You’ve certainly heard of solar technology, such as solar panels if you’re an ecologically aware homeowner or company owner interested in decreasing your carbon footprint. The term “ecosystem” refers to a group of people who work in the construction industry.
Monocrystalline or polycrystalline silicon solar cells are the most common types of conventional solar panels.
While solar panels have been around for decades, solar technologies are always evolving, providing new alternatives. Thin-film solar panels are one of those choices. In this article, we’ll go through this cost-effective and environmentally beneficial thin-film solar panels
Thin-Film Solar Panels: What Are They?
Thin-film panels, like other types of solar panels, use the photovoltaic effect to convert light energy into electrical energy. In contrast to typical systems, they are second-generation cells that are extremely light and flexible. Photovoltaic, or PV, materials are stacked in numerous thin layers to form them.
The term “ecosystem” refers to a group of people who work in the construction industry. Three essential components make up each cell: a photovoltaic material, a conducting sheet, and a protective layer.
Aside from their small shape, thin-film solar panels differ from typical monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels in terms of production materials and efficiency, but we’ll go into that more later.
What Is the Efficiency of Thin-Film Solar Panels?
While being less expensive than monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon panels, thin-film solar panels are less efficient and have a lower power capacity.
Efficiency has been the most difficult hurdle for these panels, and it varies depending on the type of thin-film photovoltaic panel used, but it has improved with time.
Solar Frontier, the world’s largest copper indium selenium (CIS) solar energy provider, attained a conversion efficiency of 22.3% in 2015. This was a 0.6% gain over the industry’s previous record, but most thin-film solar substrates vary from 6% to 18% efficiency.
Despite they are not yet available to consumers, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems were able to achieve a record 68.9% efficiency of gallium arsenide (GaAs) panels when exposed to laser light.
Here are the four most common types of thin-film solar panels and their efficiency ratings:
- Amorphous silicon (a-Si) panels: 7% efficient
- Cadmium telluride (CdTe) panels: 9% to 15% efficient, with the highest lab test hitting 18.3%
- Copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) panels: 12% to 14% efficient, with tests hitting 23%
- Organic photovoltaic (OPV) panels: 18.2% efficient
Thin-Film Solar Cell Varieties
There are various types of thin-film solar panels, as was previously mentioned. Each is composed of a different material, which affects the overall cost and efficiency of the panels.
Photovoltaic material, a conducting sheet, and a protective layer are present in all thin-film panels, though. Let us examine the four most common varieties of thin-film solar cells in greater detail:
1. Amorphous Solar Panels
The most established type of thin-film PV technology is amorphous silicon (a-Si) solar, which is the oldest film-thin technology. To create a thin silicon layer on the glass, plastic, or metal foundation of this non-toxic panel, chemical vapour deposition is used.
Amorphous panels absorb a broad spectrum of light and operate well in low light. They may also be bent, which makes them less prone to cracking. The disadvantage with amorphous panels is that they lose efficiency quickly. Amorphous solar cells have an efficiency of 6% to 8%.
Amorphous solar panels are an interesting glimpse into the future of thin-film solar technology, but they are ineffective for the average home due to their poor efficiency. At the moment, a-Si PV panels can only produce one-third of the energy that a normal solar panel can. Calculators, outdoor lighting, and small gadgets all employ the technology.
2. Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) Panels
Amorphous silicon solar cells are the most advanced, while cadmium telluride (CdTe) panels are the most widely used thin-film modules.
After crystalline silicon (c-Si) cells, these panels are the second most popular in the globe.
Exactly as the name says, these cells are comprised of cadmium telluride, a chemical molecule that is good at catching and converting sunlight into energy. CdTe panels offer the quickest payback time of any thin-film panel now on the market and are less expensive than regular silicon thin-film cells.
The cadmium telluride panels also have the lowest carbon footprint of any film-thin panel on the market. Sadly, a major issue with these solar panels is that they contain a high concentration of cadmium, a hazardous metal. To cope with a such component, special precautions must be taken.
Although the panels are not dangerous to humans or the environment during the production process or when utilized to generate power on rooftops, the disposal of old panels remains a worry. Telluride is also extremely uncommon, making mass production of the technology challenging.
3. Solar Panels Made of Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide (CIGS)
Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) thin-film panels are created by stacking layers of copper, indium, gallium, and diselenide within conductive layers to form a strong semiconductor. Depending on the use, it can be placed on top of glass, plastic, steel, or aluminium.
The thin layers can be used in ways that traditional solar technology cannot because of their adaptable backings. CIGS thin-film is an extremely efficient technology, with some lab experiments showing efficiencies above 20%. Sadly, cadmium – the hazardous metal present in cadmium telluride (CdTe) panels — is also used in many CIGS panels.
However, some contemporary CIGS cells have replaced the chemical with more environmentally friendly zinc oxides.
Generally, the most significant negative is the cost. CIGS panels are still prohibitively expensive to manufacture, making it difficult for them to compete with CdTe or silicon solar panels.
4. Organic Photovoltaic (OPV) Solar Panels
The organic photovoltaic (OPV) panel is the last form of thin-film solar panel, and it generates energy by using conductive organic polymers or tiny organic molecules. An electrical current is carried between two electrodes in these solar cells by multiple layers of thin organic vapour or solutions.
Because the organic components employed are plentiful, the technique has a reduced cost from manufacturing to market.
Because absorbers vary in colour, OPV panels can be a variety of hues, including transparent, making them the go-to solar module for any aesthetic needs. Despite the hype surrounding its aesthetic potential, OPV solar is inefficient.
The typical cell efficiency is roughly 11%, which limits its usage in larger-scale activities. OPV also has a shorter lifespan than standard and other thin-film technology on the market, and organic PV cell deterioration is a continuing issue.
The Benefits And Drawbacks Of Thin-Film Solar Panels
Thin-film solar panels, like any other solar technology, have advantages and disadvantages depending on your needs and goals. Consider the following factors when evaluating whether thin-film solar panels are right for you.
|Lower carbon footprint due to less semiconductor material||May contain cadmium – a probable carcinogenic|
|Easy and inexpensive installation||Lower efficiency than conventional panels|
|Great for portable applications (RVs, buses, boats)||More roof space is needed for the same energy capacity|
|Faster payback time than conventional panels||Shorter lifespan than conventional panels|
Should You Acquire Thin-Film Solar Panels?
Thin-film solar panels are presently restricted in availability, but if solar technology continues to progress, these panels could take up in popularity.
Thin-film panels may be the most efficient and effective approach to reach your carbon footprint reduction goals and save money on energy expenditures if you have a larger home or company with appropriate roof space. They may also be a suitable energy source for portable use in vehicles such as RVs, buses, and boats.
Thin-Film Solar Panels: Final Thoughts
Thin-film solar panels offer a glimpse into the future of transportable and flexible solar technology. While the cells are not currently competitive with standard solar products, they show promise.
Owing to poor efficiency and the necessity for broader coverage areas, the panels are advised for commercial and small-scale applications rather than households.
And while their low prices are enticing, one of the substances usually used to create them — cadmium — has a high toxicity and can cause environmental damage once the PV modules are discarded.
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