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Thin-Film PV Technology

Authored by: Hari M. Upadhyaya , Senthilarasu Sundaram , Aruna Ivaturi , Stephan Buecheler , Ayodhya N. Tiwari

Energy Efficiency And Renewable Energy Handbook

Print publication date:  September  2015
Online publication date:  September  2015

Print ISBN: 9781466585089
eBook ISBN: 9781466585096
Adobe ISBN:

10.1201/b18947-50

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Abstract

Crystalline silicon (c-Si) technology has a lion’s share in the present photovoltaic (PV) industry, contributing more than 85% through the cells and modules based on poly-, mono-, and multicrystalline wafer technology (Mints and Donnelly 2011). The recent growth rate of PV industry and market is phenomenal, with a substantial surge on average over 40% recorded globally during the last decade and expected to sustain the trend from short to medium time frame. During the early developmental phase of c-Si PV technology, the continuous feedstock support offered by Si-based electronics industry played a key role in its growth. The high purity and even second-grade wafer materials obtained at a relatively cheaper price proved favorable for PV industry as they led to a reasonable efficiency (η) figures for standard size modules (average η > 16%–18%) and extremely good performance stability (more than 25 years) that are two essential requirements for any technology to successfully demonstrate its potential for market (Chopra et al. 2004; Jäger-Waldau 2004). However, continuously increasing demand for PV modules and the need for low-cost PV options in the last decade had stretched these advantages to the limit and had exposed some inherent disadvantages of c-Si technology, such as the scarcity of feedstock material, costly processing of materials and device fabrication steps, as well as the inability for monolithic interconnections. These, in turn, had restricted the potential of Si wafer technology and made it difficult to achieve PV module production cost below €1/W (1€ is about U.S. $1.35), which was considered essential for cost-competitive generation of solar electricity (Hegedus and Luque 2003; von Roedern et al. 2005; Zweibel 2000). However, recently, there has been a dramatic upsurge in the production of c-Si modules in China for the last 2 years, which were made available at and below $0.6/W and as low as $0.50/W in some cases. While there is speculation that the low module cost from China perhaps did not reflect the real costs, the fact remains that the PV module prices have seen significant reduction in the recent years. The PV module cost depends on the total manufacturing cost of the module per square area, conversion efficiency, and long-term performance stability. Figure 45.1 gives an estimate of achievable cost with c-Si technology and comparison with projected achievable costs with other PV technologies. It was generally agreed that c-Si wafer technology would be unable to meet the low-cost targets, while thin-film technologies will have the potential to provide a viable alternative in the near future. However, the cost of modules from China available for as low as $0.50/Wp recently has made these speculations look very weak as the gap between thin film and c-Si modules has shrunk considerably. Although the thin-film PV still has better potential to lower the cost of modules further, this will require appreciable increase in the energy conversion efficiencies of the technologies, in order to stay in competition with c-Si. Recently, the cost projection by First Solar for CdTe modules has shown a competitive cost of $0.49/W for the module efficiencies over 14%. It is thus clear that thin-film technologies have to significantly improve their effi-ciencies in order to stay in competition with c-Si (Osborne 2013). The world record efficiency of 20.4% for small area and 17% efficient CdTe champion modules announced recently by First Solar and 20.9% small area efficiency achieved on CIGS technology by Solar Frontier and 16.4% CIGS modules by Avancis definitely show a great promise in a short span of time.

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