Thin Film Solar Panels

Thin Film Solar Panels: Lightweight and Low-Cost

The race to reduce humanity's reliance on fossil fuels has fielded many challengers over the last century: water turbines, windmills, solar cells, geothermal plants, and tide mills. But only the solar cell has proven itself truly viable for everyday use. In particular, thin film solar panels, which, because of its lightweight and flexible design, has found its way into work sites, homes, and even the pockets of everyday people.

What are the Benefits of Thin Film Solar Panels?

In 1954, when scientists at Bell Laboratories discovered that silicon gave off an electrical charge when exposed to sunlight, the solar cell was born. Called first generation solar cells, these rigid, flat-plate modules, constructed from silicon, are durable but expensive to manufacture. They can be found on rooftops, in solar-power farms, and on satellites orbiting the earth and traveling the solar system. However, first generation solar cells have significant limitations, such as their high production cost, heavy weight, and bulky design. Homeowners who opt for first generation solar panels may need to reinforce their roofs for installation. But there is another option. Second generation solar cells, called thin film solar panels, address the first generation's shortcomings by offering a low-cost, lightweight, flexible alternative.

Thin film solar panels are, as their name implies, thin, usually only micrometers thick, and can be applied to various substrates such as glass, plastic, and metal. Thin film solar panels are fast becoming the go-to power source for electronic devices and home-based solar-power arrays. The most significant advantage of thin film solar panels is cost. While the production of first generation solar panels requires significant amounts of photovoltaic (photo- meaning "light" and -voltaic meaning "electricity") material and expensive machinery, thin film solar panels offer significant savings in manufacturing costs by reducing waste, requiring less-expensive production equipment, and utilizing other materials instead of crystalline-based silicon.

Thin Film Solar Panels© First Solar Manufacturing GmbH

Where are They Found?

It appears that the uses of thin film solar panels are limitless. Today, thin film solar panels are found at camp grounds, in parks, along highways, on boats, in backyards, and at construction sites. They provide power to residential and commercial buildings, industrial batteries, cell phones, laptops, and other electronics. Roll-out type solar mats, made from thin film solar panels, can be thrown in a vehicle's trunk for any emergency. Because thin film solar panels are easy-to-use and easy-to-apply, they are becoming standard for architectural designs, sometimes doubling as roof shingles and tiles, as glazing on skylights, and as building facades. The future might be that every car and every house will be powered by thin film solar panels, eliminating the need for fossil fuels and, just possibly, the electric bill.