Table of ContentsIntroductionAdding Value with Smart CoatingsChallenges to the Smart Coating MarketOpportunities for Smart Coatings Firms in the PV SectorSelf-Cleaning CoatingsThermochromic and Electrochromic CoatingsConclusionAbout Nanomarkets
Smart coatings firms can produce value for the photovoltiacs (PV) industry, and by doing so also produce considerable revenues for themselves.
Adding Value with Smart Coatings
The advantages of using smart coating are listed below:
- Traditional performance enhancements. Smart coatings can be utilized for allowing more light into PV panels that is similar to antireflective coatings and transparent electrode materials. Additional light ensures more power and higher conversion efficiencies, whether in terms of nominal efficiency increases or it just becomes easier to achieve it in actual efficiency.
- Reduced associated operational costs. Smart coatings can also reduce the total cost of PV, by minimizing the amount of maintenance required. For instance, self-cleaning coatings can reduce the amount of manual cleaning required.
- Protection of the capital investment. Smart coatings can secure PV panels from failures. For example, self-repairing coatings on PV encapsulation can prevent the air and water ingress that can occur due to relatively minor damage.
- Enabling new products or functions. Smart coatings can provide features in a PV device that are not normally found in traditional PV panels, such as the ability to dim or turn off the panel.
Challenges to the Smart Coating Market
Yet there are some fundamental challenges to this market for smart coatings firms, such as:
- Most smart coatings are expensive propositions and smart coatings providers will inevitably come under price pressure when competing in the PV market. However, there are segments of the PV market—BIPV and flexible products—which are sold as value-added products and may be more accommodating to costly new layers in their stacks.
- Moreover, as PV firms increasingly work to distinguish themselves in the marketplace, smart coatings can offer a premium place in the market for firms that can effectively and smartly take advantage of them.
- The PV industry must be seen in the context of the general economy. P V has been hurt by a decline in commitment to government subsidies and by the perpetual doldrums of the real estate market in many developed countries.
Opportunities for Smart Coatings Firms in the PV Sector
While assessing the opportunities available to smart coatings firms in the PV sector, NanoMarkets believes that it is important to make a distinction between smart coatings opportunities that enhance performance along dimensions in which PV panels traditionally compete and those that provide innovative functionality to those panels.
Most of the money selling smart coatings into the PV industry will be made in two areas:
- Self-cleaning and electrochromic or
- Thermochromic materials.
The largest traditional opportunity for smart coatings firms in the PV space appears to be in the area of self-cleaning coatings. The reason why this counts as a “traditional” application is that it speaks directly to increasing conversion efficiencies; a clean panel is an efficient panel! With self-cleaning smart coatings, PV panels can avoid the dirt buildup that can cause competitive panels to drop in conversion efficiency and power output.
Some types of self-cleaning coatings are composed of titania, a high-index material that can increase reflection off of the glass surfaces of PV modules. Such a combination of features is certainly not perfect, although there have been some developments with either turning the titania into a less- or even anti-reflective layer or balancing the self-cleaning and reflective properties. And there is also the fact that photocatalytic self-cleaning coatings absorb a portion of the incoming light to perform their function, though there is the potential to keep the absorbance low or to use portions of the spectrum that are badly utilized by the PV cell anyway.
Another important predictor of the likelihood of commercial success of self-cleaning coatings in the PV space is the fact that the major glass manufacturers are already providing the coatings on some of their architectural products. This commercial development and volume growth of the coatings—even in a different industry—will help to ease and speed the transition of these coatings into the PV markets.
Thermochromic and Electrochromic Coatings
NanoMarkets believes that in two or three years there will be a substantial market for thermochromic and electrochromic coatings in the PV space. By the end of the forecast period, NanoMarkets anticipates that together these two kinds of coating will come close to generating $0.5 billion in business.
Electrochromics can provide new functions and new value for products such as portable chargers and PV panels by combining them with OLED lighting. This is a niche where low cost per watt may not be an important concern. Even without OLED lighting, electrochromics can produce new value in combination with BIPV glass by allowing control of the amount of daylight or visibility through the panel.
Thermochromic smart coatings can be used to turn panels “off” under extreme heat conditions that could permanently damage them.
Electrochromics especially offers a wide range of opportunities for large revenues because their value is so high and because the BIPV and portable applications in which they can be used are relatively cost insensitive. In those premium application areas, the on-demand switchability of electrochromics will be favored over thermochromics due to the functional possibilities it adds.
Still, all is not roses for either thermochromic or electrochromic coatings. While it is easy to see the value of turning a PV panel “off,” in reality the dimming that these coatings provide is not so dramatic. Actually, the reduction in light transmission is less than 50 %, something that can improve over time but not to the levels that might reasonably be called turning a panel “off.” This is one of the major limiting factors that will keep those coatings from generating even higher revenues in the PV market.
NanoMarkets is a leading provider of market research and industry analysis of opportunities within advanced materials and emerging energy and electronics markets. Since the firm’s founding, NanoMarkets has published over one hundred comprehensive research reports on emerging technology markets. Topics covered have included OLED displays, lighting and materials, thin-film electronics, conductive inks, transparent conductors, renewable energy, printed electronics and other promising technologies. Our client roster is a who’s who of companies in specialty chemicals, materials, electronics applications and manufacturing.
This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by NanoMarkets.
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