sustainable Growth of Perovskite Photovoltaics Manufacturing, published in Joule, calculates an estimated $1 billion investment would be needed for perovskite modules to achieve a $0.40/W manufacturing cost – a price point likely to still leave perovskites struggling to compete with silicon PV.

“The largest modeled [factory] (1 GW/year) must sell for $0.72/W,” the paper states. “This value is around double the typical price currently obtained for photovoltaic modules in the grid-connected residential, commercial and utility PV markets.”

Alternative routes

With that prohibitive investment cost in mind, the MIT researchers suggested alternative routes to market. They based their model on a ‘roll to roll’ manufacturing technique and noted certain of the materials required – particularly indium-tin-oxide film and unspecified ‘barrier foils – come at an high cost.

The model found, were such materials reduced to 70% of the model’s assumption, a roll-to-roll perovskite manufacturing line could operate profitably on a 202 MW scale with an initial investment of just $40 million. “This is a reasonable value for an existing large photovoltaics manufacturing company to raise and add a perovskite manufacturing line to their existing capacity,” stated the paper. “Although consideration must be given to ‘bankability’, i.e. the high risk of an unproven technology, especially one that faces a technology risk (stability) and a regulatory risk (lead content).”

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The researchers posited beginning with niche markets where higher costs per watt might be acceptable – such as in the building and vehicle-integrated PV segments, or in ‘internet of things’ applications. As a lower-risk option for scaling up, the MIT team suggested initial investment costs could be as little as $1 million.

If you can’t beat ’em…

The paper also develops models for tandem cell manufacturing, based on expanding silicon production lines to include perovskites and assuming a 2 GW silicon factory initially invested in 100 MW of perovskite-silicon tandem production.

Using such a model, the group outlined several scenarios where the addition of tandem cell capacity could allow a company to achieve a sustainable growth rate with margins of 15% or more, although cost-per-watt figures were not provided. The researchers also noted the model would be dependent on perovskite technology overcoming its remaining hurdles to large scale production.