Is Thin Always Better? – Thin Film Solar Panel vs. Silicon Solar Panel



The main benefit of a thin film solar panel is cost. Conventional solar panels are made out of silicon. Producing thin film solar panels without the silicon greatly reduces cost. These solar panels typically come with a 20 year warranty so they’re pretty durable. Believe it or not they are simply glued directly to the top of your roof which also reduces your costs. So the object here with these solar panels is to keep your wallet fat.

Let’s dig a bit deeper and talk about the two types of thin film solar panels: Rigid Thin and Flexible Thin. Rigid Thin panels are not as common as conventional or flexible panels, but are ideal for mass-production as they are made up of very efficient and light-absorbing material. The solar cells are produced on a glass layer and then laminated with an encapsulant. These panels are environmentally friendly as they can be easily installed.

Flexible Thin panels are similar to Rigid Thin panels, but the solar cells are produced on a photoactive layer within a flexible substrate. The cells are then laminated to bond everything together. These two types of thin-film solar panels have the ability to be placed not only on the roof, but also the walls and windows due to their light weight and flexible material.

Ok so what you really want to know is how does a thin film compare to traditional solar panels? Primarily the thin film solar panel is not as visible, and is very lightweight. Unlike regular solar panels which are pretty much made out of silicon, thin-filmed panels are produced from a variety of materials. Some of these “thin films” are made with three laminate panels, made up of photovoltaic chemicals. Each layer created to react to a different range of light. Pretty high tech! What is the benefit of this? This design allows the panels to react more efficiently to low or indirect sunlight. Besides this nice perk these panels can be glued directly to the roof. Yep no ugly mounts and no hole punching on your roof.

You might be wondering how s thin film solar panel works? Well they collect and convert sunlight into renewable energy through photovoltaic technology. Photovoltaic cells use the energy from the semiconductors, which are insulators. Let’s not get too much into the nitty gritty here but suffice to say the technology behind these panels revolves around CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) which allows for the flexibility in these solar panels. Let’s discuss some of the leading thin film developers. Nanosolar, AVA Solar (now Abound Solar), and First Solar are among the top leading companies that are producing these thin film panels. Nanosolar, who prints the solar panels onto sheets of metal, have mass produced this product at an 8% reduction cost when compared to other manufacturers. Since the panels are printed, there are not a lot of chemicals used in the process. AVA Solar has also found a way to produce thin film solar panels with less waste and raw materials.

How does a thin film compare to traditional solar panels? Although as of yet they’re not widely used for residential purposes the cost of each watt would most likely be around $1-2. Is this a great price? Let’s compare to traditional panels which usually cost between $5-9 per watt. So figure about $1,000 - $1800 for a solar panel system of 200 watts. Keep in mind there are a combination of things that make up the total cost, including materials, installation, maintenance, and energy savings. Contrary to what you may think, the size of the house is not exceptionally relevant when estimating the cost. There are four things you want to consider when coming up with the cost.

  • First, look at your current electric bills and come up with an idea of how much energy you are using.
  • Second, assess the amount of sunlight your home receives on a daily basis.
  • Third, realize that the costs for installation. The total solar panel system kit is usually around $30-40,000 (without the bevy of government incentive goodies currently available-see item four below) for a single family home.
  • Fourth, keep in mind there are tax rebates and other incentives which may end up saving you more than 50% of the cost. Through these incentives and if you look into do-it-yourself projects, you may end up with a cost of $10,000 overall.

So overall the thin film solar panel seems like it’s worth looking into. They’re kind of new and you know the story there. So do your due diligence and see if a thin film solar panel will be going onto your roof.


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