Third-Gen Thin-Film Solar Technologies: Forecasting the Future of Dye-Sensitized and Organic PV

by Philip Drachman

Third-Generation Thin-Film Solar Technologies

Third-generation thin-film solar devices are beginning to emerge in the marketplace after approximately 20 years of research and development, due to the insight of leading material developers such as Konarka and Plextronics in the organic photovoltaics (OPV) domain, and Dyesol, EPFL, G24i, Mitsubishi and Peccell on the dye-sensitized cells (DSC) front. Both DSC and OPV technologies lag far behind on the efficiency curve when compared to conventional solar (i.e., >20 percent efficiency), so they will likely succeed in markets where their low cost, substrate flexibility, and ability to perform in dim or variable lighting conditions provide them with a significant competitive advantage. DSC will target larger area BIPV applications while OPV will find its application in lower power consumer applications.

The success of penetrating existing and new PV markets will depend on many variables, including: (1) costs in $/Wp, as well as $/m2 of product and power availability (kWh/Wp/annum); (2) the technical and environmental profile of each newly introduced technology; (3) added value for the consumer and architects; and (4) ease of production and the scale at which a production plant becomes economically feasible.

At this stage, third-generation PV is not at a price point to be able to compete directly with silicon-based cells or the more exotic thin-film technologies, but it will nevertheless play a significant energy role in applications and markets that conventional solar materials will never be able to penetrate. These include low-power consumer electronics, outdoor recreational applications, and BIPV applications.

Comparison of Third-Generation Thin-Film Solar Technologies

One of the greatest appeals of third-generation thin-film solar cells is that they can be manufactured using solution-based, low-temperature roll-to-roll manufacturing methods, incorporating conventional printing techniques on flexible substrates, which presents the opportunity for a more economical alternative for solar cells within the next few years. Such new low-cost third-generation solar cells will offer larger surface areas with enhanced performance. However, to enable long-term use of DSC and OPV in conventional electricity generation, e.g., in grid-connected or stand-alone rooftop applications, significant progress in cell efficiency, stability, and lifetime are needed.

With respect to lifetime, there is much discussion going on as to whether the technologies need to have the same lifetime as silicon-based PV (20+ years) for economical rooftop use, or whether shorter lifetimes of around five years, especially for very low-cost modules, could be deemed acceptable (this is, in fact, the direction that Konarka and SKYShades are taking). However, there is some evidence to suggest that for mass production for top grid-connected and building-integrated solar cells, optimal lifetime duration should be at least 20 years, since investors are less likely to support a technology with low efficiency and lifetime.

Key Elements of the Report:

  • Roadmaps for the development of Third-Generation Solar Technology
  • Materials assessment for Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells, including Dye Sensitizers, Electrolytes, Cathode Materials and others
  • Manufacturing assessment, including printing and solution techniques, vacuum and other deposition techniques, cost structures and production volume outlook
  • Market Segmentation analysis, from consumer to BIPV
  • Supplier profiles, including: 3G Solar, Agfa-Materials, BASF, Creavis, Dyesol, Eikos, Fujikura, G24 Innovations, HC Starck, Heliatek, Isovolta Group, Merck, Panasonic Electric Works, Peccell Technologies, Plextronics, Polyera Corporation, Sharp Solar, Solar Print, Solaris, Solaronix SA, Sony Corp, Vitex Systems


In This Report:

  • DSC and OPV material developers and suppliers
  • DSC and OPV cell developers and suppliers
  • Thin-film solar cell developers and suppliers
  • Conventional solar cell developers and suppliers
  • Consumer electronics and BIPV developers and suppliers

DSC Technology

  • The goal for DSC device efficiency is to improve the best results from 11 percent in 2009 to 16 percent by 2020. This will come about by using optimized dyes with better absorption of red and infrared light, in addition to making a better match between the dye HOMO and the redox system. Module efficiency is always significantly lower than that which is obtained in the ideal laboratory environment, and the goal for modules is expected to reach 10 percent efficiency by 2012.
  • The best solar performance in terms of efficiency and long-term stability has been achieved with inorganic dyes, such as ruthenium and osmium polypyridyl complexes (<12 per cent), however the high cost and supply issues associated with these dyes, has led to the use of some novel organic dye sensitizing materials with comparable efficiencies, such as porphyrins and carbazole dyes.
  • The use of ionic liquids, non-corrosive electrolytes, gel electrolytes, and hole conducting materials has overcome the volatility and leakage issues associated with the use of liquid electrolytes.
  • At Dyesol – a tandem cell realized ~12 percent efficiency in February 2009 (uncertified) in average light conditions, utilizing a standard high purity B2 dye and a novel near infra-red dye. The significance of this achievement is that the cells are of industrial size (1cm2) and manufactured using standard materials. Sharp Corporation reported an integrated DSC W-contact module, which achieved a high active area of 85 percent by elimination of the interconnection between the neighboring cells and achieved an efficiency of 8.2 percent (25.45 cm2), which is a new record for a DSC submodule.
  • Dyesol, Fujikura, Panasonic and Sony are at the forefront of DSC technology developments, utilizing novel materials comprising mixed organic dye systems, various novel solid/gel electrolytes and module designs, which show minimal decomposition over extended times of up to 12 years.
  • G24i plans to commercialize DSC for consumer electronic applications in 2009 and 3G Solar in 2010. Corus Colors is working with Dyesol to produce steel coated DSC panels for rooftop applications in late 2010.

OPV Technology

  • OPV efficiencies have been increasing at about 1 percent per year for the past few years, and the goal is to improve device efficiency to 14 percent for cells and 10 percent for modules by 2020.
  • For device stability, the goal is to increase cell lifetime (stability) from 5 percent for 2,000 hours to 10 percent per 10,000 hours by 2020. At the module level, this translates to more than five years of lifetime in 2012 and almost three times this in 2020 (13 years).
  • On the materials front, the best cell efficiencies for OPV devices are being achieved using upon low-band gap polymers, such as PTB1 with <6.7 percent by Solarmer, and small molecules, such as low band gap oligothiophene-based absorbers (DCV1T to DCV7T) with 5.5 percent / 6.07 percent for tandem cells by Heliatek
  • Plextronics has demonstrated large area OPV modules (232 cm2 total area), with a realized efficiency of 2.3 percent active area efficiency.
  • Konarka Technologies is now pushing ahead with the commercialization of its OPV Power Plastic material, initially for lower power consumer electronic applications during 2010 using several partners – including Cymbet Corporation, Noon Bags and SkyShades.
  • Plextronics with its joint venture partner in South Korea – Korea Parts & Fasteners, set up KNP Energy to build solar panels in South Korea and tap into the well-funded and growing market.
Philip Drachman Analyst at Large

Philip Drachman is a Research Analyst at GTM Research. He specializes in the interface of thin-film technology and photovoltaics and also printed electronics. Recently he has carried out extensive research projects in thin-film photovoltaics, printed photovoltaics, building integrated photovoltaics and printed electronics for well known market research firms in the U.S., the U.K. and Japan.

image description

Contact Us

For pricing information or a demo, fill out the form or contact us at

Please wait while we load the form...