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Use Thin Film Solar Panels to Get Off the Grid

The Next Generation Photovoltaic Semiconductors for Alternative Energy

© 2012 by all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile

Thin film solar panel construction; image courtesy US Gov

Thin-film panels, such as Nanosolar SolarPly, is the next step up from silicone wafer technology used to generate electricity from the sun. Why is it better? First, production costs are less leading to lower consumer prices.

Think you haven’t seen them before? Think again; they were first used in devices like solar-powered calculators. Now, research has advanced to the point where it can be produced in large rolls for commercial, industrial, and residential use.

Recent Spikes in Interest for Alternative Energy Sources

Forget the Solandra money-grab. I lot of homeowners are looking for (legit) alternative energy devices. Why? For one, to take jump on the federal tax credits that were made available by the 2009 economic stimulus plan.

Secondly, people want to get off the grid before energy costs go even higher than they currently are. With the situation in the Middle East, higher energy prices are pretty much guaranteed.

How this Solar Collection Device Works

This heart of it is a photovoltaic thin film semiconductor, designated CIGS (Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide), which is coated with a proprietary nanoparticle ink. To effectively collect solar energy, this ink has to contain four elements combined in the proper atomic ratio.

The substrate comes in the form of long rolls a of a low-cost metal foil (think a roll of aluminum foil on steroids). This comprises the electrode layer of the cell.

3 Generations of Film Solar Panels

  1. The first silicone wafer cells were engineered over 30 years ago. These were green units long before that concept was the rage. The limitation was that it was really an academic exercise because the production costs incurred were far too expensive to make the them cost-efficient. But it was a start.

  2. The second generation was the primary realistic approach at thin film solar cells. They were manufactured 100 times thinner than the original version. Acknowledged as a big leap from the first generation, it was still a long way from being a commercially viable product.

    The film still needed to be installed on the glass substrate. The result was that the manufacturing costs were still too steep. In addition, the manufacturing process was still tied to a high-vacuum model which made it too time consuming.

  3. Finally, the third generation unraveled the panel of efficiency, production, and commercial viability. The methods Nanosolar used to address these issues follow below.

Efficient Generation of Electricity

Thin film flexible solar PV installation; photo courtesy Ken Fields Because of their R&D innovations, these new cells can deliver from 5 to 10 times more real power than any competing thin film panels. What are the implications of this?

It translates into less square footage occupied and means there is more power available. This can be the deal-maker for homeowner looking at installing panels on a roof that is of a limited size.

Another benefit is that the foil is flexible, meaning that it can conform to a variety of shapes and can be adapted to a variety of surfaces.

Streamlined Production Lines mean Smaller Manufacturing Costs

The first Generation was locked into what is known as clean-room silicone wafer processing. Generation 2 was still locked into having to incorporate a glass substrate. The third generation fixes both those headaches.

The first issue is overcome by being able to manufacture in a plain-air manufacturing environment. That translates into much lower factory financial overhead.

As for the second issue, these newer cells are printed out on large rolls of conductive metal foil instead of the cumbersome glass panels or wafers that the earliest technology relied on. So this the only continuously processing product thus far.

A Financially Viable, Sustainable Energy Source

  • Energy payback—the break-even point of generation 1 was about 3 years, generation 2 lowered it to a little over 1.5 years. Gen 3 cells can pay for themselves in less than 1 month in some cases.

  • Making Custom Panels—because the proprietary ink is simply painted on rolls of metal foil that are many feet wide and miles long, custom panels may be simply cut to size. This is much faster and efficient than building custom wafer panels.



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© 2012 all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission.