High Potential of Thin-Film PV

The German research institutes ZSW and HZB see huge potential in CIGS for both climate and business. CIGS thin-film PV is set to become a key pillar of the global transition towards renewable energy sources. With its high performance, low costs, small carbon footprint, and visual appearance, CIGS has some considerable advantages against other tech­nologies, especially when it comes to highly demanding appli­cations like buildings and vehicles. A new whitepaper describes in detail the benefits of CIGS and the huge business oppor­tunities arising from it.

Facade with integrated CIGS thin-film solar modules at the institute building of the ZSW in Stuttgart. (Source: ZSW)

CIGS is an absorber based on the chemical elements copper, indium, gallium, and selenium. Its properties are remarkable: It exhibits high conversion effi­ciencies, outper­forming all other thin-film PV techno­logies with a cell effi­ciency of 23.35 % on the cell and 17.5 % on the module level. The production costs of CIGS are highly competitive in comparison to other PV technologies with regard to capital and, in particular, to operational expen­diture. And its visual appearance is far superior both in its all black standard form and in its coloured or patterned versions.

These unique properties allow CIGS to be deployed in a wide range of solar products for which other tech­nologies would be inappro­priate. In addition to rooftop or large-scale appli­cations, where it is competitive with other PV technologies, it is particularly suitable for integration into buildings, e.g. as facade, window, or roofing material. When used on flexible substrates like steel or polyimide, lightweight CIGS modules can also be easily applied to the roof of vehicles, e.g. electric cars, buses, trucks, boats, or trains.

In terms of environ­mental impact, CIGS provides a role model for other techno­logies as well. Its carbon footprint is only 12 to 20 g CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour which is substantially lower than that of crystalline silicon (50 to 60 g) and, of course, way lower than that of fossil-based techno­logies (700 to 1,000 g). Its energy payback time is less than 12 months which is also signi­ficantly lower than with crystalline silicon (12 to 18 months). Further­more, CIGS can be recycled with low impact and in high quality and is set to fulfil the upcoming end-of-life standards in the European Union and other juris­dictions.

With all these proper­ties, CIGS is ideally positioned to meet the needs of future energy systems. Therefore, it presents a highly attractive business case for investors. With CIGS, it is possible to build fully integrated production faci­lities with high levels of automation. And there is still a compelling cost-reduction potential, especially with regard to operational expenditures. In terms of tech­nology development, Europe has the ideal ecosystem due to the established network of advanced production equipment suppliers and the unparal­leled network of CIGS research institutes and endeavours.

In order to take advantage of this unique ecosystem and to realise the huge potential of CIGS and other PV technologies for both climate and business, we need a favourable policy framework. The expansion targets for PV at German and European levels need to be increased and regulatory barriers need to be removed, in order to enable PV, in particular thin-film PV, to drive the global energy transition. (Source: HZB)

Reference: CIGS Thin-Film Photovoltaics, White Paper 2019, HZB & ZSW (download pdf)

Links: Competence Centre Thin-Film- and Nanotechnology for Photovoltaics, Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin HZB, Berlin, Germany • Photovoltaics, Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung ZSW, Stuttgart, Germany

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