USA: No other PV technology has seen as many false fits and starts, or held as much promise, as thin-film PV. During the height of the polysilicon bottleneck between 2004 and 2009, thin-film PV’s prospects seemed unparalleled. Shipments of thin film grew from a paltry 68 MW in 2004 to 2 GW in 2009. By the end of 2009, thin film commanded 18 percent of the total market with no signs of slowing.
While thin-film shipments continued to grow to 3.7 GW in 2011, cheap crystalline silicon dominated the industry from 2010 onward. Market share of thin-film PV dropped to 11 percent. In 2011, crystalline silicon PV prices dropped by over 40 percent over the course of the year, undermining the value proposition of thin-film solar cells.
Yet, despite the crystalline pricing madness, the future of thin film has not necessarily disappeared. Venture capital investment into thin film in Q4 2011 and Q1 2012 combined to reach nearly $300 million. Solar Frontier continues to ramp up its GW-scale CIGS facility. Tokyo Electron bought Oerlikon Solar for $275 million, affirming long-term faith in the thin-film silicon manufacturing space. With CdTe, GE continues to invest heavily in Primestar, and First Solar still intends to open new capacity in Vietnam and Mesa, Arizona.
Certainly, the current supply-demand balance is in flux, but in the long term, the fundamental value proposition of thin-film solar – low-cost PV divorced from polysilicon at comparable efficiencies – remains steadfast, although the path to competitiveness has been accelerated.Source: GTM Research, USA.