Thin-Film: Better Looking Solar

The major advantages of solar are pretty obvious… Save energy, save money, save the planet. So, what could possibly prevent a homeowner from making the upgrade? Money comes to mind. Even though it saves in the long run, it’s understandable that the initial investment of roofing, panels, and system installation that goes into switching to solar can still be a put-off to a lot of homeowners.

But another factor that’s maybe not so obvious (and a little surprising actually) is aesthetics. While the whole point of solar is to save, the fact is that for many homeowners, if it’s ugly, it isn’t worth it.

The truth is, that with today’s advances in solar panel technology, you don’t have to sacrifice beauty for energy efficiency.

More Subtle and Aesthetically Pleasing

Typical PV panels are thick and bulky and have obvious white grid-lines everywhere. They stand out abruptly and not in a good way.

Thin-film panels are…well, thin. But also, the finishes on them are way more appealing to the eye and far less bold.

For example, we use Stion thin-film panels, which come in black, glass-like finish that blends into your roof and makes the cell-lines virtually invisible and they come with a black, anodized aluminum frame. No more ugly, white gridlines.

Because thin-film technology still works great under shade or cloud cover, you don’t have to deal with weird tilts and angles that can make panels stand out even more awkwardly.

Superior Performance and Reliability

While this quashes the theory that solar will ruin the beauty of your home or building, you’ll be excited to learn that there’s more advantages to thin-film panels than just their good-looks.

Thin film PVs have extremely thin photosensitive layers that rest between Transparent Conductive Oxide glass and an additional backing material that is often thermally strengthened.

Because thin-film modules produce power at a much lower cost per watt than their crystalline silicon counterparts, these installations are ideal for larger-scale projects and just all around more efficient. Even at elevated temperatures or cloud days, they generate power at an incredibly consistent rate.

Believe it or not, too much heat from the sun is counter-productive to your solar panels power output. For every degree over 25degC a panel’s maximum power is reduced by a certain percentage. It’s called the “temperature coefficient Pmax.”

Because thin-film panels have much lower temperature coefficients than typical crystalline silicon modules, they retain more of their energy production potential in elevated temperatures, making them ideal for warm climates like San Diego.

One of the most important advantages of thin-film is their incredibly slow degradation rates. Panels that have polycarbonate backings can easily be penetrated by moisture over time. Many thin-film panels are covered by a quarter inch of glass and sometimes additional thermally strengthened backing.

There’s an installation of CIGS thin-film panels at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado that has been there for 13 years now. Recent inspections have shown even after all that time, there is ZERO detectible degradation of the panels. That’s an astonishing statistic that says a lot about the integrity of thin-film design and holds significant implications for the future of this technology.

Not only do they take a long time to degrade, but thin film holds less potential for failure than typical modules. Instead of 60 – 72 cells with thousands of internal connections, many thin-film modules are just one piece. That means far less points of potential failure and a thus a longer lifespan.

More Affordable

You might think that because of all these advantages and the superior aesthetics of thin-film that it is significantly more expensive. The truth is, that because of the efficiency of the technology, your system will produce more kilowatt hours per watt of system capacity and end up costing you less.

Crystalline silicon actually doesn’t absorb light very well. It mostly takes in low wavelength light but can’t absorb most of the light wavelengths that come from the sun. Thin-film absorbs far more light and it takes only 1 micron to absorb what 100 microns can in typical crystalline silicon modules.

With lower manufacturing costs, higher efficiency rates, and longer lifespans, thin-film will cost you way less in the beginning and the end, so there’s no need to settle for an outdated technology, when a superior and more attractive option is here and is ready to help you start saving!