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Clean Power First Solar’s Thin-Film Solar Panel Advantages (Exclusive Video)

Published on July 30th, 2014 | by Zachary Shahan

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First Solar’s Thin-Film Solar Panel Advantages (Exclusive Video)

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July 30th, 2014 by Zachary Shahan
 
I’m catching up on some videos I wanted to publish back in January following this year’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week*. This one below is a presentation of First Solar’s numerous advantages by Nick Strevel, Technical Sales Manager at First Solar. If you haven’t closely followed the solar PV industry for the past half decade, let me first provide a bit of industry context:

Thin-film solar PV panels (primarily from First Solar) were gaining in market share quickly a handful of years ago thanks to their lower cost. Then, crystalline silicon solar PV panel prices fell through the floor. First Solar’s business kept moving along, but the expected burst in market share was prevented (… or perhaps delayed).

As the video below shows, First Solar’s thin-film solar PV panels have been increasing in efficiency extremely fast in recent years while crystalline silicon solar PV panel efficiency has been sitting still. Furthermore, First Solar’s panels perform better in the field compared to their rated efficiency. In other words, First Solar may see a boost in market share before too long after all. We’ll see. In the end, it doesn’t come down to efficiency but cost.

Watch the video for more details on thin-film solar panel advantages, or check out the summary bullet points below it.


First Solar’s Thin-Film Solar Panel Advantages

  • Heat is tough on solar PV panels, but even more so on conventional crystalline silicon solar panels. First Solar’s thin-film solar panels lose less efficiency in high temperatures, often making them a better buy in hot climates like deserts where large solar farms are often sited. (Put in other words, a First Solar module with the same power output rating as a crystalline solar PV module actually provides more electricity in the field, and a lot more electricity in hot climates.)
  • Similarly, First Solar’s PV modules are reportedly at the higher end of the reliability spectrum.
  • First Solar uses a lot of automation to build its solar modules, bringing down cost and also ensuring quality consistency.
  • After trading places with GE for years on CdTe efficiency records for years, First Solar finally bought GE’s CdTe intellectual property.
  • The efficiency increase of CdTe efficiency in recent years is “unrivaled” in the solar PV industry.
  • The efficiency record of conventional multicrystalline silicon (20.4%) was set in 2004, and First Solar is now closing in on that record. (Monocrystalline silicon’s efficiency record was last set in 1999!)
  • Adjusted for the effect of heat on the solar modules, First Solar’s thin-film solar modules are generally as efficient as multicrystalline solar PV panels already.
  • First Solar’s module testing is intense.

Check out more news on First Solar, or head on over to First Solar’s website for more information.

*Full Disclosure: Masdar covered my transportation to and accommodation at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2014.

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About the Author

spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as the director/chief editor. Otherwise, he's probably enthusiastically fulfilling his duties as the director/editor of Solar Love, EV Obsession, Planetsave, or Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and wind energy expert. If you would like him to speak at a related conference or event, connect with him via social media. You can connect with Zach on any popular social networking site you like. Links to all of his main social media profiles are on ZacharyShahan.com.



  • Omega Centauri

    Is there a materials supply limit to how many CdTe panels can be produced per year? People used to argue that thin film wasn’t scalable because it relied on scarce materials. We used to hear a similar argument regarding Lithium for batteries, but its believed there is enough of it.

  • http://fmwdistinct.com/ carl mason

    Renewable energy such as solar and elect power should be invested in more…http://southernselectrical.com/

  • GCO

    This presentation feels like an infomercial to me, with plenty of borderline dishonest statements. Fishing for investors?
    E.g:

    a First Solar module with the same power output rating as a crystalline
    solar PV module actually provides more electricity in the field

    (my emphasis) Ok, so someone downgrading a conventional array to match the rated output of thin-film would get less. Er, ok, but why would anyone do that in the first place?

    The efficiency record of conventional multicrystalline silicon (20.4%)
    was set in 2004, and First Solar is now closing in on that record.
    (Monocrystalline silicon’s efficiency record was last set in 1999!)

    How carefully worded…
    - “Conventional” to exclude I guess heterostructures, now 25% efficient, or multijunctions, which go all the way to 38% (or even 44%, concentrated).
    - “Multicrystalline”, because of course, end-users request a specific crystalline arrangement in their modules. Oh wait, they don’t. So why put that here? Ah yes, it’s not quite as efficient as mono, easier to match…
    - “now closing on that record”: aka, not there yet, and we don’t want to tell you how far we really are.
    - “Mono record last set in 1999!”: first, SunPower would like to disagree on that. Second, mentioning only the date would imply that mono isn’t as good as poly: it’s actually more efficient, with cells reaching 25%.

    The efficiency increase of CdTe efficiency in recent years is “unrivaled” in the solar PV industry.

    - It remains lower than competing tech
    - It’s not “unrivaled”, perovskite cells have improved faster (not that we need to care just yet, but still). Or you meant “industry” as “not including research”? Sneaky.
    - While First Solar is understandably proud of their recent improvements, it doesn’t at all mean those will continue: both die-sensitized and organic cells enjoyed rapid evolution at some point in the past, only to stagnate since.

    Source: http://www.nrel.gov/ncpv/

  • EnTill

    Silevo claims to be over 22% efficiency already but maybe that’s another type of panel?

    • PhilipKGlass

      That’s cell-level efficiency. Silevo’s current best commercially available product has a module level efficiency in the 18% range.

      More relevant to First Solar’s prospects is not laboratory record-setting cells, either for CdTe or silicon, but commercially available module efficiencies and costs. The list above makes it sound like silicon module efficiency has been stagnant for 10-15 years but that isn’t true.

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