Written by R.E. Lord

Thin Film SolarThin film solar panels promise to provide some of best alternative energy solutions to come forward these past few years--perhaps ultimately fulfilling the hope that solar advocates have long held for this evolving technology. Thin film overcomes some of the shortfalls of traditional photovoltaic cell technology although they introduce a couple of obstacles that are yet to be overcome.

Traditional solar technology consists of converting the suns energy into electricity using bulky flat panes with crystalline silicon solar cells.  The cost of production is relatively high (compared to traditional energy sources like coal and natural gas), the panels are bulky and the efficiency is somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20% for most residential applications (though near 40% efficiency is possible if you have deep enough pockets).

Materials Used in Thin Film Solar

Thin film solar can use silicon as well, but is also made using some other material.  Common alternatives are Cadmium Telluridium, Copper Indium Gallium DiSelenide (CIGS), and Pyrite among others. Those thin film technologies that incorporate silicon use an amorphous silicon that allows for the thin-film production.  Additional methods of utilizing nanostructures are continually under development and the race to produce the most efficient and cost effective thin film solar panel is ongoing and quite strong.

Advantages of Thin-Film Solar

The production and development of thin film solar panels has seen two of the three drawbacks to solar technology nearly overcome. The solar film can be produced in bulk at a much higher rate and the prices are much more affordable. Some estimates put the cost of thin film solar panels at about $1 or even better per watt produced.  This is a production cost that begins to rival more traditional methods of energy production.

In addition to their decreased cost of production, thin film solar panels are also not as bulky and fragile as flat paneled solar systems. This attribute allows for a more versatile installation and use of the material.  Thin film solar panels can be installed as roof tiles or shingles or even building facades or skylight glazes.  However, it is also common for thin film solar sheets to be manufactured on rigid glass and installed much like traditional solar panels.


Unfortunately, one of the current drawbacks to thin film solar remains the efficiency of the product.  Unlike other solar panels, those using thin film may only have an efficiency of around 5-15%.  This figure, however, is increasing at a steady rate, and those increases coupled with lower production cost, will gradually make thin film solar more cost effective overall.


Despite the many advantages of thin-film solar and the great promise it holds, it has yet to really take off in the photovoltaic energy market.  There are several companies looking to make it a viable energy alternative, and perhaps one of them will emerge to produce a product that will revolutionize the solar energy market.  This prospect, much like other alternative energy solutions, always appears to be just over the horizon...Image