The Miracle of Thin-Film Solar Technology

You may have heard something about automobile paint that actually charges solar cells – or shingles that can be installed on a roof and help to meet a home’s energy needs.

It’s all due to the miracle of photovoltaic film.

What Is It?

Photovoltaic thin film is what goes into the creation of thin-film solar cells. There are a number of different materials than may be used to create photovoltaic film, including various forms of silicon and cadmium. Even a type of plastic made from organic molecules has been used successfully (something to think about as petroleum supplies dwindle).

You may be interested to know that you have probably been using this thin-film solar technology for many years. If you have a small, hand-held calculator (these have been around since the 1980s), it is photovoltaic thin film that keeps it going.

Today, this technology is being used on a much larger scale. Such thin solar cells are now being integrated into building construction as well as automotive charging systems, and is predicted to generate well over 22,000 megawatts within the next decade. According to Global Business Intelligence Research (a company that researches and reports on a wide range of industries), thin film technology may in fact be what eventually leads to “grid parity” – meaning that solar energy will finally be competitive with fossil fuels.

How Is It Used Today?

Thin film photovoltaic is ideal for older homes and buildings that lack the structural strength needed to support standard solar panels. They are also less susceptible to damage from wind lift. Currently, thin film technology is being developed that enables the creation of transparent solar cells that can be used as a form of window glazing. This will enable windows to do double duty by cutting down on the amount of sunlight entering a home or building while generating electricity.

The downside is that presently, this technology is more expensive and not as efficient. Although the cost of materials used to create thin film solar cells has gone up substantially in recent years, mass production is still expected to bring down the cost of this technology – perhaps as low as $50 per square meter, which translates into about .50c per watt.

Not surprisingly, China is putting the most resources into the research and development of thin film technology – yet another lost opportunity for the U.S. economy.

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