Thin Film Solar Panels

The thin film solar panels technology is adapted by the solar electric panels industry. Production volume of thin film solar cells is growing faster than the production of legacy bulk mono-crystalline and poly-crystalline solar electric panels, even though the market share of later legacy technology is still higher than the share of the thin film solar cell.

Read in the following paragraphs about the cost advantages of the thin film technology, about the thin film technology itself, and about the major players in the thin film solar industry.

Cost Advantages of the Thin Film Solar Technology

Thin film solar technology exhibit lower production cost, lower installation and commissioning cost, and lower end of cycle recycling cost. Other advantages are more controlled solar cells with tighter tolerance on the current – voltage curve, the availability of larger area panels (more important in the mid scale and large scale market niches) and better quality control

The cost is lower because:

  1. The production process use much smaller quantity of expensive semiconductor material, the semiconductor layer is much thinner and is the microns or sub-micron range compared to the more than 200 microns or more material thickness that is used in the legacy bulk solar electric panels
  2. The production process lend itself to mass production, utilize techniques and machines adopted from the roll-to-roll manufacturing industries enable the production of solar panels in a continuous well controlled process
  3. The integration of cells in parallel and series connection can be automated into the production line and reduce dramatically the wiring expense

Less energy is used to process the semiconductor material because less material is used

Even though the thin film solar panel is still less efficient than the legacy solar panels, new development bridge over the efficiency gap rapidly, and the present cost in terms of $ per watt production capability is lower and it improves steadily

The Thin Film Solar Panels Technology

A thin film solar cell is a substrate on which several thin layers of sun radiation absorbing semiconductor material are deposited.

The most commonly used substrates are metal sheets, organic material (polymer, plastic) and coated glass. The coated glass process was pushed forward by the flat screens manufacturers and it is a very efficient manufacturing process.

The materials used as semiconductor deposited thin layers are amorphous Silicon, Cadmium Telluride and Copper Indium Gallium de-selenide.

The Players in the Thin Film Solar Industry

Promising future for the amorphous Silicon (a-Si) is expected if the experimental results of Oerlikon Solar will be repeated on large scale production batches. Silicon is abundant and it is the semiconductor material that is mostly used for electronic and wireless integrated circuits.

First Solar, one of the largest solar panels manufacturers, use Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) as the semiconductor photovoltaic material.

Two companies, Nanosolar and Centrotherm use CIGS as the material of choice for their thin film solar technology.

Implications for Homeowners

As an homeowner, if you go to install a residential solar power system, what you really care about is the upfront price of the system and its life cycle cost. The two factors that really are of a concern are the price of the solar panels expressed in $ per Watt and the expected life span of the panels. Most people don't look under the hood when they buy a new car, and most people don't care too much about the actual solar panels technology that was used.

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