Thinking About Thin-Film Solar

Reader Contribution by Staff
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We’re working on an article about thin-film photovoltaics (PV) for our February/March 2010 issue, and in the process I’m learning more about this very cool technology.

What is Thin-Film PV? Thin-film is a lightweight and flexible type of PV. Because it’s so light and flexible, thin-film PV is also versatile: For example, you can mount it on the side of a tent or backpack, or integrate it directly into the roof of your home. It’s an alternative to crystalline silicon, which is still the most common type of PV. Some thin-film panels are manufactured with amorphous silicon, while others are made with cadmium telluride, or other non-silicon materials.



A Little Time Travel. We’ve written about thin-film PV several times in the last few years. In fact, we’ve even put thin-film PV on the cover twice (see left). So, just for fun, here’s a quick trip back into the Mother Earth News archive for more information on this technology.

2008. For an idea of what a house with thin-film PV looks like, check out the cover photo from our August/September 2008 issue. It’s not easy to see the thin-film solar panels, and that’s kind of the point. If you’re not crazy about the way solar panels look, one of the benefits of thin-film PV is that it can be very unobtrusive.

2006. Here’s a thin-film installation where it’s easier to see the PV panels. This cover photo from our October/November 2006 issue shows the thin-film PV laminates that our editor in chief, Cheryl Long, installed on her barn roof.  You can read all about her PV system in the article Easy Solar Power.

2002. For more general background info on thin-film PV, check out this article from February/March 2002, Go Solar and Be Secure. It explains the benefits to homeowners of using this then-somewhat-newer technology.  

1982!  As I was looking through the archive, I was surprised to stumble across this fairly technical article on thin-film PV research from November/December 1982, Thin Film Amorphous Silicon Photovoltaics. It explains how the technology works and what was happening with it way back in the early ’80s.

But Back to the Future… Our new article will cover some of the latest updates in thin-film technology. It’s written by our contributing editor Steve Heckeroth, who has a lot to say about the promise of thin-film technology and solar-electric power in general. Stay tuned!

Megan E. Phelps is a freelance writer based in Kansas. She enjoys reading and writing about all things related to sustainable living including homesteading skills, green building and renewable energy. You can find her on .

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