Thin film solar panels
Posted by Solar energy guru | Filed under Solar panels & photovoltaic cells
Thin-film solar panels are pretty much exactly what they sound like. They’re regular solar panels that have solar cells made of a different, thinner material than usual. This new technology is more energy and cost efficient than regular solar panels. Thin-film solar panels are a very new development that hasn’t established a great presence in the overall solar market yet, but that has great potential in terms of its long-term usage. There are some significant disadvantages to thin-film solar technology, but as they continue to be developed, these disadvantages are beginning to disappear.
The biggest impediment to the development of thin film solar panels is the rarity of the materials involved. Regular solar panels use silicon as their main chemical, as when it’s doped with other materials, it makes a very good conductor of electricity. It is also one of the most common elements in the world, so the silicon in and of itself is not very expensive to massively produce. However, thin-film solar panels can be made of several types of materials, and while a silicon variant is one of them, it is of a different composition, and is prone to degradation over time, which reduces the potential profitability of any solar powered appliance.
The materials needed for a thin-film solar panel aren’t necessarily expensive or hard to produce, but the invention is so new that their production hasn’t caught up to the demand for solar panels yet. As producers of thin-film solar panels continue to attempt to develop this product, they are constantly trying to find out what material will be the most durable, inexpensive and cost efficient, and right now, there are more than five materials that a thin-panel solar cell can be made of. As this product comes into its own, we’ll begin to see a convergence in the ways and materials with which it is produced.
Another problem with thin film solar panels is that they don’t produce as much energy from light. The record for a thin-film cell’s efficiency stands at just over 19%, which is somewhat comparable to the better traditional solar cells, but does fall short. The commercial models suffer from the same problem, which makes them even harder to mass-produce at this point. When combined with the lack of a standardized method of developing and producing thin-film panels, there isn’t much incentive to undergo that endeavor. The market has yet to be developed, and there isn’t much incentive for consumers to spend extra money just for the panels to be smaller.
Even though they are still very new, many large-scale companies have already made the switch over to thin-film panels. The most notable examples are in space stations, where they are valued because they require less space and weight, which is very valuable when launching. They’ve also begun to be used on some larger solar power plants, especially in Germany, which has become the world’s largest solar power producer, thanks to government incentives. On this small scale, thin-film solar panels are cheaper to make as well, so even their decreased durability and energy efficiency can be worth it when you consider them individually.
Although they represent a new technology with a lot of potential, thin-film solar panels are still years away from being a viable alternative to traditional solar panels. They are undergoing constant development, and continue to approach the profitability of traditional models, so it is probably only a matter of time until we see thin-film panels take over as the most common kind. By all estimates, they will at least be cheaper and faster to produce than normal panels, so they have huge commercial potential, at the very least.