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Value Chain Activity: Manufacturing Thin-film Modules

Manufacturing thin-film modules consists of depositing photovolatic material on a substrate, structuring it into cells to form an electric circuit and wire and frame it depending on application.


Industry Context

Barriers to entry

For development and small-scale production, there are few barriers, as companies like Aja International specialise in providing small-scale sputtering equipment. However, when scale becomes important, access to capital might become a barrier.


Upstream supply chain without bottleneck

Suppliers are chemical companies that produce high-purity metals such as CdTe, GaAs etc. The supply chain is less constrained than polysilicon and therefore much more reliable.



The future face of solar electricity with high efficiency at low cost has not been seen yet. But it will most likely emerge from thin-film technologies, probably with organic or other materials that are not in present-day solar cells. No wonder, this industry section experiences a very diverse mix of big-hitters (Sharp), start-up companies and universities. Companies with a long-term vision should be present in this field. Venture-finance companies may find it easier to get through the 2009 downturn than highly leveraged firms.



This is a very dynamic segment with lots of up-start companies, some venture-funded. There are also a number of companies that also produce crystalline technologies. Those companies tend to be in the amorphous silicon thin-film segment. The organic photovoltaics segment is mostly covered by research institutes rather than private companies.

Product Differentiation

The main distinguishing feature is again the efficiency, followed by appearance (flexible substrate or module) and temperature dependence. The close integration with building-integrated pv allows for a lot of product differentiation.

Cost Structure

Cost is all important, as this is part of the value proposition of thin-film technology as opposed to crystalline-based. This is particularly treu in the amorphous silicon section where there are many producers. The cost leadership falls to FirstSolar, offering CdTe- based modules. FirstSolar's entire business model is based on cost and efficiency, built on economies of scale and optimizations in the supply chain (for instance with metal supplier 5NPlus).

PV Cell




The main competing technology is of course crystalline silicon-based, though in building-integrated pv there, crystalline module just don't provide the flexibility in shaping. However, with the huge drop in crystalline module prices, thin-film producers must look very closely at costs.

Company Details:

Here is a list of selected thin-film companies, ordered according the underlying technology. Companies tend to follow only one thin-film strategy or they split up into several legal entities, as is the case with Q-Cells. See notes on corporate ownership in the table.

Name Corporate Ownership Country Comments
Silicon-based Thin-film
South Korea Technology: a-Si. Currently: 50MW capacity. 100MW by 2010. Also plans for CIGS
USA Technology: a-Si. Vertically integrated
Chint China a-Si, μc-Si thin-film technology. Also crystalline modules
Venture founded by E-ton Solar (23.9%), Lite-On (23.9%)  Taiwan Technology: a-Si; capacity 60MW in 2008, add 60MW pa
Bangkok Cable Thailand a-Si capacity 50MW, plan to be 100MW in 2010
China Plan: 1GW thin-film (a-Si), 3GW crystalline capacity
Taiwan Technology: a-Si. Capacity 2009 - 15MW, 2010 40MW, 2012 160MW
Chi Mei Optoelectronics Taiwan Technology: a-Si. First year - 2009 50MW, ramp-up thereafter
China Thin-film a-Si and accessories
Dai Hwa Group Taiwan a-Si - 10MW production
Denmark Thin-film: a-Si. Also produces crystalline modules
USA a-Si Thin Film Manufacture. Also active in other renewable energy areas.
ENN Group China Based on a-Si, 2009 capacity 60MW, plans to 500MW within years.
Germany Use a-Si
Bosch Group. Now Bosch Solar Germany Thin-film tech is a-Si. The only wafer manufacturer in Germany, producing exlusively for solar market. Also crystalline modules.
Owned by Mitsubishi, Reinet Investments and Ven Fin after Q-Cells sold. Switzerland Flexcell manufactures light, thin and flexible PV cells (25MW) using a-Si
Taiwan Thin-film from a-Si
Hind Hivac India 25MW c-Si; 10MW a-Si
Japan Technology: a-Si, capacity: 30MW
Tayih Group Taiwan Technology: a-Si. Capacity: 10MW, to be expanded to 200MW by 2014
A Masdar company, part of the Masdar initiative (Abu Dhabi) Germany Supplier of PV modules to Masdar near Abu Dhabi (UAE). Plans to build new plant in Abu Dahbi. Technology: a-Si
Moser Baer Holding India Current capacity ~ 200MW. Technology: a-Si, also crystalline modules
USA Silicon-base film multicrystalline Si
Taiwan a-Si technology
China Technology: a-Si. Capacity 30MW
Schott AG, Wacker Chemie Germany Thin-film technology: a-Si. Also in crystalline and CST technologies.
Japan Crystalline and thin-film
Merged with Sunfilm AG Germany a-Si technology
Strategic stake held by Solon AG USA Developer of silicon-based thinfilm technology. Filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
Sunfilm 50% owned by Q-Cells Germany Largest tandem junction thin film producer became insolvent in 2010.
USA Developer of thin-film a-Si tech
USA 2MW pilot production using a-Si
CIS / CIGS based Thin-Film
ITN Energy Systems USA Developer of flexible CIGS
50% owned by Shell, 50% owned by Saint Gobain Germany CIS thin-film technology
Germany Thin-film: CIS. Also crystalline modules
USA Leading CIGS thin-film manufacturer on a flexible substrate.
USA Based on CIGS plus proprietary production methodology
Germany Thin-film modules from 2009 - CIS film in a glass-foil laminate.
Japan CIS thin-film technology
Germany  Production and marketing of flexible CIGS thin-film with 17MW capacity
67.5% owned by Q-Cells Germany CIGS
USA Cylindrical thin-film (CIGS) targeted at commercial roof-tops. Filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
with Vattenfall Germany CIS/CIGS technology in test
Wuerth Elektronik GmbH Germany Technology: CIS
CdTe based Thin-Film
Q-Cells (93%) Germany CdTe/CdS (50% D/E)
USA Largest thin-film manufacturer - 2009: 1136MW. Technology: CdTe
3rd Generation
Part of Stanford University USA Research into small molecular and dye-sensitized molecular solar cells.
Spin-off from Warwick Uni UK Start-up company developing molecular photovoltaics
Israel In Research: Dye solar cells
Part of Oxford University UK Research into biomimetic solar cells: Including use of melanin and eumelanin, which may continue to deliver power even when light is off!
USA a-Si tandem, initial efficiencies 9-10%. Capacity 2008 (Dresden) 20MW, planned 60MW (2010). Customers include Phoenix and Alfasolar
USA Thin-film start-up; Start production in 2010. Precise technology unknown
Denmark Thin-film start-up with goal of 30% efficiency
Thin-film products sold thru separate companies: Calyxo, Solibro, Sontor Germany See Calyxo, Solibro and Sontor
USA Thin-film start-up

Downloads: Selective list of manufacturers of thin-film modules.


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