LG Display has announced it’s going solar. And no, that doesn’t mean we’ll see solar-powered TVs—at least not right away. I had my hopes up, too, but it just means that LG is planning on making solar electric systems. Actually, LG will make thin-film solar cells that are being hailed as a solution to the high prices and lack of materials associated with the more widely adopted solar panels.
So why is LG Display getting in the solar business? Because production on thin-film solar cells is similar to that of TFT-LCD panels. LG plans to invest in a pilot line within its Paju display complex in Korea during the second half of 2009.
LG isn’t the only big display company one doing this. Sharp will produce TFT-LCDs and thin-film solar cells from its Sakai City plant currently under construction. Major TFT-LCD panel maker Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp. is also set to enter the thin-film solar cell market. And we expect to see more LCD assembly plants churning out thin-film solar cells.
According to market researcher Nano Markets, the thin-film type solar cell market will grow from $4.6 billion in 2011 to $14 billion by 2015.
“Both products share the same basic materials and technology and the further integration of LCD production technologies in the making of solar cells could lead to greater improvements in performance,” says Sharp.
As LG explains, the benefits of thin-film solar cells are numerous. “By placing electrodes onto a glass or plastic substrate rather than a silicon wafer, process efficiency can be raised by increasing the substrate size. Additionally, the technology would not be susceptible to weight adjustments or conditions of the installation location, making it relatively stable against changes in the external environment.”
Although researchers have reported efficiencies of near 20 percent in some thin-film technologies—most traditional solar cells are about 12 percent to 15 percent efficient at converting the sun’s energy into electricity—thin-films have been criticized for their poor performance. LG Display, for instance, plans to increase conversion efficiency from 8 percent to 12 percent in 2010 and to 14 percent in 2012.
Toshiba has also gotten into the solar business, though the company plans to build large, megawatt-scale projects for utility and industrial plants.
With all this thin-film solar production by large companies, the cost of solar technology should go down. And the bet here is that we will see thin-film solar and LCD technology combined.
Sharp did create a solar-powered TV, using thin-film technology, for 2008 Hokkaido Tokyo Summit, though the prototype was intended for use in developing countries in off-the-grid areas and used a 28-inch CRT TV. We will certainly see thin-film solar on many more self-powered products as well.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates