Thin-Film Solar Panels

If you are looking for a more budget-friendly solar module, then Thin-Film solar panels are specially made for you.

Thin-Film is the future of the solar industry. They are very economical, require less material, contain no toxic components, generate less waste, and very easy to manufacture.

In this article, we will go through all you need to know about thin-film solar cells including:

  1. What are the types of thin-film solar cells?
  2. How are they made?
  3. What do they look like?
  4. How efficient are they? 
  5. How do they react to heat?
  6. How long do they last?
  7. How expensive are they?

So without further ado, let’s jump right into what are the different types of thin-film solar panels.

A. Types of Thin-Film Solar Cells

What differs Thin-Film solar cells from monocrystalline and polycrystalline is that Thin-Film can be made using different materials.

There are 3 types of solar Thin-Film cells:

  1. Amorphous Silicon (a-Si) thin-film

This type of Thin-Film is made from amorphous silicon (a-Si), which is a non-crystalline silicon making them much easier to produce than mono or polycrystalline solar cells.

  1. Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) thin-film

This is the second most used solar cell type in the world after crystalline cells. 

Unlike a-Si solar cells, this type is made from a special chemical compound called Cadmium Telluride, which is very good at capturing sunlight and converting it to energy.

However, CdTe solar cells have some drawbacks such as:

  • Rarity: Tellurium is very rare to find, which makes it difficult to mass produce
  • Toxicity: Cadmium is one of the most toxic elements in the world, so it requires special precautions to deal with this toxic component 
  1. Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS)

Finally, the last type of thin-film cells is the CIGS solar panels.

These cells are made by placing layers of Copper, Indium, Gallium, and Selenide on top of each other to create a powerful semiconductor that can efficiently convert sunlight into energy.

B. How Thin-Film Solar Cells are Made?

Thin-Film solar cells are by far the easiest and fastest solar panel type to manufacture.

Each thin-film solar panel is made of 3 main parts:

  1. Photovoltaic Material: This is the main semiconducting material and it’s the one responsible for converting sunlight into energy such as CdTe, a-Si, or CGIS.
  2. Conductive Sheet: A layer of conductive material such as aluminum is needed to prevent electricity loss and improve conductivity
  3. Protective Layer: To prolong the lifespan of the solar module, a thin layer of high-quality glass of plastic is added to the top of the system to improve durability and protect it from the environment

It doesn’t matter what type of thin-film solar cell you are making as they are all made the same way.

All you need to do is to place the main PV material (a-Si, CdTe, or CGIS) between a sheet of conductive material and a layer of glass or plastic and Voila! You are ready to generate electricity.

C. What Do Solar Thin-Film Panels Look Like?

You can easily recognize this solar cell type by their thin appearance -they are named “Thin-Film” for a reason-.

These panels are very thin that each layer is only 1 micron thick (one millionth of a meter), which is thinner than a human hair.

Don’t get me wrong, the solar module isn’t 1 micron thick, each solar system is made of multiple layers of Thin-Film.

And although solar Thin-Film are approximately 350 times thinner than mono or polycrystalline panels, the complete thin-film panel can be as thick as silicon-based panels.

Further, being thin isn’t their only unique feature. They are more flexible and lightweight than the other types making them perfect to be used in portable devices.

When it comes to color, PV Thin-Film can be black or blue depending on the PV material used to make them.

D. How Efficient Are Solar Thin-Film Cells?

Thin-Film solar panels are less efficient and have lower power capacities than mono and polycrystalline solar cell types.

The efficiency of the Thin-Film system varies depending on the type of PV material used in the cells but in general they tend to have efficiencies around 7% and up to 18%.

It’s important to mention that while thin-film cells have less efficiency than the crystalline ones, Thin-Film, in fact, have a higher theoretical efficiency than silicon.

For this reason, many people expect thin-film cells to be even more efficient than silicon in the future.

E. How Do They React To Elevated Temperatures? 

Thin-Film solar panels have a better temperature coefficient than silicon based panels.

Meaning that they are less affected by high temperatures and will lose only a small portion of their performance when it gets too hot.

For this reason, it’s recommended to use Thin-Film cells in deserts where there is plenty of sun and space.

Further, they are protected with high-quality glass layers that are very robust against moisture making them perfect to use in tropical climates where it’s not only hot, but also humid.

F. How Long Do They Last?

Among the 3 types of solar panels, Thin-Film cells have the shortest lifespan of 10 to 20 years.

Although Thin-Film panels have a short lifespan, they have the fastest payback time.

Meaning that the system will save you a lot of electricity money that it’ll pay back for its cost within 8 years.

G. How Expensive Are They?

Thin-Film PV cells are by far the cheapest type of all solar panels.

This is because they need less material, generate less waste, and are much easier to manufacture.  

Further, because of their lightweight and flexibility, Thin-Film panels are easier to install than mono or polycrystalline cells, which decreases the installation cost making them even cheaper than they actually are.


Thin-film solar panels are the hope of the solar energy industry. 

Because of their cost, ease of manufacture, lightweight, flexibility, and variety of applications. 

And according to Solar Energy Hackers, Thin-Film technology is expected to surpass all the silicon-based solar panels in a few years. 

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