The thin film solar panels are one of the newest breakthroughs in the booming solar industry. Compared to their predecessor, they are much thinner and affordable and may well lead to a much wider use of solar energy in near future.
The working mechanism behind the thin film solar panels is the same as their “thick” counterparts. Both use photovoltaic cells to collect sunlight and convert it into electric current through the interaction between the sunlight and the semiconductor material contained in the PV cells. The electricity thus generated can be put into use right away at your home or office. You can also store it with batteries to back up the power at nights or on cloudy days.
What exactly has enabled the thin film PV cells to work with the same efficiency but at a much reduced cost? The answer is in the semiconductor material. The first generation of solar panels, which are the thick ones that we are all used to seeing, use crystalline silicon as the semiconductor material. Each solar cell is produced on a different silicon wafer, one by one. This is an extremely labor-intensive process, which makes the solar panels unaffordable by mass people.
The semiconductor material used in thin film PV cells, as a contrast, is much thinner and cheaper. What’s better, it can be mass produced with an automated system and thereby cuts down the labor work by 3 times. You can imagine that, with this reduced cost, more and more businesses will be encouraged to enter the manufacturing of solar panels. If this happens, the prices of solar panels will become even more affordable.
And, there are more exciting applications. With the solar cells being smaller, they are also more light-weighted and can be flexibly placed onto various smaller and light-weighted objects. For instance, the solar roof shingles are produced by covering the traditional asphalt roof with a layer of thin file solar cells. Now, instead of holding your solar panel with the large and heavy steel arrays, your solar roof can look almost the same as that of your neighbors.
Portable solar panels are another product of the thin film technology. They are being manufactured to power up just any type of electric appliances, from cell phones, GPS devices, MP3 players, to televisions and laptops. How handy it will be if you can install a solar panel on your backpack or in your purse? You can carry it wherever you go and charge your portable electric devices whenever needed.
If the thin film solar panels still sound to you like a complex technical innovation rather than an easily accessible daily product, don’t worry. Think about the digital watches. They cost dearly a few decades ago, but can be purchased today at a very friendly price. This will be the future of our solar panels!