Photovoltaics (PV), the direct conversion of sunlight into electricity, are made from solid-state semiconductor Sunlight is the most abundant, versatile energy resource materials that are used in the microelectronics industry today. PV solar cells are layers of semiconductor materials that are deposited along with other elements to form a cell, which enables the generation of solar electricity.
Photovoltaic cells produce no emissions and use no fuel, making it the most benign method of power generation known today. The solar energy that falls on the earth's surface in one hour is about the same amount of the total energy consumed by the world's population in a year1.
Thin film solar technologies use layers of semiconductor materials that are only a few micrometers thick and these materials can be deposited on flexible or light substrates.
There are a number of alternative thin film PV technologies currently being commercialized including amorphous silicon (a-Si), cadmium telluride (CdTe), and copper indium gallium di-selenide (CIGS).
Extensive research and development on thin film cells has been conducted for more than 30 years, and recent advances in manufacturing and product commercialization have increased worldwide shares of thin film PV to over 13.5 percent in 2010.
Thin film PV technology is growing rapidly in the face of demand for lower cost modules made from readily available commodities. Thin film photovoltaics have been shown to be much less expensive to produce in larger volume, enabling them to compete with modules based on crystalline silicon.
Solar cells and modules based on CIGS hold the greatest promise for reducing the cost of solar energy. Among known material alternatives to crystalline silicon, CIGS has a high potential for conversion efficiencies and an optimal form factor for rigid and flexible substrates.
The benefits of CIGS modules versus conventional silicon based solar panels are:
1 Based on analysis of Statistical Review of World Energy (2009), NASA Earth Observatory — Climate and Earth's Energy Budget (2011).