The expected trajectories of the different PV sub-sectors and their impact on the silver business are quite different:
Crystalline-Si PV: Crystalline-Si PV technologies today use the bulk of silver materials in three key applications within the cell: front-side grids, backside electrodes, and tabbing strips. We expect the c-Si PV sector to retain a strong position in the solar panel market, but expect growth rates in this sector to cool significantly.
In c-Si PV, silver product suppliers will have to compete with cheaper, non-silver approaches that do not use silver at all, namely copper- and aluminum-based substitutes. The back electrode is already in the process of substituting silver with aluminum (or aluminum-silver) materials, since the back electrode is typically less demanding than the other cell parts that use silver. And printed silver tabbing strips are losing ground to much less expensive copper-based solders and printed copper materials. In these applications, the near-term opportunities for silver suppliers center around offering lower-cost, reduced-silver materials, such as silver-aluminum products, instead of silver-only formulations, for example.
There is also some good news in c-Si PV:
• First, silver printing pastes appear to be entrenched in front-side electrode/grid applications because high conductivity is of the utmost importance for maintaining high efficiencies, and there are few suitable alternatives to silver in this application.
• Second, there is increasing use of transparent conductive front electrodes in new—and growing—heterojunction with intrinsic thin-layer (HIT) cell technologies. Today, HIT cells and similar PV technologies use indium-tin-oxide (ITO) for the transparent conductor, but this market presents an important additional addressable market for new transparent conductor technologies, including those based on nanosilver.