SOURCE: Lux Research

Lux Research

September 01, 2009 09:00 ET

An Emerging Edge in Boosting Solar Module Margins

Non-Active Materials Will Play a Major Role in Improving Solar Modules, and Accelerating Solar's March to Grid Parity, Says Lux Research

BOSTON, MA--(Marketwire - September 1, 2009) - In the solar industry's race to reach grid parity, the focus has been on active semiconductor materials like silicon and cadmium telluride. However, non-active materials -- all of the other components of a solar panel -- offer opportunities to reduce overall module cost, and present a large and growing market, according to a new Lux Research report.

Titled "Driving Down Solar Costs: Non-active Material Opportunities," the report examines new and incumbent non-active materials technologies such as metallization, antireflection (AR) coatings, encapsulants, and transparent conducting oxide (TCO) replacements. While these components don't directly convert sunbeams to electrons, they can still significantly impact both the cost and efficiency of today's modules.

"As module prices continue to fall, solar players need new ways to lower cost and improve performance in order to stay competitive," said Johanna Schmidtke, a Lux Research analyst, and the report's lead author. "New non-active materials are one potential way to do that -- they contribute between 15% and 48% of module cost."

To explore these opportunities, Lux Research interviewed 14 materials suppliers and developers, and drew upon regular briefings with 145 cell manufacturers, module producers and material developers. Among its report's key conclusions:

--  Large players are better positioned to capitalize on bundled non-
    active technologies. Diversified suppliers and large crystalline silicon (x-
    Si) incumbents, such as DuPont or Q-Cells, have the means to bundle
    multiple non-active technologies into a single platform, and derive a
    greater impact on margin costs.
--  Thin-film modules see greater margin potential, but longer development
    cycles. Non-active materials comprise 36% to 48% of standard thin-film
    module manufacturing costs. New entrants with improved non-active
    technologies will have a greater edge in thin film than in x-Si. The
    caveat: longer development cycles.
--  As modules move to higher efficiencies, non-active materials make more
    sense. As module efficiencies improve, so does the value proposition of
    large-area AR and TCO coatings. With higher efficiency, a given cost per
    square meter translates into a lower cost per watt at high efficiency.

"There are lots of new non-active materials knocking on the door of large-scale commercialization," said Schmidtke. "But new technologies need to clearly lower cost-per-watt to win."

"Driving Down Solar Costs: Non-active Material Opportunities," is part of the Lux Solar Intelligence service. Clients subscribing to this service receive continuous research on solar industry market and technology trends, ongoing technology scouting reports and proprietary data points in the weekly Lux Research Solar Journal, and on-demand inquiry with Lux Research analysts.

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