Over the decades, solar panels have evolved through exciting innovations and breakthroughs. Modern, thin-film solar panels emerged as a more flexible and affordable alternative to their traditional, crystalline silicon counterparts. Their ease of installation also makes thin-film panels a desirable option among residential and commercial property owners.
Today, many people are converting to green energy by connecting with solar equipment suppliers. Those who “go solar” reduce their utility bills, increase the value of their homes, and make a difference to the environment. In this blog, we explain more about thin-film solar panels: how they work, and how they might be the perfect solution for residential or commercial homes.
What Are Thin-Film Solar Panels and Solar Cells?
Thin-film cells convert solar energy into electricity through the photovoltaic effect. The micron-thick layers that contain photon-absorbing materials form thin-film solar cells that rest on a durable, resilient substrate. The endurance of thin-film solar panels sets them apart from the other competitors.
Thin-Film Solar Panel Applications
First introduced in the 1970s by researchers at the University of Delaware, thin-film solar panels have since spread worldwide. Due to their flexibility and affordability, thin-film solar panels remain one of the most economical solutions for buildings, vehicles, and devices. Their ability to function in partial shade makes thin-film solar cells an ideal choice for the residential market.
Thin-Film Solar Cell Efficiency
Thin-film solar panels offer varying degrees of efficiency based on their materials. On average, thin-film solar cells deliver about 6% to 18% efficiency. The incredible potential of thin-film solar panels promises significant technological leaps in the coming years.
Solar technology has advanced each year, becoming more efficient as the industry has expanded. Along with monocrystalline and polycrystalline, thin-film panels stand as one of the most common solar energy systems.
What Is Thin Film and How Is It Manufactured?
Thin films are, as their name tells, very thin coatings deposited upon a substrate material. It can be several things, from electronic parts to optical lenses. The thickness of thin films varies from micrometres to one single atom of thickness.
Thin films are manufactured in a thin film deposition system, generally composed of a vacuum chamber. The vacuum chamber is crucial to the high temperatures that can vaporize the solid source materials into a substrate, creating the coating.
Thin-film solar cells contain thin layers of photovoltaic materials to break electrons free from atoms, creating electricity. The invention of thin-film solar technology led to various innovative applications of its flexible cells, such as the solar-powered calculator and watch.
The materials that form the layers of the different types of thin-film solar cells include:
● Cadmium telluride (CdTe)
● Amorphous silicon (a-Si)
● Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS)
● Dye-sensitized solar cell (DSC)
● Organic photovoltaic cells
In addition, thin-film solar cells also possess an anti-reflective layer.
Production methods differ when companies are manufacturing variants of thin-film solar cells. The slim design of the thin-film solar cells makes them attractive for many applications.
One of the most common thin-film technologies, CdTe solar cells, recorded a maximum efficiency of 22.1% in 2016. In contrast, CIGS solar cells average between 12% to 14% efficiency. Amorphous silicon solar cells have the same aspects as the conventional silicon-wafer cell, generally found in smaller gadgets powered by solar energy.
The Difference Between Thin Film Solar Panels and Other Types
No other type of solar panel system offers the same functionality as a thin film. The affordability factor of thin-film solar panels alone calls for serious attention. Homeowners prefer thin film due to the ease of installation.
Thin Film vs. Polycrystalline Silicon Cells
Some of the benefits of thin-film solar panels — durability, adjustability, and low maintenance — trump their disadvantages. Polycrystalline silicon cells, for example, cannot compete with thin-film in those performance areas.
Thin Film vs. Monocrystalline Silicon Cells
As one of the most common solar systems, crystalline silicon (c-Si) photovoltaic cells offer more efficiency when producing electricity than thin film. However, a c-Si system costs more and proves more troublesome to install than thin-film solar panels. Monocrystalline solar panels cost a substantial amount of money to manufacture, resulting in higher retail prices.
Monocrystalline solar cells generate considerable amounts of electricity, averaging about a 15% to 20% efficiency rate. In addition, monocrystalline solar cells operate better than thin film in hot weather conditions.
Polycrystalline vs. Monocrystalline
With an efficiency rate of 13% to 16%, polycrystalline photovoltaic solar cells produce less electricity than monocrystalline cells. Polycrystalline, also known as multi-crystalline solar cells, cannot withstand intense heat for an extended period and possess a lower level of silicon purity compared to other solar cells.
Best Application of Thin Film Solar Panels
The enhanced features of thin-film solar panels make them one of the most convenient and versatile solar options. Some of the distinct characteristics of thin-film solar panels include:
● Lightweight and flexibility
● Superior portability
● Better temperature coefficient
● Higher resistance to degradation
● Ease of installation
● Cost efficiency
Due to their numerous advantages, thin-film solar panels enjoy a wide range of applications. Thin-film panels still have a vast, open horizon filled with potential applications ahead of them, something that once seemed impossible to veterans in the solar industry.
The thin-film solar system’s manageability and ease of maintenance draw the most attention. Below, we explore thin-film solar’s many applications to reveal why people choose thin-film solar panels over other kinds of panels on the market.
1. Rooftops Thin Film Solar Panels
Most people install thin-film solar panels on their rooftops to get the most out of the sun’s rays. Thin-film solar cells have become popular because they do not require structural changes to the roof. Many also prefer the clean look of thin-film panels instead of crystalline panels.
Due to their flexibility, thin-film solar panels can mount onto almost any kind of structure as they can bend to take the shape of any roofing system. For this reason, Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) systems that incorporate solar roof tiles and windows also rely on thin-film solar panels.
The efficiency of crystalline solar panels decreases above 25℃. As a result, thin-film panels perform at par or even better than the standard crystalline panels in hot areas during summer.
2. Wide-Open Spaces Thin Film Solar Panels
Thin-film solar technology offers many advantages, especially in wide-open areas. The low cost of thin-film panels makes them the most economical option for an extensive solar system setup. They also possess a broader spectrum of absorption during overcast days, which allows them to work more hours per day than crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells.
Germany, one of the leading countries in solar energy, generates a significant amount of power using thin-film solar panels. Since thin-film solar panels depend less on the intensity of the sunlight, they provide more reliable energy, especially in a cloudy area.
3. Portable Panels
Monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels weigh more than thin-film panels. As a result, they do not offer much portability and adjustability. On the other hand, thin-film panels weigh less due to their thin structure, making them perfect for portable applications.
The extensive use of thin-film cells on portable devices, like solar-powered battery banks, calculators, lamps, and mobile phones, makes them stand out from other solar cells. The portability of thin-film solar panels makes them usable in almost all types of technology.
4. RVs and Other Vehicles
One of the most common applications of thin-film solar panels involves rooftops and other surfaces of recreational vehicles (RV) and buses. They can also mount onto the deck of boats and other water-based vehicles.
In addition to its high performance, thin-film also blends into the aesthetic styles of automobiles because of its compact, frameless design.
The application of thin-film solar cells on electric cars remains a significant trend in the automotive industry. As a dependable energy source for charging batteries, thin-film solar technology will continue to serve as an essential part of vehicles powered by electricity.
5. Camping Trips
Heavy, rigid traditional solar panels tend to stay fixed, making them unsuitable for frequent transportation. However, thin-film solar cells represent the perfect, on-the-go power supply option.
Due to its lightweight and portable features, thin-film solar panels work well as a reliable power source during outdoor activities, such as camping. Also, you can stack up and store thin-film solar panels with ease to take them with you wherever you go, unlike conventional inflexible solar panels.
The rapid rise in global energy consumption and the increasing focus on environmental sustainability drive the growing solar energy market. The flexible, adjustable aspect of thin-film solar panels and their cost-efficiency set them apart from any other alternatives on the market.
How Much Do Thin-Film Solar Panels Cost?
Thin-film panels remain one of the most affordable ways to harness solar energy. The ease of installation makes thin-film panels economical, too. Some of the factors to consider when evaluating the cost of thin-film solar panels include:
● The type of thin-film solar cells
● Installation costs
● Required permits and inspections
● Federal and state tax incentives
● Payback periods
Average Cost of Thin-Film Solar Panels
Most houses require 3,000 to 5,000 watts of electricity. A single thin-film panel produces 250 to 400 watts. Each thin-film solar panel can cost anywhere between $200 to $700. So if you need ten solar panels, the total cost of the panels will range between $2,000 and $7,000. As such, the average price of thin-film panels per watt would amount to $0.8 to $1.8.
Average Cost of Thin-Film Solar Panel Installation
The installation cost of thin-film solar panels amounts to $0.5 to $1.5 per watt, which amounts to $2,000 to $6,000 for 4,000 watts. In addition, the system requires the installation of other components, like inverters, that will cost you another $1,000 to $3,000.
Regulatory Costs and Benefits
Every state has different requirements for permits and inspections for residential or commercial solar energy systems. Local regulations often affect costs. Fortunately, state governments often offer subsidies to encourage the use of solar power.
To further reduce the price and promote the use of solar energy, the Federal Investment Tax Credit offsets part of the cost of your solar system.
Recoupment of Initial Costs
Investing in thin-film solar panels over other alternatives will lead to the fastest returns. Utilizing solar energy saves you a significant amount of money on utilities, paying back the cost of panel installation long before you need a replacement.
Cost of Thin Film vs. Crystalline Solar Panels
One needs to consider various factors before installing an entire solar energy system. The type of solar panel you choose remains one of the most significant factors when determining the total cost of purchasing a new system. Two of the most common solar panel systems consist of thin-film and crystalline silicon.
Crystalline Solar Panels Are More Expensive
Thin-film solar panels stand out as the more affordable option when compared with crystalline silicon. A thin-film solar system works in multiple settings, including handheld devices or large solar-energy farms, because of its mobility and flexibility.
The cost of different solar panel systems will vary based on your locality and the manufacturer you choose. A crystalline solar system may not appeal to most people because its price range exceeds most other alternatives. On average, crystalline solar panels will cost you between $2 to $3 per watt compared to $0.80 to $1.80 for thin-film solar panels.
Crystalline Solar Panels Cost More to Install
A solar panel system’s total cost also differs based on the price of installation services. The installation cost of crystalline solar panels ranges higher than thin-film because they require a more rigid and bulkier structure. As a result, thin-film solar panels remain the best option for residential and commercial property owners due to their versatility and cost-efficiency.
Join the green energy movement by shifting from non-renewable fuel sources to pollution-free, inexhaustible solar power. With new advancements in solar panel systems, you can now choose from various options. Thin-film solar panels, in particular, offer several unique advantages for both residential and commercial use.
From large street lights, buses, boats, and RVs to handheld devices such as wristwatches, calculators, and flashlights, thin-film solar panels offer numerous practical and adaptive solutions.
Choose the best thin-film solar panels for your home or business property at our SolarFeeds marketplace. We make your solar equipment procurement experience rewarding and effortless.
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