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Thin-film solar to see bright days ahead

Solar cells made with new manufacturing processes and materials will take up a larger chunk of the solar pie, says researcher NanoMarkets.

Green tech

Solar cells made from thin-film technologies could make up about one-third of the fast-growing solar photovoltaic market by 2015, a research firm predicted.

NanoMarkets on Monday released a report that forecast a rapid uptake of thin-film photovoltaics with spending set to grow from $1 billion this year to $7.2 billion by 2015.

The researcher listed several advantages that thin-film photovoltaics offer over traditional solar cells, which are made out of crystalline silicon wafers.

Thin-film solar cells, which can be made from a range of materials, can be put onto flexible substrates, which means that manufacturers can build electricity-producing walls, roofs or even windows.

Conventional photovoltaic cells, which convert light to electricity, are also expensive to make, compared to thin-film manufacturing processes, according to the report.

Despite those advantages, thin-film has its drawbacks. The efficiency of thin-film photovoltaics is typically lower than silicon and some of those materials have shown degradation over time, notes industry Web site SolarBuzz.

The market share for thin-film PV is in the single digits--around 5 percent--and they are most often in niche applications like low-power consumer electronics.

NanoMarkets said that solar cells based on organic materials offer a more environmentally friendly approach than current processes. It predicted that shipments of organic PV will be about 500 megawatts by 2015.

For comparison, SolarBuzz said that 1,744 megawatts of solar PV were installed in 2006.