Solar project developer Belectric (client registration required) has acquired the European operation of Konarka (client registration required), the bankrupt bulk heterojunction (BHJ) organic photovoltaic (OPV) developer (see the report “Looking for a Future in Organic Photovoltaics” — client registration required). The acquisition will be part of the Belectric’s new business called Belectric OPV, which plans to further develop the technology and focus on serving automotive and building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) applications (see the report “Building Integrated Photovoltaics: Moving Beyond Showcase Projects” — client registration required). Belectric plans to set up manufacturing capabilities using the technology in the next few months.
As part of the trend of developers like Hanergy (client registration required) moving upstream into module production, Belectric has been an aggressive pursuer of thin-film technologies – witness its work with First Solar (client registration required) and Solar Frontier. However, the performance metrics of Konarka’s OPV technology make it poorly suited for BIPV and automotive applications. Potential automotive and BIPV customers will have a hard time overlooking the high cost per watt and low efficiency of the technology in order to take advantage of OPV’s form factor, weight, and visual properties, like its diverse color offerings. However, customers in automotive and BIPV will be particularly wary of OPV’s lifetime, which does not even make it five years. Belectric needs to focus on its R&D efforts to improve the lifetime and also work with barrier film developers, as water and oxygen contamination are a leading failure mechanism. Unless the lifetime improves, the manufacturing facilities will not be producing much of anything, much as Konarka’s (client registration required) plant. However, the challenges and long timelines ahead mean Belectric should be wary of investing significant resources in it.