DescriptionIt’s time to reinforce and reshape R&D efforts to speed-up the PV businessNOW IS THE TIME FOR INNOVATION!
2012 - 2013 was a tough time for most PV manufacturers, as they faced difficulties due to strongly decreasing market prices resulting from an overcrowded market and high total manufacturing overcapacities. During this period the industry was focused on securing short-term sales, and there was little investment in new equipment and R&D activities.
But now the PV market is showing signs of renewed optimism. Investors are renewing their interest in PV start-up companies developing emerging PV technologies and applications. Equipment makers are finding new opportunities in equipment sales, either to increase production capacity in existing facilities or to build new ones. Big players, especially in China, are increasing their acquisition activities in order to secure a competitive advantage.
All of these developments open new opportunities for R&D funding, and the possibility to transfer R&D achievements into an industrial environment. At the same time, the increased performance and decreasing cost of PV components and systems will allow for new applications and wider use of PV technology for electricity generation.PHOTOVOLTAICS: WHERE ARE THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR INNOVATION?
Although photovoltaics (PV) has reached a relatively high level of technological maturity, with many PV products commercially available today, strong efforts are underway to develop new solar cell technologies, to improve the performance of existing ones and to develop new applications for solar cells.
In this report, the PV industry’s main technology and market trends are presented, and the suitability of different PV technologies (crystalline silicon, CIGS, organic PV, etc.) for various applications is analyzed - with a focus on existing potential for further innovations.
For most conventional applications, where PV serves solely to generate electricity, it’s difficult to compete with continuously improving crystalline silicon technology, which dominates the PV market (>85% market share). Therefore, most developers of alternative PV technologies are focused on other PV functionalities (flexibility, color, low-light performance, indoor light performance, etc.) and on alternative application segments. Moreover, tandem and multijunction hybrid approaches, such as a multijunction solar cell, are also being studied.
The large number of process steps in PV product manufacturing provides great potential for innovative solutions: by avoiding, replacing, improving or adding process steps and materials used, a combination of many “small” improvements can lead to better performance and lower manufacturing costs.
HOW TO SUCCEED AT PV INNOVATION?
To succeed at PV innovation, many criteria must be fulfilled and critical mistakes must be avoided. Based on an analysis of technology push and end-users’ needs, the main approaches to successful photovoltaics innovation are identified in this report. Also, the 10 main causes of innovation failure are presented. Although many technology developers focus on novel PV functionalities, PV module technology maturity, efficiency and system costs are still the most common criteria of choice for PV products.
As detailed in this report, the criteria of choice - such as flexibility, transparency, color aspects and low-light performance - do not currently provide a proposition value high enough to develop a significant PV market.
Numerous R&D and industrial minds (and even dreamers too) have, throughout the decades of PV development, considered virtually all possible PV applications. As such, it’s very difficult to invent a completely new PV application. Therefore, new PV applications will most likely be based on old ideas and concepts made possible because of innovative technology approaches or new PV technologies.
Innovation success depends on many technology and market-related factors. An understanding of market pull is thus extremely important. PV has reached a relatively high level of technological maturity and is now application-driven. It is the customer, not the technology developer, who decides the necessary product specifications and the best technological approach to reach the target.
An accurate estimation of total accessible market, the identification of the customer’s needs, and potential applications for a given technology approach are crucial to finding the right partners, investors and customers.
With plenty of existing technologies and products, some innovations encounter difficulties in becoming cost-competitive within the PV market. However, these innovations can sometimes be successfully applied in other (non-PV) applications, such as LED, OLED, compound semiconductors, printed electronics, flexible electronics and CMOS sensors. Therefore, a global understanding of technology-application relationships and market trends is very helpful for PV innovators and investors.