With the gloomy solar venture capital (VC) funding for startups, the combination of large corporations and academic and government research institutions will provide the impetus for innovation in the photovoltaic (PV) landscape. With evolutionary improvements in conventional module designs unlikely to reach the $1/W system price target even by 2030, there is certainly ample room to move, provided developers know where to look and where the highest potential lies. Many corporations are indeed active in this regard, with 940 active partnerships globally for PV research chasing the opportunity, with Hanwha, Solvay-Rhodia, and Dow Chemical leading in the number of academic partnerships for PV research, while IMEC, ECN, Georgia Tech, University of Delaware, and Arizona State University alone have cumulatively formed 132 partnerships with large corporations. With continued emphasis on developing new PV materials and processes, the mix of technologies in the market in 20 years from now will reflect these R&D investments. The question is, what will the mix of commercialized technologies be?
Given the existing infrastructure for x-Si module manufacturing, the technology is here to stay for the long haul. However today’s prices are most certainly below cost and evolutionary improvements in existing cell designs are not going to be enough to bring manufacturing costs down. Therefore disruptive cell designs such as front/back junction cells, silver-free metallization and epi-Si-based cells will enable lower costs without affecting module efficiencies. Materials and equipment suppliers should continue to target products for x-Si PV because it will maintain the lion’s share of the market for the foreseeable future.
Change is also inevitable beyond x-Si, with CZTS and tandem CIGS will be able to reach commercialization to take CIGS to the next level. However, given the process immaturity for SnS, the technology will not be commercially feasible even by 2030. The world of cadmium is not set for as much diversity, with flexible CdTe, or new materials such as CdS and PbS systems not ready for primetime even in 2030 because they will be far from reaching target module costs and efficiencies. For advanced III-V technologies, only planar III-V on Si tandem-cell-based modules and parallel III-V modules will reach commercial feasibility. Lastly, within the OPV and DSSC next-generation technologies, graphene-based OPV cells will not be commercially viable even by 2030, whereas QSS-DSSC and hybrid organic/inorganic will realize a small market share in that time.
There is little doubt that many companies were burned by the solar bubble, and many others are cautious about solar today even if they avoided the carnage. However, growth in solar is inevitable, consolidation and supply-demand equilibration is under way, and the technology roadmap lays out a path for innovation materials companies to enter and find opportunity.
Source: Lux Research report “Continuing Education: Going Back to School for Photovoltaic Innovation” — client registration required.