Thin-film solar cell

thin-film solar cell is a second generation solar cell that is made by depositing one or more thin layers, or thin film (TF) of photovoltaic material on a substrate, such as glass, plastic or metal. Thin-film solar cells are commercially used in several technologies, including cadmium telluride (CdTe), copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS), and amorphous thin-film silicon (a-Si, TF-Si).

Film thickness varies from a few nanometers (nm) to tens of micrometers (µm), much thinner than thin-film’s rival technology, the conventional, first-generation crystalline silicon solar cell (c-Si), that uses wafers of up to 200 µm. This allows thin film cells to be flexible, and lower in weight. It is used in building integrated photovoltaics and as semi-transparent, photovoltaic glazing material that can be laminated onto windows. Other commercial applications use rigid thin film solar panels (sandwiched between two panes of glass) in some of the world’s largest photovoltaic power stations.

Thin-film technology has always been cheaper but less efficient than conventional c-Si technology. However, it has significantly improved over the years. The lab cell efficiency for CdTe and CIGS is now beyond 21 percent, outperforming multicrystalline silicon, the dominant material currently used in most solar PV systems. Accelerated life testing of thin film modules under laboratory conditions measured a somewhat faster degradation compared to conventional PV, while a lifetime of 20 years or more is generally expected. Despite these enhancements, market-share of thin-film never reached more than 20 percent in the last two decades and has been declining in recent years to about 9 percent of worldwide photovoltaic installations in 2013.18,19

Other thin-film technologies that are still in an early stage of ongoing research or with limited commercial availability are often classified as emerging or third generation photovoltaic cells and include organic, dye-sensitized, and polymer solar cells, as well as quantum dot, copper zinc tin sulfide, nanocrystal, micromorph, and perovskite solar cells.