Production, cost and market

 
With the advances in conventional crystalline silicon (c-Si) technology in recent years, and the falling cost of the polysilicon feedstock, that followed after a period of severe global shortage, pressure increased on manufacturers of commercial thin-film technologies, including amorphous thin-film silicon (a-Si), cadmium telluride (CdTe), and copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS), leading to the bankruptcy of several companies. As of 2013, thin-film manufacturers continue to face price competition from Chinese refiners of silicon and manufacturers of conventional c-Si solar panels. Some companies together with their patents were sold to Chinese firms below cost.

Market-share

In 2013 thin-film technologies accounted for about 9 percent of worldwide deployment, while 91 percent was held by crystalline silicon (mono-Si and multi-Si). With 5 percent of the overall market, CdTe holds more than half of the thin-film market, leaving 2 percent to each CIGS and amorphous silicon.

CIGS technology

Several prominent manufacturers couldn’t stand the pressure caused by advances in conventional c-Si technology of recent years. The company Solyndra ceased all business activity and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011, and Nanosolar, also a CIGS manufacturer, closed its doors in 2013. Although both companies produced CIGS solar cells, it has been pointed out, that the failure was not due to the technology but rather because of the companies themselves, using a flawed architecture, such as, for example, Solyndra’s cylindrical substrates. In 2014, Korean LG Electronics terminated research on CIGS restructuring its solar business, and Samsung SDI decided to cease CIGS-production, while Chinese PV manufacturer Hanergy is expected to ramp up production capacity of their 15.5% efficient, 650 mm×1650 mm CIGS-modules. One of the largest producers of CI(G)S photovoltaics is the Japanese company Solar Frontier with a manufacturing capacity in the gigawatt-scale. (Also see List of CIGS companies).

CdTe technology

The company First Solar, a leading manufacturer of CdTe, has been building several of the world’s largest solar power stations, such as the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm and Topaz Solar Farm, both in the Californian desert with a 550 MW capacity each, as well as the 102-megawatt Nyngan Solar Plant in Australia, the largest PV power station in the Southern Hemisphere, commissioned in 2015.[51]

In 2011, GE announced plans to spend $600 million on a new CdTe solar cell plant and enter this market, and in 2013, First Solar bought GE’s CdTe thin-film intellectual property portfolio and formed a business partnership. In 2012 Abound Solar, a manufacturer of cadmium telluride modules, went bankrupt.[54]

a-Si technology

In 2012, ECD solar, once one of the world’s leading manufacturer of amorphous silicon (a-Si) technology, filed for bankruptcy in Michigan, United States. Swiss OC Oerlikon divested its solar division that produced a-Si/μc-Si tandem cells to Tokyo Electron Limited. In 2014, the Japanese electronics and semiconductor company announced the closure of its micromorph technology development program. “Micromorph” was the commercial name for a solar tandem cell using a microcrystalline silicon layer above the amorphous layer (a-Si/µ-Si).

Other companies that left the amorphous silicon thin-film market include DuPont, BP, Flexcell, Inventux, Pramac, Schuco, Sencera, EPV Solar, NovaSolar (formerly OptiSolar) and Suntech Power that stopped manufacturing a-Si modules in 2010 to focus on conventional silicon solar panels. In 2013, Suntech filed for bankruptcy in China. In August 2013, the spot market price of thin-film a-Si and a-Si/µ-Si dropped to €0.36 and €0.46, respectively (about $0.50 and $0.60) per watt.