Are organic solar cell opportunities re-emerging?

31st October 2013
Nat Bowers

Leading players developing and commercializing the third-generation of photovoltaic technologies (including organic photovoltaics and dye-sensitised solar cells) will be brought together at the Printed Electronics and Energy Harvesting & Storage USA 2013 events. Conference participators include Total, Armor, SolarPrint, Dyesol, CSIRO, EMD Chemical, NREL, Applied Materials and New Energy Technologies.

Young compared to mature crystalline silicon and other thin film (CdTe, CIGS, a-Si) PV technologies, these technologies struggle to compete head-on with their well-established counterparts. In many instances, they have lower efficiency, higher power generation cost ($/W) and lower lifetime.

The price points in the global PV market have also crashed rapidly and dramatically in the past few years, owing to the fast production capacity expansion in China and a reduction in subsidies in Europe. The fall in reference prices has meant that many companies have not had the time to adapt and reconfigure their businesses. Therefore, the PV industry on the whole has been characterised by a period of aggressive and rapid consolidation. At the same time, this has made commercial life difficult for new technological entrants into this space where price competition, on the basis of $/W, reigns.

But this is just part of the story, companies commercializing OPVs and DSSCs are now rarely attempting to take on the competition head-on. Instead, they focus on a range of niche applications where there technologies can deliver value based on their other attributes such as good indoor performance, semi-transparency, flexibility, robustness, colour tunability, etc.

Building integrated PV has been identified as a potentially lucrative target market. This market is potentially high volume and is likely to receive a boost in the coming year from legislation in Europe that forces near zero emission buildings in the coming years.

The street furniture business is another attractive market. Here, new technologies help improve aesthetics, reduce vandalism and perhaps even better performance in urban and wintery conditions where the light conditions are far from optimal for crystalline silicon and other PV technologies.

Another attractive and potentially high-volume market is energy harvesting, where DSSCs and OPVs seek to differentiate themselves on the basis that they work better (or have a substantially reduced performance gap with mature technologies) in indoor and low-light conditions. This market potentially involves many high-volume applications.

With market conditions being vastly different from that of only a few years ago and the solar industry making a comeback, times are critical for OPVs and DSSCs. Re-drawing their commercializing strategy, the OPVs and DSSCs are focused on markets where they deliver (near) unique value and can charge premium prices in terms of $/W.

Visit our conference and tradeshows to hear the latest developments, business strategies, lessons and also network with key commercial players. These events also focus on a range of peripheral technologies that are vital to the development of OPVs and DSSCs including barriers, transparency conductive films, substrates, low-temperature conductive inks, etc.

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