Are Thin-Film Solar Cells the Future of Photovoltaics?

AMECO employees install thin-film solar panels on a commercial property in Orange County, California.

If you ever peruse the headlines of science publications, one phrase you will come across for any research involving solar energy is “thin-film solar cells.” These photovoltaic modules are similar to those that AMECO installs on homeowners’ rooftops.

While they’re considerably thinner and could potentially be sold at a lower cost, the technology is still in the early stages and not available for residential installation just yet.

Thin-Film Solar and Lack of Efficiency

The major issue holding back thin-film solar? Efficiency. A typical solar electric panel can convert about 20 percent of the sunlight that hits them into electricity, while thin-film solar cells currently in development only have efficiency rates in the single digits.

As a result, one of the main focuses of renewable energy researchers is to develop thin-film solar modules that can match or improve on the efficiency of conventional panels.

Gemstones and Their Effect on Solar

Many studies have been published on the subject showing the possibility of higher conversion rates, but one of the most interesting is a report published in the academic journal Advanced Optical Materials.

Scientists at Purdue University in Indiana, have used light diffraction properties in gemstones, specifically opal, to come up with a molecular structure that does a more efficient job of capturing sunlight. They referred to this structure as “inverse opal.”

In simpler terms, the gemstones cause the sunlight to spread out within the thin-film solar panel instead of bouncing directly out. By keeping the sunlight within the solar cell, the solar cell therefore creates more usable energy. This technology could result in solar panels that are 100 times less expensive than conventional solar panels.

Innovations, Soft Costs and the Price of Solar

Innovations such as this are important for the solar industry, as panel prices have already dropped significantly in the last decade. This has led many industry observers to speculate that silicon PV modules could soon “hit bottom,” at which point further reductions simply wouldn’t be possible.

That would mean that price decreases would have to come from other areas, such as eliminating inefficiencies in the supply chain or even lowering administrative costs. These aspects of solar pricing are referred to as “soft costs,” and they’ve remained relatively flat while panel prices have come down. To reduce prices further, it will be necessary to develop thin-film modules for commercial use.

Homeowners may have to wait a few years for thin-film solar to become commercially available for residential solar energy systems, but that doesn’t mean residents can’t take advantage of solar power today. AMECO can provide your family with a solar electric system that will lower your monthly energy expenses and help you reduce your carbon footprint. For more information, contact us today by calling (888) 595-9570 or emailing!