Thin-film Solar Power Is Expected to Grow at an Annual Rate of 10%
Over the next decade, production of thin-film solar modules will grow by around 10% a year in value terms. The increase in gigawatts of power will be comparable to the rate of growth in crystalline silicon solar power generation, which is booming. Meanwhile, flexible photovoltaics, which includes thin-film power generation technologies, has a number of advantages over a more common conventional solar generation, including a smaller carbon footprint. This is stated in a review by the New Energy Information and Analysis Center, prepared at the initiative of the RUSNANO’s Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs.
The average annual revenue growth rate for the thin-film solar cell market to 2024 will be 9.8%, and the global market size will increase from $6.2 bln in 2019 to almost $10.0 bln, according to a report by Energias Market Research. The financial performance of this segment is likely to be better than that of manufacturers of the world’s more common silicon solar panels, whose costs have been falling rapidly in recent years. Thin-film cells and modules in gigawatts of capacity will grow at a rate comparable to that of silicon panels and their share in total solar generation equipment production will not change, remaining at 5-6%, ITRPV believes.
The first thin-film solar cells were developed in the 1970s by researchers at the Energy Conversion Institute at the University of Delaware in the USA. Quite quickly they entered industrial production and by the mid-1980s their share of the solar power market reached a third (in terms of capacity). Initially, the main advantage of flexible solar modules was the lower production cost compared to the more common silicon panels. “The photovoltaic layer in thin-film modules is a few nanometers to a few micrometers thick, which is 300-350 times thinner than that in standard crystalline silicon solar panels. This makes them much lighter and flexible, so they can be integrated into the top layer of roofs, wall panels and even glazing. They can be the basis for mobile power plants, including on the roofs of cars and other vehicles. In addition, their production requires less energy and therefore has a lower carbon footprint, i.e., it is more environmentally friendly,” the reviewer Vladimir Sidorovich says.
At first, thin-film modules were considerably inferior to conventional modules in terms of efficiency. However, thanks to ongoing research and development work, the technology has been significantly improved and the most common types now have efficiencies above 21%, quite comparable to bulk silicon photovoltaics, and approach 30% in some niche applications. In addition, the output of thin-film modules is less dependent on temperature variations and is maintained at a fairly high level in weak or diffused sunlight.
In Russia, in-house production of flexible photovoltaics is just emerging. The flagship company in this area is Solartek from the TechnoSpark Group of the Investment Network of the RUSNANO’s Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs (FIEP). Since 2014, it has been integrating the world’s best examples of flexible solar panels into roofs and façades. Last year, Solartek and Sweden Midsummer agreed to localize the production of thin-film photovoltaics using one of the world’s two most common technologies, CIGS (based on gallium-indium-copper diselenide). Solartek is now building for itself the Russia’s first plant for the production of flexible solar panels, which will be manufactured under the SteelSun brand at the Center for Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials of the Republic of Mordovia in Saransk. The design capacity of the plant will be 10 MW per year.
At the same time, Solartek intends to upgrade the Swedish technology to reduce the cost of manufacturing cells and modules and increase their efficiency, which will directly influence the competitiveness of products manufactured in Saransk. There are many entities to work with in Russia on this issue. For example, a joint startup of the North West Technology Transfer Center (also part of the FIEP investment network) and ITMO University Flex Lab in St. Petersburg is developing technologies for thin-film photovoltaics—perovskite, organic, and CIGS.
“The advent of flexible, thin, and lightweight SteelSun solar modules on the market will allow them to be used on virtually any building surface, increasing their energy autonomy. We are working on factory integration of such modules into roofing and façade materials so that the use of solar generation in cities would become standard and widespread,” said Dmitry Krakhin, the Head of Solartek.
The Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs was established in 2010 in accordance with Federal Law No. 211-FZ “On reorganization of the Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies.” The Fund aims to develop the innovative infrastructure in the sphere of nanotechnology and implement the educational and infrastructure programs already started by RUSNANO.
The supreme collegial management body of the Fund is the Supervisory Board. Under the Fund’s Charter, the competence of the Supervisory Council, in particular, includes the issues of determining the priority directions of the Fund’s activity, as well as its strategy and budget. The Chairman of the Fund’s Executive Board, the collegial management body, is the Chairman of the Board of Management Company RUSNANO LLC Sergey Kulikov.
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The TechnoSpark Group of Companies, a part of the investment network of the Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs, is involved in all aspects of venture creation: from establishing a start-up to its sale. The TechnoSpark Group of Companies is in the hardware industry, working in areas, such as robotics in logistics, energy storage systems, hi-tech medical equipment, diamond optics, braided composites, optical and industrial surfaces, genomics, industrial microbiology, thin-film integrated photovoltaics, additive technologies and flexible electronics. The Group of Companies is in first place according to the National rating of Russia’s most effective technology parks and was included in the National Rating of Russian Fast-growing Technology Companies, TechUp 2019. It is also a part of the community of startup studios, the Global Startup Studio Network (GSSN).
For more information about the company, visit technospark.ru
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The North-West Nanocenter was established in 2012 by the RUSNANO Group’s Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs together with the Committee for Economic Development and Investment activities of the Leningrad Region, the Leningrad Region Innovation Agency JSC, and the Project Nanotechnology Center LLC. The fields of nanocenter activity include additive technologies in medicine, nanomaterials, and flexible electronics.