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Different Types of Solar Cells

Ashleigh AngellOctober 11, 20183310

Different Types of Solar Cells

Did you know there are actually lots of different breeds of solar cells, and that each type has its own various advantages and disadvantages? If you’re thinking about going solar, you might have a lot of considerations to still make, so keep reading this blog to learn about all the various breeds of solar cells and how they can improve your solar panel system in ways you perhaps weren’t even aware of!

Thin-Film Solar Cells (TFSC)

Depositing one or several thin layers of photovoltaic material to a substrate is how thin-film cells are created. They’re called thin-film photovoltaic cells (TFPV). The types of thin-film solar cells are categorized by which photovoltaic material is deposited onto the substrate: Amorphous silicon (a-Si), Cadmium Telluride (CdTe), Copper indium gallium selenide (CIS/CIGS), and Organic PV cells (OPC). Thin-film module prototypes have an efficiency between 7–13% and production modules operate at about 9%. Future module efficiencies are expected to rise to approximately 10–16%.

The advantages of thin-film solar cells are:

  • Mass-production is simple and economical to manufacture than crystalline-based cells.
  • Their homogenous shape appears more attractive.
  • They’re flexible.
  • They are able to withstand hot temperatures and shading better than other cells.

Their disadvantages are:

  • They are not the most practical for most residential purposes.
  • They have low space-efficiency means the costs of PV-equipment increases.
  • Thin-film solar panels degrade quicker than mono- and polycrystalline solar panels. Thus, it generally has a shorter warranty.

Amorphous Silicon (a-Si) Solar Cells

Solar cells made of amorphous silicon have traditionally been used for small applications such as pocket calculators. The latest innovations have made them suitable for large-scale applications, as well. With a manufacturing technique called “stacking”, layers of amorphous silicon solar cells are combined that results in higher efficiency rates (typically around 6-8%). Only 1% of the silicon used in crystalline silicon solar cells is needed in amorphous silicon cells.

Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) Solar Cells

Cadmium telluride is the only thin-film solar panel technology that has overcome the cost-efficiency of crystalline silicon panels in the market. The efficiency of panels based on cadmium telluride operates in the range 9-11%.

Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIS/CIGS) Solar Cells

CIGS solar cells display the most potential of efficiency and are flexible. They have fewer amounts of the toxic material cadmium thats in CdTe solar cells. The efficiency rates are about 10-12%.

String Ribbon Solar Cells

String Ribbon solar panels are made from polycrystalline silicon. They are made out of wires that can withstand extreme temperatures. These wires are pulled through molten silicon, which creates very thin silicon ribbons. These solar panels look similar to traditional polycrystalline panels.

The advantage of string ribbon solar cells is:

  • The manufacturing of only uses half the amount silicon as monocrystalline manufacturing which results in lower costs.

Their disadvantages are:

  • They are more energy extensive and more costly.
  • Their efficiency is relatively low around 13-14%.
  • They have the lowest space-efficiency of any of the main types of crystalline-based solar panels.

Polycrystalline Silicon Solar Cells

The first solar panels consisted of polycrystalline silicon, known as polysilicon (p-Si) and multi-crystalline silicon (mc-Si). These are made by melting raw silicon and pouring it into a square mold. It’s then cooled and cut into square wafers.

The advantages of polycrystalline silicon solar panels are:

  • The process is simpler and costs less.
  • They have lower heat tolerance than monocrystalline solar panels. Heat impacts the performance of solar panels and shortens lifespans.

Their disadvantages are:

  • The efficiency is generally 13-16% due to lower silicon purity.
  • Lower space-efficiency.
  • They have a uniform looking, making them more aesthetically pleasing.

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