What is thin-film PV?
A thin-film solar cell is a solar cell that is made by depositing one or more ultra-thin layers (much thinner than a human hair), or thin-film of photovoltaic material on a substrate, such as glass, plastic or metal. Thin-film PV was born out of the energy crisis of the 1970s. Determined to reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuels, glass pioneers Harold McMaster and Norman Nitschke began exploring ways to commercialise and scale solar energy while also finding a new outlet for the glass industry. McMaster understood that scaling PV production was imperative to driving down the cost of solar electricity and meeting growing energy demands.
Unlike the crystalline silicon PV batch process, thin-film PV modules are manufactured in a single continuous process by depositing semiconductor material on inexpensive substrates such as glass or plastic. A sheet of glass can be transformed into a finished PV module in less than 3.5 hours compared to crystalline silicon wafers, which can take up to three days. By using compound semiconductors , such as gallium arsenide (GaAs), cadmium telluride (CdTe), copper indium disulphide (CIS) and copper indium gallium di-selenide (CIGS), as well as solution based metal-organic semiconductors, such as methyl-ammonium-lead-iodide (MAPI) – better known as Perovskite – , thin-film modules absorb light up to 100 times more effectively than conventional materials such as silicon.
According to a recent IEA report (January 2023), renewables, including solar, wind, hydro, biofuels and others, play a leading role in the energy transition and their power capacity in Europe is expected to increase by 60% (+425 GW) between 2022 and 2027. In particular, the report highlights that solar PV will lead this growth.