Suppliers of silver inks and pastes face challenging times, as the PV industry's use of silver is expected to decline in the coming years, according to a new report from market research firm NanoMarkets.
The report finds that although the use of silver will increase in front electrodes, back electrodes and tabbing will require substantially less silver – leading to a significant drop in overall demand.Â
The PV sector, as a whole, is entering a period of flat or moderate growth in the next couple of years, the industry remains highly cost sensitive, and government subsidies are waning, NanoMarkets notes. Meanwhile, the ongoing shift in market share toward thin-film PV is changing the nature of the addressable market for silver materials in PV.
Specifically, there is an ongoing shift in demand for silver in PV applications from market-dominant crystalline silicon PV, which uses large quantities of silver printing pastes for front electrodes, to thin-film PV, which usually requires far less silver.
However, certain areas exist where suppliers of silver-based materials have opportunities to expand their business. Most of the opportunities center on providing new silver-based products that help the panel makers reduce manufacturing costs.
Examples include new silver printing pastes with reduced silver loadings that do not sacrifice performance; new printable silver materials that enable the fabrication of finer resolution silver traces; and new nanosilver-based options that enable low-cost, solution-processable and/or printable fabrication of transparent front electrodes.
Silver has always been an expensive metal and probably always will be, according to the report. Currently, silver prices remain persistently high, with no relief in sight. High silver prices will induce PV firms to look for silver substitutes, and sustained high silver prices – over more than just a few months or few quarters – will give these substitutes a chance to take hold.
Indeed, there are already important subsectors of the PV market where cheap non-silver alternatives are taking market share away from silver, namely backside electrodes/reflectors and tabbing pastes.
Overall, although suppliers of conventional silver printing pastes will feel the pinch as the PV market shifts, suppliers of new nanosilver-based transparent conductors may grow, NanoMarkets concludes.