Solar Panels That Start Out Thin
Thin film solar panels are the newest type of solar panels. These new energy producers are thin, versatile, viable and a cost-effective form of solar panel. Solar power is the cheapest energy source in the world.
Renewables are commercial mainstream energy sources. Some people may wonder how solar panels that provide clean, quiet, environmentally sound energy, are efficient and effective, can still be relatively inexpensive.
Earlier solar panels were made of thin slices from monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon ingots. This newest form of thin film silicon is going to expand the number of applications for solar panels to the renewable energy industry.
What Are Thin Film Solar Panels?
Thin film solar panels are made from thin film solar cell materials. These devices are designed to generate electrical energy by converting light energy into electricity.
That is done through the photovoltaic effect in a layer composed of micron-thick photon-absorbing crystalline silicon material. Layers of silicon about 350 times thinner than any standard sliced silicon cell (the light absorbing material used in a solar cell) used in a solar panel are deposited over a flexible substrate.
There are several types of thin film solar panels available today made with various technologies. A typical thin film solar panel is made from one of four technologies that are mentioned below:
Cadmium Telluride is the most commonly used thin film technology; also it is less expensive than the other thin film technologies. It has the highest market share at around 50 percent. Cadmium Telluride on thin films has reached a peak efficiency, which is more than 18 percent.
Amorphous Silicon is the most used technology for making thin films after Cadmium Telluride. It uses similar manufacturing technology to that which is used to make standard silicon wafer panels.
Amorphous Silicon is more durable and more eco-friendly than Cadmium Telluride as it is less toxic. Amorphous Silicon is comparatively less efficient than Cadmium Telluride. It is typically only used for small load applications.
Copper Indium Gallium Selenide
Copper Indium Gallium Selenide is a type of semiconductor, which under laboratory settings has reached efficiency levels around 22 percent. However its in-field results have achieved only 14 percent.
So far the laboratory performance metrics are not found at scale. Copper Indium Gallium Selenide is more expensive to manufacture than the materials mentioned above. It’s not being used commercially in the wider solar market.
Gallium Arsenide thin film solar panels technology has almost reached 30 percent efficiency levels in laboratory settings but is the most expensive panels to provide.
Cost is its limiting factor, albeit this technology is more often used in the manufacturing of satellites and spacecraft’s solar panels. Because of its efficiency and versatility, it is deployed in unusual environments using large-scale installations of PV energy.
Application Of Thin Film Solar Panels
Thin film concepts started physically small in the 1980s. I was used in watches and calculators that needed tiny amounts of energy. With the enhancement of thin film technology, the potential uses of thin film solar in panels also increased.
A major advantage of thin film solar lies in its flexibility, which helps it to be installed on curved as well as flat surfaces. Thin film solar has much promise in building-integrated photovoltaics.
Thin film solar panels have the advantage of being flexible, durable, lightweight and semi-transparent. These features give thin film panels the potential to revolutionize how power is generated and used around the globe.
It can be used in making photovoltaic materials that can be applied over glazing of windows, and exteriors of vehicles. Thin film solar panels can be applied to rigid substrate to form photovoltaic panels for solar power stations.
How Do Thin Film Solar Cells Work?
The basic substance used in making a photovoltaic cell is the semiconductor material silicon. There are also the other materials mentioned above. Semiconductors have properties of being insulators, but do also act as conductors when heated or combined with other substances to conduct electricity.
When the semiconductor is mixed with phosphorous an excess of free electrons (called n-type) is produced and when it’s mixed with boron, gallium or indium it develops an excess of holes (called vacancy). These holes are spaces which accept electrons. This type of semiconductor is known as p-type.
In a PV cell the n-type and p-type materials are placed as separated layers with a junction layer in between. In the presence of light, many electrons are dislodged from their positions by photon impacts, which cause a direct current to flow across the junction. This current is used to power electrical appliances.
Why Thin film Solar Panels Are Better
Thin film solar panels are the newest form of solar technology for electrical generation. Their manufacture is different from the other traditional designs. Thin film solar panels are made in a unique way; by depositing photovoltaic material on a surface like glass, which is solid.
The application of these photovoltaic substances can vary and be made yet more versatile by using different substrates. These photovoltaic materials are used in combination to achieve better results for generating electricity as compared to just using one substance.
However, this is a developing technology and therefore is not as mature and well known as other panels. It is projected that within next ten years the technology will advance and costs of production will fall. More thin film solar panels will be commercially viable in many and different applications.
Thin Film Solar Panels Advantages
Flexibility & Versatility:
There is great versatility in using thin film solar panels as the material can be theoretically moulded to fit any form and shape. As there is no dependence on rigid silicon cells, the potential future use of thin film solar panels becomes immense.
There is the future possibility of any flat or rounded surface using flexible, thin film solar panels as a covering to generate electricity. This creative application is one of the greatest advantages and also the most exciting one.
Climate and environmental changes do not have the dramatic effect on thin film solar panels as compared to traditional panels. Shade and high temperatures have less affect on these thin film solar panels than is the case for the traditional solar panel. For traditional solar panels you need to keep them in direct sunlight as much as possible, avoiding the shade. These thin film solar panels absorb a significant amount of sunlight depending on the photovoltaic materials used and tend not to be as affected by shade. Thin film solar panels have good resistance to high temperatures. That means thin film solar panels may solve the problem of high ambient heat affecting output efficiency in relation to panels placed on roofs.
Among the types of solar panels, thin film solar panels are the most suitable for large scaled manufacturing production. To produce these thin film solar panels, manufacturers simply spray the photovoltaic substances onto a solid glass-like surface and from this a solar panel is made.
The manufacture process depends on different photovoltaic substances such as copper indium gallium selenide, amorphous silicon, and cadmium telluride. So, unlike the traditional solar panel, thin film solar panels are not dependent on quality molten silicon ingots for production.
For manufacturers, producing this type of thin film solar panel significantly reduces the time in production.
The thin film solar panels are uniform and lightweight; therefore a great advantage for you to install at your home. Compared to other panels, these have a homogenous appearance.
Thin Film Solar Panels Disadvantages
Thin film solar panels are not as efficient as monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panels. Your reality might be like most people in having a home with a finite limited roof space. So, for achieving the amount of power from less efficient panels you will need to install a larger area of thin film solar panels on the roof.
Compared with monocrystalline panels that could mean thin film solar panels covering double the area, which means probably covering your entire roof area.
The thin film panel solar panel technology is relatively new so it is not as well known as other traditionally made solar panels. It will take quite some time and much advancement in technology to get it to the same percent efficiency.
Chemicals Are Used:
The manufacturing process of these thin film solar panels uses many chemicals, some of which are toxic and dangerous. For example, cadmium is an incredibly harmful chemical. Users and installers want confirmation that exposure to the panels will not affect the person installing it and the place where it is installed.
Considered As “Shade Tolerant”:
There is a marketing and sales description of the thin film solar panels as ‘shade tolerant’. A solar panel needs sun for its functioning. If there is continuous full shade on your panel then it won’t get sun light power and therefore won’t generate electricity.
These thin film solar panels are a ‘low light solar panel’, meaning that there is some power output even when sunlight is not available at 100 percent.
Higher Install Cost:
A much larger area of thin film solar panels will be required as compared to the monocrystalline silicon panels. Because the cost of installing them increases with area as the installation now requires more roof brackets and wiring hardware, more installers’ time and care the lower cost for thin film solar panels can be offset by the add-ons.
Manufacturing Thin Film Solar Panels
The manufacturers of thin film solar panels have the objective of making their panels competitive and cost effective. They need to reduce the overall installed price per watt to make it more cost competitive in a capital investment compared to other traditional panels.
The cost of the thin film solar panels currently ranges from $0.50 to $1.00/watt. The goal for manufacturers of thin film solar panels is to reduce the top of price to $0.70 / watt of peak power. There are currently thin film solar panels available for portable uses like RVs and caravans at around 100W.
See the guide to solar panels that discusses small and medium size solar panels. That article discusses the portable solar technology, which includes many examples using thin film solar.
What Is The Future Of Thin Film Solar?
Its important for the solar power industry to continue developing innovations like thin film solar panels. As the manufacturing technology improves its prices have reduced over time. It has been steady in the last few years but with the new green deal and inflation likely, prices of electricity and panels may start to rise.
Many people are beginning to give opinions that soon the prices would reach the point where there could be no further reductions. If commodity prices start to escalate, energy costs head upwards and transportation becomes expensive then panels will cost more. It is possible that the costs of thin film solar panels for commercial use, which are being manufactured in massive production factories, could conceivably have a price advantage but not fall.
It might take a few years for the commercial targeted panels to become widely available to the residential market. Thin film solar panels could be a target for residents in a developing solar panel market.
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