All You Need to Know about Thin-film Solar Panels

Since the solar industry began, designs have advanced and become better over time. There are many innovations in the solar industry that have made this happen. One such appealing and visually fascinating is the thin-film solar panels. The other types of solar panels are polycrystalline and monocrystalline.

The solar panel is a symbol of renewable energy. As the world continues to adopt solar technology, its innovation and design keep getting better. Crystalline silicon solar panels are durable and are currently the most popular in the market. Their market share is about 85%, and their energy conversion is exceptionally high at 25% efficiency. On the other hand, thin-film solar panels are much more advantageous when it comes to pricing.

Thin-film panels provide a more effective way of generating electricity from the sun at a lower cost. However, the efficiency of the PV modules is low. You may require more space to accommodate the high number of solar panels. We are going to look at all you need to know regarding thin-film Photovoltaic Cells. Let’s begin.

What are Thin-Film Solar Panels?

thin-film solar panels

The thin-film panels are flexible and efficient. These are second-generation solar cells and comprise many thin layers of photovoltaic or PV materials. Compared to the standard silicon, the layers are approximately 300 to 350 times thinner. 

These cells are developed using a layer made of glass, plastic, or metal to deposit photon-absorbing materials layers of photovoltaic. As a result, these panels are the lightest. You can differentiate thin PV panels by the substrate used. The four types of layers used include:

1. Cadmium Telluride (CdTe)

Most manufacturers use this type to make thin-film panels, and they have about 50% of the market share. They have a low production and installation cost. Also, CdTe panels can absorb light better than conventional panels. Unfortunately, the panels made with this substrate contain cadmium, a toxic element. The efficiency level ranges between 9-11%, but the highest test was at 18%.

2. Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS)

One thing about thin-film solar cells made from this substrate is that they have less toxicity than cadmium than CdTe. Their efficiency is at 10-12 percent. They were first made in Germany but are now adopted in the US. Laboratory efficiency tests have exceeded 20%. They use less cadmium, and some companies substitute it for zinc, making it an environmentally friendly option. However, these panels are quite expensive, making it hard for them to compete with conventional silicon or CdTe panels.

3. Amorphous Silicon (a-Si)

These have a smaller scale application as they have low efficiency. However, through stacking, the a-Si thin-film solar panels increase efficiency to 6-8 percent. They are popular and less toxic compared to CdTe. They also have a longer lifespan than both CdTe and CIGS thin-panels and require significantly less silicon than conventional panels. A-Si panels can be bent, which makes them less susceptible to cracks.

4. Gallium Arsenide (GaAs)

If you want increased thin-film solar efficiency, this is the best choice. The capacity of the PV modules is 28.8% but also quite expensive. As a result, they are common in spacecraft and highly specialized applications requiring PV.  These types have two basic elements, which are gallium and arsenic.

The created element, gallium arsenide, has a high electron velocity and improved mobility than silicon.

How Do Thin-Film Solar Panels Work?

Solar panel films comprise amorphous solar cells. They are easy to manufacture, flexible, and lightweight. Also, these panels are easier to install, and the process takes less time. They are suitable for the following areas:

  • Generally, thin-film solar systems are ideal for large scale applications. Such include commercial buildings, institutions, streets, large rooftops, open spaces, or forest areas.
  • They are also ideal for solar farms.
  • When you want to power small appliances in buses or RVs such as WiFi modems and fans, you can install thin-films on the rooftop.
  • Street and traffic lights also benefit from this technology.
  • In places where there is a need for electricity to pump water, they can be installed on water tanks.

The basic science in thin-film solar cells is the same as the silicon wafers. There is no metal grid in a typical thin-film cell for the electrical contact, which differs from single-crystal cells. In its place, the cells have a thin transparent layer of oxide that can conduct electricity efficiently.  An antireflection coating is usually applied on top unless the conducting oxide can also perform the same function.

The Working

Conventionally, many solar cells silicon are in the form of n-type and p-type layers. In current technology, thin films contain CIGS or CdTe. The primary element of thin-film cells is a semiconductor photovoltaic cell. Phosphorous covers the semiconductor, which develops free electrons (n-type), and another semiconductor covered with gallium, boron, or indium creates a vacancy. The vacancy is called holes, and it’s known as P-type material.

When these two types join, they take a photovoltaic cell. In cases where there is no light, only a small number of atoms are excited moving across the junction. But when there is light, more and more atoms are excited flowing through the junction, which causes a large output of current. You can use a rechargeable battery to store the energy, and it can be used for various applications.

When it comes to carbon offset, thin-film panels have an advantage over traditional solar panels. One contributing factor is the silicon used in the products. Thin-film solar PV modules have much lower carbon emissions when being manufactured. 

The thin-film cells are lighter than the traditional panels due to sandwiching PV modules without using a frame. They are also less costly, with a much lower impact on the environment than silicon models. If you want a less expensive installation, thin-film PVs are the way to go.

However, the widely used models have lower efficiency and contain toxic elements. That said, if you have a large area such as commercial or institutional buildings, installing thin-film solar panels will be ideal.

Are you looking for thin-film solar panel installers? Dynamic SLR is your go-to solar installation company in Texas. Contact us today for a free solar quote.