Solair World

Thin Film Solar Panels: What You Need to Know

A solar panel is a device that converts sunlight into electricity by using photovoltaic (PV) cells. PV cells are made of materials that produce excited electrons when exposed to light.

Solar panels are made in two main ways:

  1. Traditional Panels: These are made with lots of small silicon (crystalline silicon, c-Si) cells connected together. These cells are visible and make up the panel.
  2. Thin-Film Panels: These are different. They use a single layer of special material that captures sunlight. This layer is super thin – about 300 to 350 times thinner than the silicon in traditional panels. This makes thin-film panels much lighter.

You can put thin-film materials on a rigid frame, just like silicon panels. But they can also be made flexible and sticky on one side.

This means you can stick them onto lots of different surfaces. For example, you can easily put these sticky panels on the curved roof of a recreational vehicle (RV), which would be hard to do with the stiff, traditional panels.

Thin-film panels are great for places where heavy silicon panels won’t work, like on portable solar systems. But they’re not as good at turning sunlight into electricity as traditional panels.

You need a bigger area of thin-film panels to get the same amount of energy. However, they do better in hot weather – their energy output isn’t as affected by the heat as traditional silicon panels.

Types of Thin Flim Solar Panel

Traditional solar panels are made from silicon that’s arranged in a crystal form, called c-Si. These panels have small solar cells that are either cut from a single silicon crystal (monocrystalline) or from multiple crystals joined together (polycrystalline).

On the other hand, thin-film panels don’t use small silicon cells. Instead, they are made from complete layers of a special material that captures sunlight.

There are four main types of thin-film solar panels, each named after the material they’re made from:

  1. Amorphous Silicon (a-Si)
  2. Cadmium Telluride (CdTe)
  3. Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS)
  4. Organic Solar Cells (OPV)

Thin Film Solar Panels Efficiency

Solar Cell Type Best Efficiency (%)
GaAs thin-film
GaAs single crystal
Single-crystal silicon*
Multi-crystalline silicon*
Thin-film c-Si
Quantum dot
Amorphous silicon

Source: Wikipedia

Thin-Film Solar Panels vs. Traditional Solar Panels

When choosing between traditional and thin-film solar panels, it really depends on what you need them for. Traditional panels, made of crystalline silicon, are really good at turning sunlight into electricity – about two to three times better than thin-film panels. This makes them a great choice for houses and businesses. But, these panels are pretty stiff and heavy, weighing about 40 to 50 pounds.

Thin-film panels are much lighter, so they’re a good choice for putting on vehicles or upright surfaces, like walls. You can even get thin-film panels that are flexible and have a sticky back. These are great for curved surfaces where you can’t use traditional panels.

How Much Do Thin-Flim Solar Panels Cost?

Thin-film solar panels usually cost between $1 and $1.50 for each watt of power they can produce. This is cheaper compared to traditional solar panels, which cost about $2.85 per watt.

However, thin-film panels are not often used on rooftops because they aren’t as efficient at turning sunlight into electricity. Here’s why:

  • To produce the same amount of power as polycrystalline or monocrystalline panels, you need two to three times more surface area covered with thin-film panels.
  • While the panels themselves are cheaper, you’ll end up needing more of them, which means higher installation costs.
  • In the end, the cost per watt might end up being similar between traditional and thin-film panels. But remember, a thin-film system will take up more space.

Thin-film panels are great for smaller, portable uses, or for surfaces that aren’t flat, like the curved roof of an RV. You can buy flexible thin-film panels for under $100 each.

Some solar kits also come with a battery and both AC and DC outlets to change the solar power into electricity you can use. Portable power stations can cost from under $1,000 to around $5,000, depending on how powerful they are and how big the battery is.

For generating a lot of electricity for a home or business, traditional PV modules are usually the better choice. And no matter what type of solar panel you pick, you can use the federal solar tax credit to help lower the cost of your whole solar system.