While organic solar cell developers are entering the PV market cautiously by targeting smaller niche markets, there are some that are making waves. Quality and innovation may just tip the market in their favour.
The PV market is a highly volatile sector for suppliers. Currently, crystalline silicon devices control 85% of market, with the remainder being snapped up by a range of thin film PV devices including Cadmium telluride (CdTe), Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), and Amorphous silicon (a-Si). Margins are increasingly tight for on-grid technologies and now, a third-wave of PV technologies is entering the market and these include organic photovoltaics (OPV).
OPVs creating new markets
OPVs are being used where conventional PV can’t go, thereby changing the value-added opportunity. They are able to deliver an excellent form factor, decent performance under indoor lighting conditions, low capital expenditure, and potentially very low energy production costs using printable plastics.
This gives OPVs an opportunity to create entirely new markets spaces which existing solutions have not been able to address.
They are being are being applied in very diverse market segments, including automotive, posters and point-of-purchase (PoP) advertisements, apparel, customer electronics, off-grid applications for the developing world, power generation, and building integrated photovoltaics.
The last use case is showing tremendous potential with annual revenues for building integrated PV (BIPV) growing rapidly and expected to reach US$35 billion by 2019.
OPV space needs innovation
Although the OPV space is faced with severe cost pressures and small margins, the market value is still expected to reach US$87 million by 2023.
Market growth will be driven mainly by electronics in apparel, posters and PoP smart labels, and off-grid developing world applications. With OPVs obtaining total market shares of around 1.5%, according to experts.
Companies like Mitsubishi, eight19 and Heliatek GmbH continue with the development of organic solar cells and are approaching the space with a great deal of caution by targeting smaller niche markets to start with.
It is clear that companies need to find innovative ways in this space when dealing with such a small and competitive market. According to Cambrios president and CEO John LeMoncheck, “the entire thrust of the PV film industry is driving down large-scale production costs while exceeding the performance of traditional PV technologies."
Recognition for innovation won’t hurt either
One company in particular that is making solar industry heads turn is Heliatek GmbH (Dresden, Germany), a company that produces ultra-light, flexible and less than 1mm thick solar PV films. The company is a spin-off from the Technical University of Dresden and the University of Ulm. The company is a leader in the field of OPVs, holding the world record efficiency of 12%. It started commercialization of its solar films in July 2014.
Heliatek GmbH has developed groundbreaking technology and a manufacturing process that will have a major impact on the way energy is produced. The company has done this by integrating its solar films to building facades which means that building facades will in essence become localized power stations. Something that perhaps utilities should be getting their teeth into?
Heliatek is the first company to begin commercialization of large area OPV solar film called HeliaFilm. Its business model is to supply the custom-designed HeliaFilm to partners in industries such as building and construction materials, automotive and light architectural structures.
This innovative company has been awarded one of the World Economic Forum's "technology pioneers" for 2015, a selection of the world's most innovative companies. Past recipients include Google (2001), Wikimedia (2007), Mozilla (2007), Kickstarter (2011) and Dropbox (2011).
A high level of promotion certainly won’t hurt either since the award that Heliatek received will give the company access to the most influential and sought-after business and political network in the world-exactly what the sector needs right now.