Solar panels have taken the world by storm in recent years. One of the reasons for this is their efficiency. But it isn’t like solar panels have only one type. They are of different types depending on the material, quality and performance. One of the types of panels is thin film solar panels. These panels also convert sunlight into electrical energy using the photovoltaic effect. But they are different from traditional solar panels. They are lighter in weight and are flexible also. They are made of various thin layers of PV materials.
Let’s take a look at what thin film solar panels are and how they work.
What are Thin Film Solar Panels?
As mentioned above, these are solar panels made of thin layers of photovoltaic materials. Their purpose is also the same, i.e., to convert sunlight to electricity. The layers are only a few micrometers thick. Or you can think of them as 300 times thinner than “standard silicon.” That is the reason why these are suitable for portable devices.
Each cell has three main parts: a protective layer, PV material and a conductive sheet. Besides that, the material of construction is also different from mono crystalline and poly-crystalline panels. The performance of the former is also better. One of the reasons why they’ve more demand is their ease of manufacturing. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to manufacture them. And with a good performance, you can prefer these flexible second-generation cells.
How are Thin Film Solar Panels Manufactured?
It is the easiest type of solar panels to manufacture. Each of these panels has the following main parts:
A protective layer is important to increase the lifespan of solar panels. So, you have to add a thin layer of glass at the top of it. It improves durability and protects it from environmental hazards.
The major semiconducting material needed for manufacturing the panel is PV material. Also, this is what converts sunlight into electricity. It can either be CGIS, a-Si or CdTe. You can use any of these depending on your needs.
Each panel must have a layer of conductive sheet. The reason is that you have to improve the conductivity of the panel. Also, you cannot afford any electricity loss. So, a conductive sheet plays a key role in this regard.
The standard materials for all types of thin film panels are the same. Also, the way of making it is similar. You only need to place the PV material between a conductive sheet and a protective layer. And you are all set to generate electricity.
What are the different types of Thin Film Solar Panels?
Thin film solar panels have different types depending on the material. It will affect the cost and performance of the panel as well. Here are the types of these panels:
Cadmium Telluride Panels (CdTe)
It is the most common type of thin film panel. These panels have Cadmium Telluride as the manufacturing material. It is a chemical compound that captures and converts sunlight to electricity with good efficiency. CdTe panels are cheap and have a lesser payback period.
Amorphous Solar Panels (a-Si)
Amorphous silicon panels are the oldest type of panels. They use a “chemical vapor deposition” to place the silicon layer on the glass. They can perform well under bad light. But their efficiency drops once you use them for a few months. Their lifespans are also shorter. Overall, they are better in terms of cost.
Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide Panels (CIGS)
Making CIGS solar panels is a big deal for sure. The reason is that you have to place layers of all four metals one by one. Also, the combination of conductive layers with these makes a powerful semiconductor. It is also the reason why the efficiencies of these panels are higher.
All these types of thin film panels work well enough. But CIGS has the highest efficiency among all. That is why it has more demand.
Are Thin Film Solar Panels Efficient?
Thin film solar panels are cheaper as compared to mono-crystalline and poly-crystalline solar panels. But they have a few disadvantages as well. They are less efficient and don’t last long enough. You have to take good care of them to make them work well enough. Having lower efficiency also means low power capacity. Manufacturers are trying hard to increase the efficiency of these while keeping the cost low. That’s the reason why the performance of thin film panels has improved over time.
The highest efficiency of these panels achieved till now is 22.5% in 2015. Solar Frontier, a solar energy provider, achieved this feat and broke its record. But most thin film panels have efficiencies ranging between 6 and 19%. If you talk about their types, a-Si panels are only 7% efficient. At the same time, CdTe panels have an efficiency of 15%. CIGS panels are only 14% efficient. Last but not least, OPV panels are 18% efficient.
Another drawback of these panels is that consumers can’t buy them. They are only available for commercial usage. It is the reason why most people prefer to have crystalline panels. They may let you invest at the start but are better in the long run. So, make sure that you choose the type of panels wisely.
Thin film solar panels have several benefits. For example, they are easy to install and have low manufacturing costs. They are also resistant to shading and have lesser carbon footprints. But you can’t deny the fact that they are not efficient. It means your capital cost may be wasted. Their lifespan is also lesser as compared to crystalline solar panels. So, it is better to use them in areas where you don’t have access to crystalline panels. Or if you can afford to buy new panels again after 8-10 years. The reason is that they are good for certain applications only. So, make your decision, take all the factors into account and see if this option suits you.