NanoMarkets has been keeping a keen eye on DSC photovoltaics for some years now. As stated in our previous report, the last couple of years have been quite interesting for third-generation photovoltaic PV technology. Significant advances have taken place not only with respect to lab-scale cell efficiencies, but also on the commercialization front. As a result, a number of commercial providers have the potential to supply DSC panels in the near future.
However, the financial difficulties faced by the PV industry in recent times have cast suspicion on the long-term viability of both large and small firms. Nevertheless, there is scope for further improvement in the efficiency of lab-scale DSCs that already are competitive with amorphous silicon (a-Si) cells (~15 percent).
The changing dynamics in the global PV industry have led DSC manufacturers to seek solace in more economically resilient off-grid applications. Building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) applications and low-light driven DSC solutions for consumer electronics are increasingly being seen as the largest potential markets for DSC. In fact, the first commercialized DSC products were flexible keyboards and portable battery chargers.
A Ray of Hope: Effect of China and Improved Cell Efficiency
Respite in the form of consolidation and subsidy rationalization in China: In the last five years, the global PV industry, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, has suffered from pricing pressures caused by PV panel manufacturers from China. Subsidy-supported production led to an oversupply of solar PV panels and a subsequent drop in prices from the level observed in 2007.
As a result, even large Chinese PV panel manufacturers such as Suntech incurred losses. Based on current trends, the Chinese government is not expected to extend further subsidies to the numerous financially troubled solar firms.
Consolidation or closure will be the only options for less resourceful Chinese solar PV panel manufacturers over the next two years and is necessary if balance in the global solar PV space is to be restored.
European manufacturers have also been faced with reductions in government subsidies, which have further increased the pricing pressure on these firms.
Emerging PV technologies such as DSC have not been spared either. The DSC industry suffered as early entrants in the DSC space, including G24 Innovations (now a part of G24 Power Ltd., U.K.) and Dyesol (Australia) were acquired or left to suffer dwindling revenues respectively.
The good news is that the consolidation of smaller firms and a more reasonable government subsidy scheme in China will put a check on cheap solar PV panels in the coming years. In addition, the growing significance of protectionist measures, such as anti-dumping laws, should provide the DSC industry much needed relief.
However, the industry must make a conscious effort to ease commercialization barriers, and adequate financial support by governments and the private investment community is also needed.
With these developments, innovative DSC-centric firms in the U.S. and Europe can gain a fresh lease on life over the next three to five years by guaranteeing solutions with extended lifetimes.
DSCs looking to shed the ‘jinxed’ label: When the efficiency of DSCs hovered near 10 percent in 2010, the PV industry lost interest in this technology, and it was considered to be a niche market segment like organic PV (OPV). At that point, DSC was expected to remain in a permanent R&D phase or at best be suitable only for use in the low-end applications. Such an outlook was not entirely misplaced, as DSCs were obviously a type of organic cells because they contain organic dyes.
What changed in the last couple of years is that DSC PV witnessed a number of technological breakthroughs that helped the technology overcome previously stagnated efficiency numbers. More importantly, the industry embarked on a path towards solving critical lifetime-related issues that were a major stumbling block to its success in the past.