Solar market research

Thin Film 2012–2016: Technologies, Markets and Strategies for Survival

No other PV technology has seen as many false fits and starts, or held as much promise, as thin-film PV. During the height of the polysilicon bottleneck between 2004 and 2009, thin-film PV’s prospects seemed unparalleled. Shipments of thin film grew from a paltry 68 MW in 2004 to 2 GW in 2009.  By the end of 2009, thin film commanded 18% of the total market with no signs of slowing. 

While thin-film shipments continued to grow to 3.7 GW in 2011, cheap crystalline silicon dominated the industry from 2010 onward. Market share of thin-film PV dropped to 11%. In 2011, crystalline silicon PV prices dropped by over 40% over the course of the year, undermining the value proposition of thin-film solar cells.

Yet, despite the crystalline pricing madness, the future of thin film has not necessarily disappeared. Venture capital investment into thin film in Q4 2011 and Q1 2012 combined to reach nearly $300 million. Solar Frontier continues to ramp up its GW-scale CIGS facility. Tokyo Electron bought Oerlikon Solar for $275 million, affirming long-term faith in the thin-film silicon manufacturing space. With CdTe, GE continues to invest heavily in Primestar, and First Solar still intends to open new capacity in Vietnam and Mesa, Arizona.

Certainly, the current supply-demand balance is in flux, but in the long term, the fundamental value proposition of thin-film solar – low-cost PV divorced from polysilicon at comparable efficiencies – remains steadfast, although the path to competitiveness has been accelerated.

Source: GTM Research

At 321 pages, Thin Film 2012–2016: Technologies, Markets and Strategies for Survival is the fourth edition of GTM Research's annual update on the thin film PV space. With detailed, accurate historical data, a granular examination of manufacturing costs, technology analysis, recommendations for supplier strategies, and competitive intelligence on the top 80 firms in the space, it is the most comprehensive, data-driven and objective assessment of the space available to date.

To learn more about Thin Film 2012–2016: Technologies, Markets and Strategies for Survival, download the report's detailed brochure here.

Download the report's brochure for a complete Table of Contents and List of Figures as well as more in-depth information on the report's analysis.

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Report Author


  • MJ Shiao
  • Director, Solar Research
  • contact

MJ Shiao is the Director of Solar Research for GTM Research and is a leading expert on PV inverters, electronics, and balance of system components. A 9-year veteran of the solar industry, MJ has experience ranging from fabrication of crystalline silicon solar cells to PV project development. Before joining GTM Research, MJ managed and designed several MWs of residential and commercial PV projects with Solar Design Associates. Prior to project management, MJ worked at the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) and the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). MJ holds a bachelor's in electrical engineering from the University of Delaware, where he was named a National Truman Scholar. A believer in the social benefits of solar power, MJ has researched, installed and tested rural off-grid PV in India and Thailand and formerly served on the Steering Committee of SustainUS, a non-profit engaging U.S. youth in sustainable development advocacy.

Follow MJ Shiao on Twitter@solarmj

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strategic inquiries

  • For firms looking to invest in thin film, what technologies, firms, and business models are positioned for success in the near and long-term?
  • How is consolidation in the thin film space likely to proceed in terms of possible investments, insolvencies, mergers, and acquisitions?
  • How accurate are current thin film cost and technology roadmaps? What will future manufacturing costs for key thin film technologies be through 2016?
  • What combinations of costs and efficiencies are required to compete with Chinese crystalline silicon firms over the next five years?
  • How do different technologies (CdTe, CIGS, tandem Si, single-junction Si) and processes (coevaporation, sputtering) perform with respect to efficiency, yield, and equipment costs?
  • Will business-model diversity, such as project development or project financing, be key to sustained success?
  • How are some thin film suppliers finding niche opportunity in emerging markets and innovative application segments?
  • What is the long-term module profit margin profile of different thin film module technologies?

contact: Justin Freedman

Phone: 617.500.6243