Increasing Markets and Decreasing Package Weight for High-Specific-Power Photovoltaics

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112 Scopus Citations


Thin-film and emerging technologies in photovoltaics (PV) offer advantages for lightweight, flexible power over the rigid silicon panels that dominate the present market. One important advantage is high specific power (the power-to-weight ratio). Here we consider niche market size, price points and value propositions that can provide a path for new PV market entrants. Examining the cost–production experience curves of Si, CdTe and CIGS PV suggests that a minimum market size of US$0.2–1 billion is required to incubate a new market entrant. Several markets requiring high specific power meet this threshold. We assess the critical role of the substrate, packaging and interconnects and provide a quantitative assessment of pathways to maximize specific power. With all requisite components included, along with requirements for safety and reliability, we estimate a lower bound for a durable lightweight module at about 300–500 g m−2. Pairing this bound with a 15%-efficiency thin-film or 35%-efficiency III–V module would yield specific powers up to 500 W kg−1 or 1,167 W kg−1, respectively.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1002-1012
Number of pages11
JournalNature Energy
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, This is a US government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5K00-70241


  • cadmium telluride
  • efficiency
  • II-VI semiconductors
  • silicon compounds
  • thin films


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