AIMCAL guru predicts flexible photovoltaics' future

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The best judge of how flexible photovoltaics (PV) for future electricity generation will work is its own very successful past, says Dr. Winfried Hoffmann, CTO of Applied Materials and president of the European Photovoltaic Industry Assn. Hoffman spoke Sunday at the AIMCAL fall technical conference

The energy content of sunlight hitting the Earth’s surface in a year amounts to more than 1,800 times the annual global prime-energy need. It only makes sense to use as much solar energy as possible for electricity generation, which unfortunately is the primary source of greenhouse gases among all types of industrial manufacturing, Hoffmann says.

Between 2020-2040, PV solar electricity will be established on the world market and become become competiitve in all end-use and geographic markets, he says. This will be significantly driven by its clean, “green” aspects.

Between the two current technologies, crystalline silicon has an 85% global market share for PV solar electricity, and thin-film technologies have a 15% market share. Thin-film tech’s share may become higher than crystalline silicon in the future, Hoffmann says, but both techs have seen great decreases in cost in the past 20 years.

Thin-film applications have been developed on substrates up to 5.7 sq meters in size, and companies are working on sizes up to 10 sq meters, he says. Flexible solar cells need to be lightweight, conformable, and weigh less than 10 kg per sq meter.

All PV techs will drop in price between 5-9% every five to 10 years, Hoffmann predicts. The “price-experience curve” of the last 10 yrs shows that the cost of PV solar energy will be only 5 cents/kWh in 2024. This is equal to current fossil-fuel generation of electricity, which now rises significantly more than 5 cents/kWh during peak demand times, especially in the summer.

Further evidence of PV’s past and potential future success: On-grid applications of PV solar have risen 59% in the past 10 yrs; off-grid and consumer uses grew 17% since 1998, Hoffman says.

Coaters, laminators, substrate providers and ultimately flexible end-product converters are on the cutting edge of PV technology. It’s not really a fledgling industry anymore, and it’s likely a key component of future electrical generation across the planet.

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