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Are opportunities for organic solar cells and dye-sensitized solar cells re-emerging?

The Printed Electronics and Energy Harvesting & Storage USA 2013 events bring together leading players who are developing and commercializing the third-generation of photovoltaic technologies, including organic photovoltaics and dye-sensitised solar cells.  At this conference you will hear from the likes of Total, Armor, SolarPrint, Dyesol, CSIRO, EMD Chemical, NREL, Applied Materials and New Energy Technologies.

These technologies are young compared to mature crystalline silicon and other thin film (CdTe, CIGS, a-Si) PV technologies. They struggle to compete head-on with their well-established counterparts. In many instances, they have lower efficiency, higher power generation cost and lower lifetime.

The price points in the global PV market have also crashed rapidly and dramatically in the past few years, owing to the fast production capacity expansion in China and a reduction in subsidies in Europe. The fall in reference prices has meant that many companies have not had the time to adapt and reconfigure their businesses. Therefore, the PV industry on the whole has been characterised by a period of aggressive and rapid consolidation. At the same time, this has made commercial life difficult for new technological entrants into this space where price completion, on the basis of $/W, reigns.

This is however only part of the story, as we will hear in the IDTechEx conferences. Companies commercializing OPVs and DSSCs are now rarely attempting to take on the competition head-on. Instead, they are all focused on a range of niche applications where there technologies can deliver value based on their other attributes such as good indoor performance, semi-transparency, flexibility, robustness, colour tunability, etc.

These companies have identified building integrated PV as an attractive target market. Here, OPVs and DSSCs deliver semi-transparent glass, an achievement that is beyond the reach of crystalline silicon wafers. This market is potentially high volume and is likely to receive a boost in the coming year from legislation in Europe that forces near zero emission buildings in the coming years. The primary challenge here will be lifetime (20-25 years required), but the good news is that glass is a good encapsulation material.

The street furniture business is also another attractive market. Here, these new technologies will help improve aesthetics, reduce vandalism and perhaps even better (or competitive) performance in urban and wintery conditions where the light conditions are far from optimal for crystalline silicon and other PV technologies. This market is also driven by councils (largest end customers) wishing to polish their sustainability image.

Energy harvesting is also another attractive market, particularly for indoor applications. Here, DSSCs and OPVs seek to differentiate themselves on the basis that they work better (or have a substantially reduced performance gap with mature technologies) in indoor and low-light conditions.  This market potentially involves many high-volume applications.

At the same time, large corporations with the ability to ramp up production capacity and turn these technologies into industrial reality are also entering this space. The industry has also learnt strong lessons from past failures in this business, and is fine tuning its commercializing strategy and marketing campaign.

These are crucial times for OPVs and DSSCs. The solar industry is making a comeback but the market conditions are vastly different from that of only a few years ago. The OPVs and DSSCs are also re-drawing their commercializing strategy, and rightly focusing on markets where they deliver (near) unique value and can charge premium prices in terms of $/W.

Visit our conference and tradeshows to hear the latest developments, business strategies, lessons and also network with key commercial players. These events also focus on a range of peripheral technologies that are vital to the development of OPVs and DSSCs including barriers, transparency conductive films, substrates, low-temperature conductive inks, etc.

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