Photovoltaics (PV) is the conversion of light into electricity using semiconducting materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect, a phenomenon studied in physics, photochemistry, and electrochemistry.
A photovoltaic system employs solar panels, each comprising a number of solar cells, which generate electrical power. PV installations may be ground-mounted, rooftop mounted or wall mounted. The mount may be fixed, or use a solar tracker to follow the sun across the sky.
Solar PV has specific advantages as an energy source: once installed, its operation generates no pollution and no greenhouse gas emissions, it shows simple scalability in respect of power needs and silicon has large availability in the Earth’s crust.
PV systems have the major disadvantage that the power output works best with direct sunlight, so about 10-25% is lost if a tracking system is not used. Dust, clouds, and other obstructions in the atmosphere also diminish the power output. Another important issue is the concentration of the production in the hours corresponding to main insolation, which do not usually match the peaks in demand in human activity cycles. Unless current societal patterns of consumption and electrical networks adjust to this scenario, electricity still needs to be stored for later use or made up by other power sources, usually hydrocarbons.
Photovoltaic systems have long been used in specialized applications, and stand-alone and grid-connected PV systems have been in use since the 1990s. They were first mass-produced in 2000, when German environmentalists and the Eurosolar organization got government funding for a ten thousand roof program.
Advances in technology and increased manufacturing scale have in any case reduced the cost, increased the reliability, and increased the efficiency of photovoltaic installations. Net metering and financial incentives, such as preferential feed-in tariffs for solar-generated electricity, have supported solar PV installations in many countries. More than 100 countries now use solar PV.
After hydro and wind powers, PV is the third renewable energy source in terms of global capacity. At the end of 2016, worldwide installed PV capacity increased to more than 300 gigawatts (GW), covering approximately two percent of global electricity demand. China, followed by Japan and the United States, is the fastest growing market, while Germany remains the world's largest producer, with solar PV providing seven percent of annual domestic electricity consumption. With current technology (as of 2013), photovoltaics recoups the energy needed to manufacture them in 1.5 years in Southern Europe and 2.5 years in Northern Europe.
The term "photovoltaic" comes from the Greek φῶς (phōs) meaning "light", and from "volt", the unit of electro-motive force, the volt, which in turn comes from the last name of the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, inventor of the battery (electrochemical cell). The term "photo-voltaic" has been in use in English since 1849.
Solar cells produce direct current electricity from sunlight which can be used to power equipment or to recharge a battery. The first practical application of photovoltaics was to power orbiting satellites and other spacecraft, but today the majority of photovoltaic modules are used for grid connected power generation. In this case an inverter is required to convert the DC to AC. There is a smaller market for off-grid power for remote dwellings, boats, recreational vehicles, electric cars, roadside emergency telephones, remote sensing, and cathodic protection of pipelines.
Photovoltaic power generation employs solar panels composed of a number of solar cells containing a photovoltaic material. Copper solar cables connect modules (module cable), arrays (array cable), and sub-fields. Because of the growing demand for renewable energy sources, the manufacturing of solar cells and photovoltaic arrays has advanced considerably in recent years.
Solar photovoltaic power generation has long been seen as a clean energy technology which draws upon the planet’s most plentiful and widely distributed renewable energy source – the sun. Cells require protection from the environment and are usually packaged tightly in solar panels.
Photovoltaic power capacity is measured as maximum power output under standardized test conditions (STC) in "Wp" (watts peak). The actual power output at a particular point in time may be less than or greater than this standardized, or "rated", value, depending on geographical location, time of day, weather conditions, and other factors. Solar photovoltaic array capacity factors are typically under 25%, which is lower than many other industrial sources of electricity.
For best performance, terrestrial PV systems aim to maximize the time they face the sun. Solar trackers achieve this by moving PV panels to follow the sun. The increase can be by as much as 20% in winter and by as much as 50% in summer. Static mounted systems can be optimized by analysis of the sun path. Panels are often set to latitude tilt, an angle equal to the latitude, but performance can be improved by adjusting the angle for summer or winter. Generally, as with other semiconductor devices, temperatures above room temperature reduce the performance of photovoltaics.
A number of solar panels may also be mounted vertically above each other in a tower, if the zenith distance of the Sun is greater than zero, and the tower can be turned horizontally as a whole and each panels additionally around a horizontal axis. In such a tower the panels can follow the Sun exactly. Such a device may be described as a ladder mounted on a turnable disk. Each step of that ladder is the middle axis of a rectangular solar panel. In case the zenith distance of the Sun reaches zero, the "ladder" may be rotated to the north or the south to avoid a solar panel producing a shadow on a lower solar panel. Instead of an exactly vertical tower one can choose a tower with an axis directed to the polar star, meaning that it is parallel to the rotation axis of the Earth. In this case the angle between the axis and the Sun is always larger than 66 degrees. During a day it is only necessary to turn the panels around this axis to follow the Sun. Installations may be ground-mounted (and sometimes integrated with farming and grazing) or built into the roof or walls of a building (building-integrated photovoltaics).
Another recent development involves the makeup of solar cells. Perovskite is a very inexpensive material which is being used to replace the expensive crystalline silicon which is still part of a standard PV cell build to this day. Michael Graetzel, Director of the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces at EPFL says, "Today, efficiency has peaked at 18 percent, but it's expected to get even higher in the future." This is a significant claim, as 20% efficiency is typical among solar panels which use more expensive materials.
Electrical efficiency (also called conversion efficiency) is a contributing factor in the selection of a photovoltaic system. However, the most efficient solar panels are typically the most expensive, and may not be commercially available. Therefore, selection is also driven by cost efficiency and other factors.
The electrical efficiency of a PV cell is a physical property which represents how much electrical power a cell can produce for a given insolation. The basic expression for maximum efficiency of a photovoltaic cell is given by the ratio of output power to the incident solar power (radiation flux times area)
The efficiency is measured under ideal laboratory conditions and represents the maximum achievable efficiency of the PV material. Actual efficiency is influenced by the output Voltage, current, junction temperature, light intensity and spectrum.
The most efficient type of solar cell to date is a multi-junction concentrator solar cell with an efficiency of 46.0% produced by Fraunhofer ISE in December 2014. The highest efficiencies achieved without concentration include a material by Sharp Corporation at 35.8% using a proprietary triple-junction manufacturing technology in 2009, and Boeing Spectrolab (40.7% also using a triple-layer design). The US company SunPower produces cells that have an efficiency of 21.5%, well above the market average of 12–18%.
There is an ongoing effort to increase the conversion efficiency of PV cells and modules, primarily for competitive advantage. In order to increase the efficiency of solar cells, it is important to choose a semiconductor material with an appropriate band gap that matches the solar spectrum. This will enhance the electrical and optical properties. Improving the method of charge collection is also useful for increasing the efficiency. There are several groups of materials that are being developed. Ultrahigh-efficiency devices (η>30%) are made by using GaAs and GaInP2 semiconductors with multijunction tandem cells. High-quality, single-crystal silicon materials are used to achieve high-efficiency, low cost cells (η>20%).
Recent developments in Organic photovoltaic cells (OPVs) have made significant advancements in power conversion efficiency from 3% to over 15% since their introduction in the 1980s. To date, the highest reported power conversion efficiency ranges from 6.7% to 8.94% for small molecule, 8.4%–10.6% for polymer OPVs, and 7% to 21% for perovskite OPVs. OPVs are expected to play a major role in the PV market. Recent improvements have increased the efficiency and lowered cost, while remaining environmentally-benign and renewable.
Several companies have begun embedding power optimizers into PV modules called smart modules. These modules perform maximum power point tracking (MPPT) for each module individually, measure performance data for monitoring, and provide additional safety features. Such modules can also compensate for shading effects, wherein a shadow falling across a section of a module causes the electrical output of one or more strings of cells in the module to decrease.
One of the major causes for the decreased performance of cells is overheating. The efficiency of a solar cell declines by about 0.5% for every 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature. This means that a 100 degree increase in surface temperature could decrease the efficiency of a solar cell by about half. Self-cooling solar cells are one solution to this problem. Rather than using energy to cool the surface, pyramid and cone shapes can be formed from silica, and attached to the surface of a solar panel. Doing so allows visible light to reach the solar cells, but reflects infrared rays (which carry heat).
Solar photovoltaics is growing rapidly and worldwide installed capacity reached about 300 gigawatts (GW) by the end of 2016. Since 2000, installed capacity has seen a growth factor of about 57. The total power output of the world’s PV capacity in a calendar year in 2014 is now beyond 200 TWh of electricity. This represents 1% of worldwide electricity demand. More than 100 countries use solar PV. China, followed by Japan and the United States is now the fastest growing market, while Germany remains the world's largest producer, contributing more than 7% to its national electricity demands. Photovoltaics is now, after hydro and wind power, the third most important renewable energy source in terms of globally installed capacity.
Several market research and financial companies foresee record-breaking global installation of more than 50 GW in 2015. China is predicted to take the lead from Germany and to become the world's largest producer of PV power by installing another targeted 17.8 GW in 2015. India is expected to install 1.8 GW, doubling its annual installations. By 2018, worldwide photovoltaic capacity is projected to doubled or even triple to 430 GW. Solar Power Europe (formerly known as EPIA) also estimates that photovoltaics will meet 10% to 15% of Europe's energy demand in 2030.
In 2017 a study in Science estimated that by 2030 global PV installed capacities will be between 3,000 and 10,000 GW. The EPIA/Greenpeace Solar Generation Paradigm Shift Scenario (formerly called Advanced Scenario) from 2010 shows that by the year 2030, 1,845 GW of PV systems could be generating approximately 2,646 TWh/year of electricity around the world. Combined with energy use efficiency improvements, this would represent the electricity needs of more than 9% of the world's population. By 2050, over 20% of all electricity could be provided by photovoltaics.
Michael Liebreich, from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, anticipates a tipping point for solar energy. The costs of power from wind and solar are already below those of conventional electricity generation in some parts of the world, as they have fallen sharply and will continue to do so. He also asserts, that the electrical grid has been greatly expanded worldwide, and is ready to receive and distribute electricity from renewable sources. In addition, worldwide electricity prices came under strong pressure from renewable energy sources, that are, in part, enthusiastically embraced by consumers.
Deutsche Bank sees a "second gold rush" for the photovoltaic industry to come. Grid parity has already been reached in at least 19 markets by January 2014. Photovoltaics will prevail beyond feed-in tariffs, becoming more competitive as deployment increases and prices continue to fall.
In June 2014 Barclays downgraded bonds of U.S. utility companies. Barclays expects more competition by a growing self-consumption due to a combination of decentralized PV-systems and residential electricity storage. This could fundamentally change the utility's business model and transform the system over the next ten years, as prices for these systems are predicted to fall.
Types of impacts
While solar photovoltaic (PV) cells are promising for clean energy production, their deployment is hindered by production costs, material availability, and toxicity. Data required to investigate their impact are sometimes affected by a rather large amount of uncertainty. The values of human labor and water consumption, for example, are not precisely assessed due to the lack of systematic and accurate analyses in the scientific literature.
Life cycle assessment (LCA) is one method of determining environmental impacts from PV. Many studies have been done on the various types of PV including first generation, second generation, and third generation. Usually these PV LCA studies select a cradle to gate system boundary because often at the time the studies are conducted, it is a new technology not commercially available yet and their required balance of system components and disposal methods are unknown.
A traditional LCA can look at many different impact categories ranging from global warming potential, eco-toxicity, human toxicity, water depletion, and many others.
Most LCAs of PV have focused on two categories: carbon dioxide equivalents per kWh and energy pay-back time (EPBT). The EPBT is defined as " the time needed to compensate for the total renewable- and non-renewable- primary energy required during the life cycle of a PV system". A 2015 review of EPBT from first and second generation PV suggested that there was greater variation in embedded energy than in efficiency of the cells implying that it was mainly the embedded energy that needs to reduce to have a greater reduction in EPBT. One difficulty in determining impacts due to PV is to determine if the wastes are released to the air, water, or soil during the manufacturing phase. Research is underway to try to understand emissions and releases during the lifetime of PV systems.
Impacts from first-generation PV
Crystalline silicon modules are the most extensively studied PV type in terms of LCA since they are the most commonly used. Mono-crystalline silicon photovoltaic systems (mono-si) have an average efficiency of 14.0%. The cells tend to follow a structure of front electrode, anti-reflection film, n-layer, p-layer, and back electrode, with the sun hitting the front electrode. EPBT ranges from 1.7 to 2.7 years. The cradle to gate of CO2-eq/kWh ranges from 37.3 to 72.2 grams.
Techniques to produce multi-crystalline silicon (multi-si) photovoltaic cells are simpler and cheaper than mono-si, however tend to make less efficient cells, an average of 13.2%. EPBT ranges from 1.5 to 2.6 years. The cradle to gate of CO2-eq/kWh ranges from 28.5 to 69 grams. Some studies have looked beyond EPBT and GWP to other environmental impacts. In one such study, conventional energy mix in Greece was compared to multi-si PV and found a 95% overall reduction in impacts including carcinogens, eco-toxicity, acidification, eutrophication, and eleven others.
Impacts from second generation
Cadmium telluride (CdTe) is one of the fastest-growing thin film based solar cells which are collectively known as second generation devices. This new thin film device also shares similar performance restrictions (Shockley-Queisser efficiency limit) as conventional Si devices but promises to lower the cost of each device by both reducing material and energy consumption during manufacturing. Today the global market share of CdTe is 5.4%, up from 4.7% in 2008. This technology’s highest power conversion efficiency is 21%. The cell structure includes glass substrate (around 2 mm), transparent conductor layer, CdS buffer layer (50–150 nm), CdTe absorber and a metal contact layer.
CdTe PV systems require less energy input in their production than other commercial PV systems per unit electricity production. The average CO2-eq/kWh is around 18 grams (cradle to gate). CdTe has the fastest EPBT of all commercial PV technologies, which varies between 0.3 and 1.2 years.
Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide (CIGS) is a thin film solar cell based on the copper indium diselenide (CIS) family of chalcopyrite semiconductors. CIS and CIGS are often used interchangeably within the CIS/CIGS community. The cell structure includes soda lime glass as the substrate, Mo layer as the back contact, CIS/CIGS as the absorber layer, cadmium sulfide (CdS) or Zn (S,OH)x as the buffer layer, and ZnO:Al as the front contact. CIGS is approximately 1/100th the thickness of conventional silicon solar cell technologies. Materials necessary for assembly are readily available, and are less costly per watt of solar cell. CIGS based solar devices resist performance degradation over time and are highly stable in the field.
Reported global warming potential impacts of CIGS range from 20.5 – 58.8 grams CO2-eq/kWh of electricity generated for different solar irradiation (1,700 to 2,200 kWh/m2/y) and power conversion efficiency (7.8 – 9.12%). EPBT ranges from 0.2 to 1.4 years, while harmonized value of EPBT was found 1.393 years. Toxicity is an issue within the buffer layer of CIGS modules because it contains cadmium and gallium. CIS modules do not contain any heavy metals.
Impacts from third generation
Third-generation PVs are designed to combine the advantages of both the first and second generation devices and they do not have Shockley-Queisser limit, a theoretical limit for first and second generation PV cells. The thickness of a third generation device is less than 1 µm.
One emerging alternative and promising technology is based on an organic-inorganic hybrid solar cell made of methylammonium lead halide perovskites. Perovskite PV cells have progressed rapidly over the past few years and have become one of the most attractive areas for PV research. The cell structure includes a metal back contact (which can be made of Al, Au or Ag), a hole transfer layer (spiro-MeOTAD, P3HT, PTAA, CuSCN, CuI, or NiO), and absorber layer (CH3NH3PbIxBr3-x, CH3NH3PbIxCl3-x or CH3NH3PbI3), an electron transport layer (TiO, ZnO, Al2O3 or SnO2) and a top contact layer (fluorine doped tin oxide or tin doped indium oxide).
There are a limited number of published studies to address the environmental impacts of perovskite solar cells. The major environmental concern is the lead used in the absorber layer. Due to the instability of perovskite cells lead may eventually be exposed to fresh water during the use phase. These LCA studies looked at human and ecotoxicity of perovskite solar cells and found they were surprisingly low and may not be an environmental issue. Global warming potential of perovskite PVs were found to be in the range of 24–1500 grams CO2-eq/kWh electricity production. Similarly, reported EPBT of the published paper range from 0.2 to 15 years. The large range of reported values highlight the uncertainties associated with these studies. Celik et al. (2016) critically discussed the assumptions made in perovskite PV LCA studies.
Two new promising thin film technologies are copper zinc tin sulfide (Cu2ZnSnS4 or CZTS), zinc phosphide (Zn3P2) and single-walled carbon nano-tubes (SWCNT). These thin films are currently only produced in the lab but may be commercialized in the future. The manufacturing of CZTS and (Zn3P2) processes are expected to be similar to those of current thin film technologies of CIGS and CdTe, respectively. While the absorber layer of SWCNT PV is expected to be synthesized with CoMoCAT method. by Contrary to established thin films such as CIGS and CdTe, CZTS, Zn3P2, and SWCNT PVs are made from earth abundant, nontoxic materials and have the potential to produce more electricity annually than the current worldwide consumption. While CZTS and Zn3P2 offer good promise for these reasons, the specific environmental implications of their commercial production are not yet known. Global warming potential of CZTS and Zn3P2 were found 38 and 30 grams CO2-eq/kWh while their corresponding EPBT were found 1.85 and 0.78 years, respectively. Overall, CdTe and Zn3P2 have similar environmental impacts but can slightly outperform CIGS and CZTS. Celik et al. performed the first LCA study on environmental impacts of SWCNT PVs, including a laboratory-made 1% efficient device and an aspirational 28% efficient four-cell tandem device and interpreted the results by using mono-Si as a reference point. the results show that compared to monocrystalline Si (mono-Si), the environmental impacts from 1% SWCNT was ∼18 times higher due mainly to the short lifetime of three years. However, even with the same short lifetime, the 28% cell had lower environmental impacts than mono-Si.
Organic and polymer photovoltaic (OPV) are a relatively new area of research. The tradition OPV cell structure layers consist of a semi-transparent electrode, electron blocking layer, tunnel junction, holes blocking layer, electrode, with the sun hitting the transparent electrode. OPV replaces silver with carbon as an electrode material lowering manufacturing cost and making them more environmentally friendly. OPV are flexible, low weight, and work well with roll-to roll manufacturing for mass production. OPV uses "only abundant elements coupled to an extremely low embodied energy through very low processing temperatures using only ambient processing conditions on simple printing equipment enabling energy pay-back times". Current efficiencies range from 1–6.5%, however theoretical analyses show promise beyond 10% efficiency.
Many different configurations of OPV exist using different materials for each layer. OPV technology rivals existing PV technologies in terms of EPBT even if they currently present a shorter operational lifetime. A 2013 study analyzed 12 different configurations all with 2% efficiency, the EPBT ranged from 0.29–0.52 years for 1 m² of PV. The average CO2-eq/kWh for OPV is 54.922 grams.
There have been major changes in the underlying costs, industry structure and market prices of solar photovoltaics technology, over the years, and gaining a coherent picture of the shifts occurring across the industry value chain globally is a challenge. This is due to: "the rapidity of cost and price changes, the complexity of the PV supply chain, which involves a large number of manufacturing processes, the balance of system (BOS) and installation costs associated with complete PV systems, the choice of different distribution channels, and differences between regional markets within which PV is being deployed". Further complexities result from the many different policy support initiatives that have been put in place to facilitate photovoltaics commercialisation in various countries.
The PV industry has seen dramatic drops in module prices since 2008. In late 2011, factory-gate prices for crystalline-silicon photovoltaic modules dropped below the $1.00/W mark. The $1.00/W installed cost, is often regarded in the PV industry as marking the achievement of grid parity for PV. Technological advancements, manufacturing process improvements, and industry re-structuring, mean that further price reductions are likely in coming years. As of 2017 power-purchase agreement prices for solar farms below $0.05/kWh are common in the United States and the lowest bids in several international countries were about $0.03/kWh.
Financial incentives for photovoltaics, such as feed-in tariffs, have often been offered to electricity consumers to install and operate solar-electric generating systems. Government has sometimes also offered incentives in order to encourage the PV industry to achieve the economies of scale needed to compete where the cost of PV-generated electricity is above the cost from the existing grid. Such policies are implemented to promote national or territorial energy independence, high tech job creation and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions which cause climate change. Due to economies of scale solar panels get less costly as people use and buy more—as manufacturers increase production to meet demand, the cost and price is expected to drop in the years to come.
Solar cell efficiencies vary from 6% for amorphous silicon-based solar cells to 44.0% with multiple-junction concentrated photovoltaics. Solar cell energy conversion efficiencies for commercially available photovoltaics are around 14–22%. Concentrated photovoltaics (CPV) may reduce cost by concentrating up to 1,000 suns (through magnifying lens) onto a smaller sized photovoltaic cell. However, such concentrated solar power requires sophisticated heat sink designs, otherwise the photovoltaic cell overheats, which reduces its efficiency and life. To further exacerbate the concentrated cooling design, the heat sink must be passive, otherwise the power required for active cooling would reduce the overall efficiency and economy.
Crystalline silicon solar cell prices have fallen from $76.67/Watt in 1977 to an estimated $0.74/Watt in 2013. This is seen as evidence supporting Swanson's law, an observation similar to the famous Moore's Law that states that solar cell prices fall 20% for every doubling of industry capacity.
As of 2011, the price of PV modules has fallen by 60% since the summer of 2008, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates, putting solar power for the first time on a competitive footing with the retail price of electricity in a number of sunny countries; an alternative and consistent price decline figure of 75% from 2007 to 2012 has also been published, though it is unclear whether these figures are specific to the United States or generally global. The levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) from PV is competitive with conventional electricity sources in an expanding list of geographic regions, particularly when the time of generation is included, as electricity is worth more during the day than at night. There has been fierce competition in the supply chain, and further improvements in the levelised cost of energy for solar lie ahead, posing a growing threat to the dominance of fossil fuel generation sources in the next few years. As time progresses, renewable energy technologies generally get cheaper, while fossil fuels generally get more expensive:
The less solar power costs, the more favorably it compares to conventional power, and the more attractive it becomes to utilities and energy users around the globe. Utility-scale solar power can now be delivered in California at prices well below $100/MWh ($0.10/kWh) less than most other peak generators, even those running on low-cost natural gas. Lower solar module costs also stimulate demand from consumer markets where the cost of solar compares very favorably to retail electric rates.
As of 2011, the cost of PV has fallen well below that of nuclear power and is set to fall further. The average retail price of solar cells as monitored by the Solarbuzz group fell from $3.50/watt to $2.43/watt over the course of 2011.
For large-scale installations, prices below $1.00/watt were achieved. A module price of 0.60 Euro/watt ($0.78/watt) was published for a large scale 5-year deal in April 2012.
By the end of 2012, the "best in class" module price had dropped to $0.50/watt, and was expected to drop to $0.36/watt by 2017.
In many locations, PV has reached grid parity, which is usually defined as PV production costs at or below retail electricity prices (though often still above the power station prices for coal or gas-fired generation without their distribution and other costs). However, in many countries there is still a need for more access to capital to develop PV projects. To solve this problem securitization has been proposed and used to accelerate development of solar photovoltaic projects. For example, SolarCity offered, the first U.S. asset-backed security in the solar industry in 2013.
Photovoltaic power is also generated during a time of day that is close to peak demand (precedes it) in electricity systems with high use of air conditioning. Since large-scale PV operation requires back-up in the form of spinning reserves, its marginal cost of generation in the middle of the day is typically lowest, but not zero, when PV is generating electricity. This can be seen in Figure 1 of this paper: .More generally, it is now evident that, given a carbon price of $50/ton, which would raise the price of coal-fired power by 5c/kWh, solar PV will be cost-competitive in most locations. The declining price of PV has been reflected in rapidly growing installations, totaling about 23 GW in 2011. Although some consolidation is likely in 2012, due to support cuts in the large markets of Germany and Italy, strong growth seems likely to continue for the rest of the decade. Already, by one estimate, total investment in renewables for 2011 exceeded investment in carbon-based electricity generation.
In the case of self consumption payback time is calculated based on how much electricity is not brought from the grid. Additionally, using PV solar power to charge DC batteries, as used in Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles and Electric Vehicles, leads to greater efficiencies. Traditionally, DC generated electricity from solar PV must be converted to AC for buildings, at an average 10% loss during the conversion. An additional efficiency loss occurs in the transition back to DC for battery driven devices and vehicles, and using various interest rates and energy price changes were calculated to find present values that range from $2,057 to $8,213 (analysis from 2009).
For example, in Germany with electricity prices of 0.25 euro/kWh and Insolation of 900 kWh/kW one kWp will save 225 euro per year and with installation cost of 1700 euro/kWp means that the system will pay back in less than 7 years.
Overall the manufacturing process of creating solar photovoltaics is simple in that it does not require the culmination of many complex or moving parts. Because of the solid state nature of PV systems they often have relatively long lifetimes, anywhere from 10 to 30 years. To increase electrical output of a PV system, the manufacturer must simply add more photovoltaic components and because of this economies of scale are important for manufacturers as costs decrease with increasing output.
While there are many types of PV systems known to be effective, crystalline silicon PV accounted for around 90% of the worldwide production of PV in 2013. Manufacturing silicon PV systems has several steps. First, polysilicon is processed from mined quartz until it is very pure (semi-conductor grade). This is melted down when small amounts of boron, a group III element, are added to make a p-type semiconductor rich in electron holes. Typically using a seed crystal, an ingot of this solution is grown from the liquid polycrystalline. The ingot may also be cast in a mold. Wafers of this semiconductor material are cut from the bulk material with wire saws, and then go through surface etching before being cleaned. Next, the wafers are placed into a phosphorus vapor deposition furnace which lays a very thin layer of phosphorus, a group V element, which creates an n-type semiconducting surface. To reduce energy losses, an anti-reflective coating is added to the surface, along with electrical contacts. After finishing the cell, cells are connected via electrical circuit according to the specific application and prepared for shipping and installation.
Crystalline silicon photovoltaics are only one type of PV, and while they represent the majority of solar cells produced currently there are many new and promising technologies that have the potential to be scaled up to meet future energy needs. As of 2018, crystalline silicon cell technology serves as the basis for several PV module types, including monocrystalline, multicrystalline, mono PERC, and bifacial. 
Another newer technology, thin-film PV, are manufactured by depositing semiconducting layers on substrate in vacuum. The substrate is often glass or stainless-steel, and these semiconducting layers are made of many types of materials including cadmium telluride (CdTe), copper indium diselenide (CIS), copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS), and amorphous silicon (a-Si). After being deposited onto the substrate the semiconducting layers are separated and connected by electrical circuit by laser-scribing. Thin-film photovoltaics now make up around 20% of the overall production of PV because of the reduced materials requirements and cost to manufacture modules consisting of thin-films as compared to silicon-based wafers.
Other emerging PV technologies include organic, dye-sensitized, quantum-dot, and Perovskite photovoltaics. OPVs fall into the thin-film category of manufacturing, and typically operate around the 12% efficiency range which is lower than the 12–21% typically seen by silicon based PVs. Because organic photovoltaics require very high purity and are relatively reactive they must be encapsulated which vastly increases cost of manufacturing and meaning that they are not feasible for large scale up. Dye-sensitized PVs are similar in efficiency to OPVs but are significantly easier to manufacture. However these dye-sensitized photovoltaics present storage problems because the liquid electrolyte is toxic and can potentially permeate the plastics used in the cell. Quantum dot solar cells are quantum dot sensitized DSSCs and are solution processed meaning they are potentially scalable, but currently they peak at 12% efficiency. Perovskite solar cells are a very efficient solar energy converter and have excellent optoelectric properties for photovoltaic purposes, but they are expensive and difficult to manufacture.
A photovoltaic system, or solar PV system is a power system designed to supply usable solar power by means of photovoltaics. It consists of an arrangement of several components, including solar panels to absorb and directly convert sunlight into electricity, a solar inverter to change the electric current from DC to AC, as well as mounting, cabling and other electrical accessories. PV systems range from small, roof-top mounted or building-integrated systems with capacities from a few to several tens of kilowatts, to large utility-scale power stations of hundreds of megawatts. Nowadays, most PV systems are grid-connected, while stand-alone systems only account for a small portion of the market.
The 122 PW of sunlight reaching the Earth's surface is plentiful—almost 10,000 times more than the 13 TW equivalent of average power consumed in 2005 by humans. This abundance leads to the suggestion that it will not be long before solar energy will become the world's primary energy source. Additionally, solar electric generation has the highest power density (global mean of 170 W/m2) among renewable energies.
Solar power is pollution-free during use, which enables it to cut down on pollution when it is substituted for other energy sources. For example, MIT estimated that 52,000 people per year die prematurely in the U.S. from coal-fired power plant pollution and all but one of these deaths could be prevented from using PV to replace coal. Production end-wastes and emissions are manageable using existing pollution controls. End-of-use recycling technologies are under development and policies are being produced that encourage recycling from producers.
PV installations can operate for 100 years or even more with little maintenance or intervention after their initial set-up, so after the initial capital cost of building any solar power plant, operating costs are extremely low compared to existing power technologies.
Grid-connected solar electricity can be used locally thus reducing transmission/distribution losses (transmission losses in the US were approximately 7.2% in 1995).
Compared to fossil and nuclear energy sources, very little research money has been invested in the development of solar cells, so there is considerable room for improvement. Nevertheless, experimental high efficiency solar cells already have efficiencies of over 40% in case of concentrating photovoltaic cells and efficiencies are rapidly rising while mass-production costs are rapidly falling.
In some states of the United States, much of the investment in a home-mounted system may be lost if the home-owner moves and the buyer puts less value on the system than the seller. The city of Berkeley developed an innovative financing method to remove this limitation, by adding a tax assessment that is transferred with the home to pay for the solar panels. Now known as PACE, Property Assessed Clean Energy, 30 U.S. states have duplicated this solution.
There is evidence, at least in California, that the presence of a home-mounted solar system can actually increase the value of a home. According to a paper published in April 2011 by the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory titled An Analysis of the Effects of Residential Photovoltaic Energy Systems on Home Sales Prices in California:
The research finds strong evidence that homes with PV systems in California have sold for a premium over comparable homes without PV systems. More specifically, estimates for average PV premiums range from approximately $3.9 to $6.4 per installed watt (DC) among a large number of different model specifications, with most models coalescing near $5.5/watt. That value corresponds to a premium of approximately $17,000 for a relatively new 3,100 watt PV system (the average size of PV systems in the study).
PV has been a well-known method of generating clean, emission free electricity. PV systems are often made of PV modules and inverter (changing DC to AC). PV modules are mainly made of PV cells, which has no fundamental difference to the material for making computer chips. The process of producing PV cells (computer chips) is energy intensive and involves highly poisonous and environmental toxic chemicals. There are few PV manufacturing plants around the world producing PV modules with energy produced from PV. This measure greatly reduces the carbon footprint during the manufacturing process. Managing the chemicals used in the manufacturing process is subject to the factories' local laws and regulations.
With the increasing levels of rooftop photovoltaic systems, the energy flow becomes 2-way. When there is more local generation than consumption, electricity is exported to the grid. However, electricity network traditionally is not designed to deal with the 2- way energy transfer. Therefore, some technical issues may occur. For example, in Queensland Australia, there have been more than 30% of households with rooftop PV by the end of 2017. The famous Californian 2020 duck curve appears very often for a lot of communities from 2015 onwards. An over-voltage issue may come out as the electricity flows from these PV households back to the network. There are solutions to manage the over voltage issue, such as regulating PV inverter power factor, new voltage and energy control equipment at electricity distributor level, re-conductor the electricity wires, demand side management, etc. There are often limitations and costs related to these solutions.
There is no silver bullet in electricity or energy demand and bill management, because customers (sites) have different specific situations, e.g. different comfort/convenience needs, different electricity tariffs, or different usage patterns. Electricity tariff may have a few elements, such as daily access and metering charge, energy charge (based on kWh, MWh) or peak demand charge (e.g. a price for the highest 30min energy consumption in a month). PV is a promising option for reducing energy charge when electricity price is reasonably high and continuously increasing, such as in Australia and Germany. However, for sites with peak demand charge in place, PV may be less attractive if peak demands mostly occur in the late afternoon to early evening, for example residential communities. Overall, energy investment is largely an economical decision and it is better to make investment decisions based on systematical evaluation of options in operational improvement, energy efficiency, onsite generation and energy storage.
SOLAR SOLID WITH 55GW—Our prediction for solar in 2015 is that the world will add more than 55GW of capacity, and indeed, if the sector gathers steam during the year as we think it might, it could reach as much as 60GW, up from a record of just under 50GW last year.
Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are photovoltaic materials that are used to replace conventional building materials in parts of the building envelope such as the roof, skylights, or facades. They are increasingly being incorporated into the construction of new buildings as a principal or ancillary source of electrical power, although existing buildings may be retrofitted with similar technology. The advantage of integrated photovoltaics over more common non-integrated systems is that the initial cost can be offset by reducing the amount spent on building materials and labor that would normally be used to construct the part of the building that the BIPV modules replace. These advantages make BIPV one of the fastest growing segments of the photovoltaic industry.The term building-applied photovoltaics (BAPV) is sometimes used to refer to photovoltaics that are a retrofit – integrated into the building after construction is complete. Most building-integrated installations are actually BAPV. Some manufacturers and builders differentiate new construction BIPV from BAPV.Cadmium telluride
Cadmium telluride (CdTe) is a stable crystalline compound formed from cadmium and tellurium. It is mainly used as the semiconducting material in cadmium telluride photovoltaics and an infrared optical window. It is usually sandwiched with cadmium sulfide to form a p-n junction solar PV cell. Typically, CdTe PV cells use a n-i-p structure.Concentrator photovoltaics
Concentrator photovoltaics (CPV) (also known as concentration photovoltaics) is a photovoltaic technology that generates electricity from sunlight. Contrary to conventional photovoltaic systems, it uses lenses and curved mirrors to focus sunlight onto small, but highly efficient, multi-junction (MJ) solar cells. In addition, CPV systems often use solar trackers and sometimes a cooling system to further increase their efficiency. Ongoing research and development is rapidly improving their competitiveness in the utility-scale segment and in areas of high insolation. This sort of solar technology can be thus used in smaller areas.
Systems using high-concentration photovoltaics (HCPV) especially have the potential to become competitive in the near future. They possess the highest efficiency of all existing PV technologies, and a smaller photovoltaic array also reduces the balance of system costs. Currently, CPV is not used in the PV rooftop segment and is far less common than conventional PV systems. For regions with a high annual direct normal irradiance of 2000 kilowatt-hour (kWh) per square meter or more, the levelized cost of electricity is in the range of $0.08–$0.15 per kWh and installation cost for a 10-megawatt CPV power plant was identified to lie between €1.40–€2.20 (~$1.50-$2.30) per watt-peak (Wp).In 2016, cumulative CPV installations reached 350 megawatts (MW), less than 0.2% of the global installed capacity of 230,000 MW. Commercial HCPV systems reached instantaneous ("spot") efficiencies of up to 42% under standard test conditions (with concentration levels above 400) and the International Energy Agency sees potential to increase the efficiency of this technology to 50% by the mid-2020s. As of December 2014, the best lab cell efficiency for concentrator MJ-cells reached 46% (four or more junctions). Under outdoor, operating conditions, CPV module efficiencies have exceeded 33% ("one third of a sun"). System-level AC efficiencies are in the range of 25-28%. CPV installations are located in China, the United States, South Africa, Italy and Spain.HCPV directly competes with concentrated solar power (CSP) as both technologies are suited best for areas with high direct normal irradiance, which are also known as the Sun Belt region in the United States and the Golden Banana in Southern Europe. CPV and CSP are often confused with one another, despite being intrinsically different technologies from the start: CPV uses the photovoltaic effect to directly generate electricity from sunlight, while CSP – often called concentrated solar thermal – uses the heat from the sun's radiation in order to make steam to drive a turbine, that then produces electricity using a generator. As of 2012, CSP is still more common than CPV.Growth of photovoltaics
Worldwide growth of photovoltaics has been close to exponential between 1992 and 2018.
During this period of time, photovoltaics (PV), also known as solar PV, evolved from a niche market of small scale applications to a mainstream electricity source.
When solar PV systems were first recognized as a promising renewable energy technology, subsidy programs, such as feed-in tariffs, were implemented by a number of governments in order to provide economic incentives for investments. For several years, growth was mainly driven by Japan and pioneering European countries. As a consequence, cost of solar declined significantly due to experience curve effects like improvements in technology and economies of scale. Several national programs were instrumental in increasing PV deployment, such as the Energiewende in Germany, the Million Solar Roofs project in the United States, and China's 2011 five-year-plan for energy production. Since then, deployment of photovoltaics has gained momentum on a worldwide scale, increasingly competing with conventional energy sources. In the early 21st Century a market for utility-scale plants emerged to complement rooftop and other distributed applications. By 2015, some 30 countries had reached grid parity.Historically, the United States was the leader of installed photovoltaics for many years, and its total capacity amounted to 77 megawatts in 1996—more than any other country in the world at the time. From the late 1990s, Japan was the world's leader of produced solar electricity until 2005, when Germany took the lead and by 2016 had a capacity of over 40 gigawatts. In 2015, China surpassed Germany to became the world's largest producer of photovoltaic power, and in 2017 became the first country to surpass the 100 GW of installed capacity.By the end of 2018, global cumulative installed PV capacity reached about 512 gigawatts (GW), of which about 180 GW (c. 35%) were utility-scale plants. This represented a growth of 27% from 2017.
This is sufficient to supply about 3% of global electricity demand.
In 2017, solar PV contributed between 7% and 8% to the annual domestic consumption in Italy, Greece and Germany.
The largest penetration of solar power in electricity production are found in Honduras (10%) and Malta (9%).
Solar PV contribution to electricity in Australia, the United Kingdom, and Spain are close to 4%.
China and India moved above the world average of 2.55%, while, in descending order, France, South Africa, Korea and the United States are below the world's average.Projections for photovoltaic growth are difficult and burdened with many uncertainties. Official agencies, such as the International Energy Agency (IEA) consistently increased their estimates over the years, but still fell short of actual deployment. Bloomberg NEF projects global solar installations to grow in 2019, adding another 125–141 GW resulting in a total capacity of 637–653 GW by the end of the year. By 2050, the IEA foresees solar PV to reach 4.7 terawatts (4,674 GW) in its high-renewable scenario, of which more than half will be deployed in China and India, making solar power the world's largest source of electricity.List of photovoltaics companies
This is a list of notable photovoltaics (PV) companies.
Grid-connected solar photovoltaics (PV) is the fastest growing energy technology in the world, growing from a cumulative installed capacity of 7.7 GW in 2007, to 320 GW in 2016. In 2016, 93% of the global PV cell manufacturing capacity utilizes crystalline silicon (cSi) technology, representing a commanding lead over rival forms of PV technology, such as cadmium telluride (CdTe), amorphous silicon (aSi), and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS). In 2016, manufacturers in China and Taiwan met the majority of global PV module demand, accounting for 68% of all modules, followed by the rest of Asia at 14%. The United States and Canada manufactured 6%, and Europe manufactured a mere 4%.Photovoltaics companies include PV capital equipment producers, cell manufacturers, panel manufacturers and installers. The list does not include silicon manufacturing companies.Photovoltaic system
A photovoltaic system, also PV system or solar power system, is a power system designed to supply usable solar power by means of photovoltaics. It consists of an arrangement of several components, including solar panels to absorb and convert sunlight into electricity, a solar inverter to change the electric current from DC to AC, as well as mounting, cabling, and other electrical accessories to set up a working system. It may also use a solar tracking system to improve the system's overall performance and include an integrated battery solution, as prices for storage devices are expected to decline. Strictly speaking, a solar array only encompasses the ensemble of solar panels, the visible part of the PV system, and does not include all the other hardware, often summarized as balance of system (BOS). Moreover, PV systems convert light directly into electricity and shouldn't be confused with other technologies, such as concentrated solar power or solar thermal, used for heating and cooling.
PV systems range from small, rooftop-mounted or building-integrated systems with capacities from a few to several tens of kilowatts, to large utility-scale power stations of hundreds of megawatts. Nowadays, most PV systems are grid-connected, while off-grid or stand-alone systems only account for a small portion of the market.
Operating silently and without any moving parts or environmental emissions, PV systems have developed from being niche market applications into a mature technology used for mainstream electricity generation. A rooftop system recoups the invested energy for its manufacturing and installation within 0.7 to 2 years and produces about 95 percent of net clean renewable energy over a 30-year service lifetime.Due to the exponential growth of photovoltaics, prices for PV systems have rapidly declined in since their introduction. However, they vary by market and the size of the system. In 2014, prices for residential 5-kilowatt systems in the United States were around $3.29 per watt, while in the highly penetrated German market, prices for rooftop systems of up to 100 kW declined to €1.24 per watt. Nowadays, solar PV modules account for less than half of the system's overall cost, leaving the rest to the remaining BOS-components and to soft costs, which include customer acquisition, permitting, inspection and interconnection, installation labor and financing costs.Polarizing organic photovoltaics
Polarizing organic photovoltaics (ZOPV) is a concept for harvesting energy from Liquid crystal display screens, developed by engineers from UCLA. This concept enables devices to utilize external light and the LCD screen's backlight using photovoltaic polarizers. Photovoltaic polarizers convert this light into electricity which can be used to power the device. This concept also provides multifunctional capability to devices with LCD screens as they act as photovoltaic devices and also as polarisers.Polycrystalline silicon
Polycrystalline silicon, also called polysilicon or poly-Si, is a high purity, polycrystalline form of silicon, used as a raw material by the solar photovoltaic and electronics industry.
Polysilicon is produced from metallurgical grade silicon by a chemical purification process, called the Siemens process. This process involves distillation of volatile silicon compounds, and their decomposition into silicon at high temperatures. An emerging, alternative process of refinement uses a fluidized bed reactor. The photovoltaic industry also produces upgraded metallurgical-grade silicon (UMG-Si), using metallurgical instead of chemical purification processes. When produced for the electronics industry, polysilicon contains impurity levels of less than one part per billion (ppb), while polycrystalline solar grade silicon (SoG-Si) is generally less pure. A few companies from China, Germany, Japan, Korea and the United States, such as GCL-Poly, Wacker Chemie, OCI, and Hemlock Semiconductor, as well as the Norwegian headquartered REC, accounted for most of the worldwide production of about 230,000 tonnes in 2013.The polysilicon feedstock – large rods, usually broken into chunks of specific sizes and packaged in clean rooms before shipment – is directly cast into multicrystalline ingots or submitted to a recrystallization process to grow single crystal boules. The products are then sliced into thin silicon wafers and used for the production of solar cells, integrated circuits and other semiconductor devices.
Polysilicon consists of small crystals, also known as crystallites, giving the material its typical metal flake effect. While polysilicon and multisilicon are often used as synonyms, multicrystalline usually refers to crystals larger than 1 mm. Multicrystalline solar cells are the most common type of solar cells in the fast-growing PV market and consume most of the worldwide produced polysilicon. About 5 tons of polysilicon is required to manufacture 1 megawatt (MW) of conventional solar modules. Polysilicon is distinct from monocrystalline silicon and amorphous silicon.Sharp Solar
Sharp Solar, a subsidiary of Sharp Electronics, is a solar energy products company owned by Sharp Corporation and based in Osaka, Japan.Solar-powered fountain
A Solar powered fountain is a decorative electrical fountain powered by a solar panel. The solar panel either forms a part of the fountain, or is separately mounted.Solar energy
Solar energy is radiant light and heat from the Sun that is harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, solar thermal energy, solar architecture, molten salt power plants and artificial photosynthesis.It is an important source of renewable energy and its technologies are broadly characterized as either passive solar or active solar depending on how they capture and distribute solar energy or convert it into solar power. Active solar techniques include the use of photovoltaic systems, concentrated solar power and solar water heating to harness the energy. Passive solar techniques include orienting a building to the Sun, selecting materials with favorable thermal mass or light-dispersing properties, and designing spaces that naturally circulate air.
The large magnitude of solar energy available makes it a highly appealing source of electricity. The United Nations Development Programme in its 2000 World Energy Assessment found that the annual potential of solar energy was 1,575–49,837 exajoules (EJ). This is several times larger than the total world energy consumption, which was 559.8 EJ in 2012.In 2011, the International Energy Agency said that "the development of affordable, inexhaustible and clean solar energy technologies will have huge longer-term benefits. It will increase countries’ energy security through reliance on an indigenous, inexhaustible and mostly import-independent resource, enhance sustainability, reduce pollution, lower the costs of mitigating global warming, and keep fossil fuel prices lower than otherwise. These advantages are global. Hence the additional costs of the incentives for early deployment should be considered learning investments; they must be wisely spent and need to be widely shared".Solar panel
Photovoltaic solar panels absorb sunlight as a source of energy to generate electricity. A photovoltaic (PV) module is a packaged, connected assembly of typically 6x10 photovoltaic solar cells. Photovoltaic modules constitute the photovoltaic array of a photovoltaic system that generates and supplies solar electricity in commercial and residential applications.
The most common application of solar energy collection outside agriculture is solar water heating systems.Solar power
Solar power is the conversion of energy from sunlight into electricity, either directly using photovoltaics (PV), indirectly using concentrated solar power, or a combination. Concentrated solar power systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. Photovoltaic cells convert light into an electric current using the photovoltaic effect.Photovoltaics were initially solely used as a source of electricity for small and medium-sized applications, from the calculator powered by a single solar cell to remote homes powered by an off-grid rooftop PV system. Commercial concentrated solar power plants were first developed in the 1980s. The 392 MW Ivanpah installation is the largest concentrating solar power plant in the world, located in the Mojave Desert of California.
As the cost of solar electricity has fallen, the number of grid-connected solar PV systems has grown into the millions and utility-scale photovoltaic power stations with hundreds of megawatts are being built. Solar PV is rapidly becoming an inexpensive, low-carbon technology to harness renewable energy from the Sun. The current largest photovoltaic power station in the world is the 850 MW Longyangxia Dam Solar Park, in Qinghai, China.
The International Energy Agency projected in 2014 that under its "high renewables" scenario, by 2050, solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power would contribute about 16 and 11 percent, respectively, of the worldwide electricity consumption, and solar would be the world's largest source of electricity. Most solar installations would be in China and India. In 2017, solar power provided 1.7% of total worldwide electricity production, growing at 35% per annum. As of 2018, the unsubsidised levelised cost of electricity for utility scale solar power is around $43/MWh.Solar shingle
Solar shingles, also called photovoltaic shingles, are solar panels designed to look like and function as conventional roofing materials, such as asphalt shingle or slate, while also producing electricity. Solar shingles are a type of solar energy solution known as building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV).
There are several varieties of solar shingles, including shingle-sized solid panels that take the place of a number of conventional shingles in a strip, semi-rigid designs containing several silicon solar cells that are sized more like conventional shingles, and newer systems using various thin-film solar cell technologies that match conventional shingles both in size and flexibility. There are also products using a more traditional number of silicon solar cells per panel reaching as much as 100 watts DC rating per shingle.Solar shingles are manufactured by several companies but the three main manufacturers of solar roof shingles are RGS Energy, SolarCity, and CertainTeed. Other active companies in the US include SunTegra Solar Roof Systems, and Atlantis Energy Systems (asphalt and slate systems).Solar vehicle
A solar vehicle is an electric vehicle powered completely or significantly by direct solar energy. Usually, photovoltaic (PV) cells contained in solar panels convert the sun's energy directly into electric energy. The term "solar vehicle" usually implies that solar energy is used to power all or part of a vehicle's propulsion. Solar power may be also used to provide power for communications or controls or other auxiliary functions.
Solar vehicles are not sold as practical day-to-day transportation devices at present, but are primarily demonstration vehicles and engineering exercises, often sponsored by government agencies. However, indirectly solar-charged vehicles are widespread and solar boats are available commercially.Sun-free photovoltaics
Sun-free photovoltaics is a photovoltaics technology which does not require sunlight to produce electricity. This technique was developed by research team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Photovoltaic cells convert light to electricity most efficiently at specific wavelengths. The surface featured of Sun-free photovoltaics is engineered such that it converts heat energy into the specific wavelengths. This increases the efficiency of existing thermophotovoltaic (TPV) systems.Sunmobile
Sunmobile was a model of a solar-powered automobile. William G. Cobb of the General Motors Corporation built and demonstrated his 15-inch long model at the 1955 General Motors car show in Chicago on August 31, 1955. The automobile was a futuristic miniature representation to show the possibilities of solar energy. Since it was a miniature model, it could not be driven by a person.Thin-film solar cell
A 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 thick. 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.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, and dye-sensitized, as well as quantum dot, copper zinc tin sulfide, nanocrystal, micromorph, and perovskite solar cells.Timeline of solar cells
In the 19th century, it was observed that the sunlight striking certain materials generates detectable electric current - the photoelectric effect. This discovery has laid the foundation of solar cells. Solar cells have gone on to be used in many applications. They have historically been used in situations where electrical power from the grid was unavailable.