The Promise of Thin-Film Solar

Are you ready to bring solar power into your home? Ongoing development of thin-film solar technology heralds the arrival of a long dreamed of future where everyone can generate their own power cleanly with the sun's energy.

| February/March 2010

  • Solar shingles
    Solar panels don’t have to be conspicuous. The panels on this house are energy-efficient and fit neatly into the roof.
  • Thin film solar
    Thin-film solar panels, hot off the assembly line.
  • Parking lot
    Lightweight thin-film solar panels can be used to cover entire roofs, or parking areas as in the photo above. 
  • NREL Lab
    An NREL laboratory where organic solar cells are being studied. 
  • Solar tent
    Because thin-film solar panels are flexible, they can be used for many different kinds of applications. Some can even be mounted on fabric, as they are on this tent. 
  • Thin-film installation
    Thin-film PV can be used on the roofs of commercial buildings. 
  • Thin-film roof
    As thin film gets less expensive, nearly any roof could be a solar roof. 

  • Solar shingles
  • Thin film solar
  • Parking lot
  • NREL Lab
  • Solar tent
  • Thin-film installation
  • Thin-film roof

Every hour, the sun beams more energy to the Earth’s surface than the global population uses in a year. Meanwhile, humanity struggles with the effects of pollution, climate change, and fossil fuel dependence. Could it be that the solution to these problems is right above us? Modern photovoltaic (PV) technologies take advantage of renewable energy from the sun by converting sunlight into electricity. So why aren’t more of us using this remarkable technology to power our homes? When asked, the reason most people give is the cost of installing a PV system. But new thin-film PV products are getting better and cheaper all the time. This technology could soon change the way we think about electricity and make sunshine our “fuel” of choice.

The Rise of Thin-Film Solar

The type of solar-electric module currently dominating the industry is crystalline silicon, which is made by encapsulating wafers of highly refined silicon under rectangular sheets of glass framed with aluminum. These modules have been the primary solar energy technology for more than 50 years. Since the invention of the first modern silicon solar cell in 1954, incremental improvements have resulted in modules capable of converting 12 to 18 percent of solar radiation into electricity.

Crystalline modules still dominate in PV sales, but in the last few years most new development work has focused on thin-film PV technologies. In 2005, more than 95 percent of the PV market was served by crystalline modules. Since then, thin film’s share of the market has risen steadily and is now 25 percent. Hundreds of thin-film companies have entered various stages of product development or production.

Large-area thin-film PV modules and laminates have been commercially available since the ’90s, and the current products have conversion efficiencies of 6 to 11 percent. The higher the efficiency, the less area and support structure required to produce the desired amount of electricity, so it’s worth noting that, overall, thin-film modules still aren’t as efficient per unit area as crystalline silicon modules. However, thin-film PV has other advantages over crystalline silicon. Perhaps most importantly, thin-film solar is much less expensive to produce. Many thin-film panels are produced from amorphous silicon. These solar cells require much less high-grade silicon than it takes to produce crystalline silicon panels. Thin-film solar cells can also be made from other semiconductor materials, including copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) and cadmium telluride (see “Four Thin-Film Solar Technologies,” below).

Going Solar in a Big Way: Utility-Scale Thin-Film Projects

A critical question in the field of renewable energy is when utility-scale photovoltaics will reach grid parity — the point at which PV power will be cost competitive with electricity from fossil fuels. In fact, utility-scale PV power is already cost-competitive with nuclear energy, but is not yet as cheap as electricity produced from other sources, such as coal.

While many PV manufacturers are successfully reducing costs, the current low-cost leader in the field of utility-scale solar power is First Solar, which is based in Tempe, Ariz. First Solar was on track to produce more than 1 gigawatt (GW) of cadmium telluride on glass modules in 2009. For perspective, 1 GW would be equal to about 250,000 large home-scale PV systems.

5/30/2016 8:54:50 PM

We offer thin film and flexible photo voltaic solutions :

11/25/2013 8:16:10 PM

Thin film is great for aesthetics on your home, but if your panels are somewhere where you can't see them anyway, it won't make sense to spend more (if they cost more) when regular solar panels will work just same.

Just be sure to get a company that offers good warranties.

Panel (the equipment), workmanship (your roof), AND a production warranty (the output of your system).


7/26/2013 4:27:54 PM

I have a good surply of Thin film panels , each panel 100 watts , 100 volts , can surply just about anywhere . my email  

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