Thin Film Solar Vs Traditional Solar Panels
Thin film solar promises greater versatility and future affordability than traditional silicon panels. But that doesn't mean that those familiar shiny blue panels are by any means obsolete. If you're considering solar power for your home or business, here's a comparison of the two technologies to get you started. An experienced solar installer can help you choose the best option for your particular needs.
As its name suggests, thin film solar is a flexible, lightweight material that converts sunlight into usable electricity. At this point, it is primarily used on larger commercial buildings. Traditional solar panels are rigid, relatively thick silicon-based modules that are generally mounted on frames above your roof. These crystalline silicon solar panels are used for both commercial and residential applications. Although thin film solar sometimes uses amorphous silicon, it can also use a combination of different semi-conductor materials, including cadmium telluride (CdTe) and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS).
The advantages of thin, flexible, lightweight solar are considerable. It can be incorporated into curved solar shingles, rolled out across roofs and building facades, and used in situations that would be unsuitable for mounting solar panels. Roofs that would need to be reinforced to support the weight of heavy panels can be used as-is, reducing installation costs.
This technology also requires fewer raw materials and fewer chemicals to produce. Although the production process currently remains pricey, thin film solar may eventually be able to compete with fossil fuels in terms of cost per watt.
An additional plus: although less effective than crystalline silicon panels in direct sunlight, it can be more effective in hazy or overcast conditions and at dawn and dusk because the different semi-conductor materials are sensitive to a wider range of the solar spectrum.
Thin film solar is still much less common than traditional silicon panels for a number of reasons. Cons include lower overall efficiency (therefore requiring considerably more space for the same output), high production costs, and the relative scarcity of tellurium, indium, and gallium. Types that contain highly toxic cadmium will have to be disposed of safely at the end of their lifetime. Because of the large spaces required, the technology is generally not suitable for residential solar power.
And because the technology is relatively new, durability, despite many lab tests, remains somewhat unproven. Degradation is also a major factor. The film loses about 10% efficiency after 10 years; crystalline silicon panels are guaranteed not to lose more than 10% power over 20-25 years.
Both forms of solar are good sources of renewable energy, but your individual situation may make one more suitable to your needs. Traditional crystalline solar panels or roof tiles continue to be recommended for residential solar power installations, where businesses may want to explore new technology. Talk to a solar installer to get a better feeling for what makes sense for you.
Jennifer Mo is a longtime treehugger, vegetarian, and proponent of all things that are good for your body and for the planet. (Yes, she is from California.) Please visit http://www.premierpower.com for a free solar consultation, including a full site evaluation and estimate of your savings with solar. Premier Power is a technology-agnostic solar power company headquartered in California.