The residential solar industry has enjoyed a huge growth spurt over the last decade due to falling prices and new financing mechanisms. At the same time, electric car ownership has grown steadily, pushed forward by companies like Tesla and Nissan that are constantly researching and developing new ways to make electric vehicles cheaper and go further on a single charge.
Some electric car drivers are even installing solar on their home’s roof to charge their car. An electric car powered by clean, renewable energy? Yes, please! This idea though might leave you asking the obvious question “How many solar panels does it take to charge an electric car?”
In recent years we have seen radical improvements in the underlying technology of solar panels and although you are familiar with the traditional-style solar panels in pictures and on rooftops, thin film solar panels are now making their way into the mainstream. They are called ‘thin film’ because they are able to be produced in such a way that allows them to be flexible and coat materials other than the standard wafer boards. This allows for many more applications for solar power and can allow them to blend more seamlessly into your home’s aesthetics.
The most obvious difference between the traditional silicon wafer solar panel and newer thin film varieties is the thickness. There are also currently gaps in solar capture efficiencies between first-generation silicon-based wafers and newer, second-generation methods that use different compounds. This comes down to the materials being used in the panels themselves.
Traditional panels often use crystalline silicon (c-Si) in their manufacture. This process has been around for years and has established itself to be reliable. It should be mentioned that although c-Si is considered to have a high-efficiency rate in terms of energy production from installed systems, it is actually a relatively poor absorber of light. This means that the cells must be fairly thick and rigid in order to produce effectively.
Related: Comparing Solar Panel Types
In contrast, thin film technologies employ different elements that allow the cells to be up to 350 times thinner than the traditional wafer. This material can then be layered over coated glass, metal, or plastic to create a solar cell, and allows for many different types of materials and objects to produce energy.
There are two main goals for thin film solar cells today: to have the flexibility to attach it to a larger variety of building materials and to eventually achieve the same or higher efficiency than traditional silicon-based methods. All of these methods below offer some differences in pros and cons compared to the traditional-style panels. Their names usually derives from the type of material that is used for its semiconductor. Let’s take a look at four and see how the different technologies compare:
a-Si photovoltaic cell structure. Image by Alfred Hicks/NREL.gov
Amorphous Silicon is the oldest and most mature type of thin film to produce solar power. This is likely because silicon was already being used in its crystalline form to produce the more traditional panels and silicon’s electrical properties were well understood.
CdTe photovoltaic cell structure. Image by Alfred Hicks/NREL.gov
Solar technology based on cadmium telluride is now the second most popular PV technology in the world, sitting at around 5%. This is thanks to the fact that manufacturing of this process is cheaper and quicker than comparable silicon-based methods and recent leaps in efficiency have prompted more mainstream adoption.
CIGS photovoltaic cell structure. Image by Alfred Hicks/NREL.gov
This type of solar cell is another popular type of semiconductor used to create thin film applications. The CIGS method is currently more popular in Europe and Japan, but there are manufacturers all over the world making use of this technique to take advantage of its environmentally safe materials and peak efficiency potential.
CZTS photovoltaic cell structure. Image by Alfred Hicks/NREL.gov
In an ongoing effort to find solar technology that is both environmentally friendly as well as manufactured using abundant materials, the CZTS method was discovered. This method is very similar to CIGS in terms of properties and methods of fabrication, but its efficiency is still very low.
We trust this information has helped shed light on what exactly are thin film solar panels and how they are shaping the current landscape of solar energy production.
As these technologies mature, they will make their way into competitive products available for purchase. Already there are alternative methods of solar production, such as solar roof tiles, that allow customers to have a more aesthetically pleasing look while still saving money on their energy bills. Watch this space to see what innovative and new trends will be developed.
Photos courtesy of NREL.gov
If you’re looking to dip your toe into solar power, a good place to start is with a 12/24V 400W DIY solar panel kit. In this article we’ll look at five examples, and go over what you need to determine the best solar panel kits for your needs.
That’s what makes it renewable energy, right? But that’s a fairly simplistic answer.
Sunlight has numerous characteristics. Humans have used the heat of the sun for centuries to warm buildings to make them nice and cozy inside. Today, we use the sun’s heat for thermal solar panels used to preheat water coming into residential hot water tanks, as well as for huge utility-scale concentrated solar power.
But for solar electricity, it’s not the sun’s heat. It’s all about photons. This goes back to the century-old science-classroom debate over whether light is a particle or a wave – an intense debate because light can diffuse and refract like a particle, but has no mass like a wave. Einstein eventually helped us out by deciding that light is a photon, a word we made up to describe this thing that has characteristics of both waves and particles.Continue reading
Once upon a time, in a land and time far far away (just about 2,700 years ago), lived a poor a little ant. Little did it know its life would soon come to an end by a curious child (or even perhaps a dumbfounded philosopher), armed with malicious/scientifically designed magnifying glass.
The answer is yes, according to experts at NREL. That would be far more than enough. As of 2012, the entire world used 17.7 terawatts for the year. About 10,000 times that much sunlight fell on the earth in that year; 170,000 terawatts.
Maybe your business isn’t Apple, Walmart or Google, but solar isn’t just a big benefit for big businesses.
For a business that owns its own building going solar is clear sailing, with several provisos.
Soel Yachs and Naval DC are releasing a new product called the SoelCat12, which they’re calling an “autonomous solar electric catamaran.” It’s designed for short-distance travel, making it perfect for coastal and lagoon waters, and inter-island transportation.
Well, yes… and no. Ask yourself this:
If you won’t be the actual owner of your solar system – but merely benefit from the solar power itself through credits that reduce your utility bill – then there is really no reason for you to have to monitor its performance.
Company chairman Elon Musk, particularly known for his leading role in huge technological ventures such as the SpaceX program, PayPal, and Tesla Motors, made the announcement in New York City. He says SolarCity’s new panels are the “world’s most efficient,” taking up the same amount of space as typical rooftop solar panels available today while producing up to 40% more power. Improving efficiency will help SolarCity to keep solar power cost-effective for the consumer after the federal solar panel tax credit expires in 2016.