Is Time Running Out For OPV?
Published: May 06, 2012 Category: Renewable Energy

The OPV market continues to struggle to get off the ground. The last year has produced a few bright spots—some new investments, some modest performance enhancements, additional demonstration and/or niche product launches, etc.—but the industry still needs a big breakthrough, or at least a clear path toward a larger-area or larger-scale application that can take OPV to the next level commercially.

Unfortunately, the value propositions that have been claimed for OPV in the past continue to get harder and harder to make: OPV’s costs are still very high, flexible encapsulation is still a problem, and a big market pull for portable, small-scale charging has not materialized.  Meanwhile, development and commercialization of OPV’s closest “third generation” competitor, DSC PV, has outpaced that of OPV, and now it looks as though time for OPV may be running out.

In addition, the overall PV industry is currently in chaos, which will affect OPV through decreasing government and investment support, both of which OPV has relied on thus far for its survival. Overall, we believe that the pace of growth in the OPV market will at least partially offset declines, but we also believe that the next two years will be the years in which OPV must finally prove itself in the PV market, both from a technical and cost perspective, or be relegated to permanent “specialty” status and an addressable market of no more than a few megawatts (MW) at best.

In addition, we continue to be surprised by the level of activity in both new investments and new product demonstrations in the OPV industry, especially given that, by our estimates, the market appears to still be years away from really big values, i.e. greater than a billion dollars. So, our skepticism is tempered somewhat by the belief that the OPV industry continues to believe in some long-range value that goes beyond the 2020 timeframe.

The long-range value must be, we think, largely based on larger-area BIPV applications. But, the environment surrounding OPV has gotten more difficult in the last year, and other technologies are already heavily involved in BIPV, like CIGS and DSC PV, so we think OPV firms must move quickly or get left behind.