Flexible Solar Panels
There are several different types of solar panel available on the market. The three main types are monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film solar panels – all of which differ based on the purity of the material that they are made from (usually silicon). While the monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels are quite similar, they differ when it comes to the finer details. The monocrystalline solar panels are more space efficient and powerful, while thin film cells belong to an entirely different category.
Different types of solar panels
Monocrystalline: these panels contain solar cells that have been made from the purest form of silicon. This makes them more efficient, as well as a compact and long lasting option – especially when compared to the polycrystalline models. However, they are also more expensive. You can recognise these cells by their rounded angles and dark, monochromatic, appearance.
Polycrystalline: you can tell these panels apart from monocrystalline ones because the solar cells are square-cut and come in a speckled blue colour. These solar panels are made by melting raw silicon, a process that is much cheaper and more time efficient than monocrystalline cells, which makes them much less expensive. However, polycrystalline panels are less space efficient and less powerful.
Thin film: these are the cheapest solar panels on the market. The reason for this is that they need much less material to be manufactured, and as a result are cheaper to produce. They are incredibly flexible, which makes them more versatile and even more resistant to high temperatures when compared to other panels. However, solar arrays that are made from these panels tend to take up a lot of space – making them more suited to solar farms or commercial use. They also have shorter warranties due to their short lifespans. They are a fantastic choice if you have a lot of space.
History of flexible solar panels
Thin film solar cells have been in use for over 30 years. Their first application was in the solar powered calculator – something most children and office workers have had at some point in their lives. This application contained a small amount of amorphous silicon. Now, much larger systems are in use, and their applications include things such as building integrated systems, solar farms, and next generation vehicles. This technology was created and launched so that it could overtake its competitors (primarily the crystalline silicon models), but its shares have been in decline for years.
This is primarily due to the massive drop in price for the crystalline silicon solar panels, and thin film panels have declined in price. This caused the discouragement for the installation and use of flexible solar panels, but it does hold a host of advantages (aside from the price) that should be brought into consideration.
Flexible solar panels explained
Thin film solar cells come from a second generation solar cells, which is created by layering more than one thin film of photovoltaic material on a base made of a plastic substrate, metal, or glass. The final result is a panel that is much thinner than the average monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panels. This makes them flexible as well as lighter. What this also means is that the roof only needs to support a very light structure that does not require racks. The cost of production is also lower which, in turn, lowers the cost of purchase.
In addition to this, thin film panels have a special layered configuration that uses all of the different material’s ability to absorb light to their full potential. This is so that the cells will not end up losing as much of their efficiency rating as other models when in shadow or cloud. The downside, however, is that flexible solar panels are less efficient, have a shorter lifespan than traditional panels, and take up a great deal more space than their competitors. This makes them more suitable for commercial purposes as opposed to residential ones. The largest solar farms in the world are made from thin panel solar cells.
However, it goes without saying that this technology is incredibly versatile and has a large number of applications. It can be used to make solar panels, build integrated photovoltaics, and even be used as a glazing material that is applied to windows.
Cadmium Telluride: this is the most commonly used material in thin film production, and it accounts for almost half of the materials used in total. Recently, the solar efficiency of these cells has risen, and is almost equal to that of polycrystalline silicon. It also has the ability to lower the payback period- making it the best of all the solar technologies, with the average in good areas being around eight months.
Copper Iridium Gallium Selenide: the main difference between this and the previous materials, is the absence of heavy metals. The cells made from this material are also being developed to create a silicon-like level of efficiency, with much lower prices due to the lower quantity of materials used.
Amorphous Silicon: this is a non-crystalline version of silicon that makes a great alternative to the traditional wafer material. Devices that have been built with Amorphous Silicon have shown fewer issues than other thin film technologies, primarily because they are not affected by humidity and do not contain any toxic materials. They are also the greenest option because their production causes no hard to the environment.
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