Clean Power

Published on May 24th, 2008 | by Michelle Bennett

49

A Thin-Film Solar Panel Installation

May 24th, 2008 by  

 
A Thin-Film Solar Panel InstallationMany people envision solar power as rigid silicon panels mounted on a roof. With thin film solar cells, you’re more likely to not see them, or even know they’re there. This article is about a real-life thin film solar project.

Not many bloggers are able to witness the technologies we research and write about. It’s one thing to be able to buy afford a cool “green” gadget (usually not very green), but another to see the many forms of solar, wind, geothermal, etc., which are always changing and developing around the world. So when my employer decided to go solar, you might imagine my excitement.

At the moment I work for Magco Inc., a Tecta America company. Tecta is a national commercial roofing corporation that can install green roofs, solar lighting, and solar panels alongside a variety of traditional roofing systems. This solar project is pretty straight forward: our building has a big, flat roof on top of a hill without any shade. You’d have trouble finding a sunnier spot for solar panels.

I was double delighted when I heard that they ordered thin-film solar! Naturally inquiring minds wanted to know: why and what kind?

Magco bought their solar from Uni-Solar, which produces triple-junction laminate panels. That means they laminate the photovoltaic chemicals onto a thin sheet of metal in three layers; each layer reacts to a different range of light. They also laminate a sealant on the panel to protect it from the elements. The benefit of this system is that it reacts better to low or indirect light. Think cloudy days and the hours around dusk and dawn, a. Uni-Solar’s panels operate around 12% efficiency, but they claim to out-perform other forms of PV solar in indirect light, which means they could produce more electricity in certain real-world conditions (cloudy days). The laminate production method also decreases cost because expensive silicon and mounting racks are not required.

Thin-Film Solar Panel InstallationIn fact, these thin-film solar panels are glued straight onto the roof. (See picture.)

Magco chose these panels for another important reason: no roof penetrations. If you mount racks on your roof, you have to fasten them down. That means punching holes in the roof, which can void your warranty and even damage your roof if it’s not done right. Some solar systems, even silicon panels, have found ways to avoid these problems, and anyone looking into solar should ask about the integrity of their existing roof. Another bonus for Magco and thin-film solar was weight: these solar panels roll out like carpet and don’t weigh as much as silicon. That means Magco wouldn’t need to add any structural support. It does snow here, so weight is an important factor!

A Thin-Film Solar Panel InstallationWhat about the electrical aspect? Special runners help connect and protect wires between panels and represent the only mounted equipment in the system.  The wires eventually find their way to a big inverter inside the building, which feeds the electricity to us. A 2-way power meter can then feed any excess electricity back into the grid. Simple, right? Well, for a project this big and complicated you’d definitely want to hire some professionals. If you mix up which-wires-go-where, you could make some very expensive mistakes or just rob yourself of some of your solar power.

What if you and your neighbors want to go solar but can’t afford it? Bulk your order and get it done at the same time. Combining your orders will reduce costs in man-hours and equipment (think crane rentals). Naturally you can also get a better deal on the panels themselves if you buy in larger quantity.

** NEW: See an updated article about these solar panels here**

Images Courtesy of Patrick Bollinger.

A Thin-Film Solar Panel Installation A Thin-Film Solar Panel Installation


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About the Author

is an environmentalist who loves to write. She grew up across the southeastern USA and especially love the Appalachian mountains. She went to school in the northeast USA in part to witness different mindsets and lifestyles than those of my southern stomping grounds. She majored in English Lit. and Anthropology. She has worked as a whitewater rafting guide, which introduced her to a wilderness and the complex issues at play in the places where relatively few people go. She also taught English in South Korea for a year, which taught her to take nothing for granted.



  • Omukhles

    hi dear…
    i am looking for thin film soler energy for irrigation pumping and off grad systam like 50- 60kw.
    and grundfos submersible to left water from deepth 40 -100 meter.
    so any body who has information about the price and where and how is instalation and so on………………?
    thanks.
    my E mail omukhles@yahoo.co.uk
    my tel: 00353860525146

    • Anonymous

      These folks aren’t in the UK, but they’ve been really good about answering my questions in the past. I got my Grundfos submersible from them. They might be able to suggest the best pump model and optimal array size along with appropriate controller.

      http://www.backwoodssolar.com/catalog/pumps.htm

      You’ve got a UK Grundfos dealer. Take a look at their SQFlex line of submersibles.

      As for thin-film/silicon you might want to consider silicon as well. The price difference is quickly shrinking.

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  • thanks you for sharing the information about your company’s project

  • mike gneist

    hi ,i am looking for a thin film panel system ,4k to fit my roof 42 foot by 15foot 4/12 pitch one side or justthe thin panels

  • Harold Putney

    Nice article but I have been unable to buy thin film solar to install on my new building outside Ft Worth, TX. Does anyone sell to individuals? Do they have product available?

  • Harold Putney

    Nice article but I have been unable to buy thin film solar to install on my new building outside Ft Worth, TX. Does anyone sell to individuals? Do they have product available?

  • i have a 12 sided roof already have panels in place but want to add more power.

    Question

    1.can thin film be cut

    2. how much in film

    3.can i add these to existing system

    4.would like a photo of house to determine if possible

    A picture can be seen at homesforsalebyowner/6574748

    very serious about this the shape of my house is very unique started with a teepee structure. Please let me know. Also i have people in puerto rico wanting to get into solar elec. When i first heard it was 10cents a watt.

  • i have a 12 sided roof already have panels in place but want to add more power.

    Question

    1.can thin film be cut

    2. how much in film

    3.can i add these to existing system

    4.would like a photo of house to determine if possible

    A picture can be seen at homesforsalebyowner/6574748

    very serious about this the shape of my house is very unique started with a teepee structure. Please let me know. Also i have people in puerto rico wanting to get into solar elec. When i first heard it was 10cents a watt.

  • Franky McKeown

    I love your site and the products that you show on your clean technica site.

    I live in the UK where it seems we have no products for solar power or evan woried about the carbon footprint. I am keen to purchase glue down Thin solar cell panel but do not know who to contact. There is no trade counter, no email and no phone number and you are some 2000 miles away to discuss my requirements.

    Please make contact with an email or phone number.

  • Franky McKeown

    I love your site and the products that you show on your clean technica site.

    I live in the UK where it seems we have no products for solar power or evan woried about the carbon footprint. I am keen to purchase glue down Thin solar cell panel but do not know who to contact. There is no trade counter, no email and no phone number and you are some 2000 miles away to discuss my requirements.

    Please make contact with an email or phone number.

  • Learn to build a off grid solar

  • Learn to build a off grid solar

  • Abiola Oshunniyi

    Good day. I saw your website from my search please i am trying to make up between 10kw to 20kw please i would like to know the cost of your products. Thanks

  • Abiola Oshunniyi

    Good day. I saw your website from my search please i am trying to make up between 10kw to 20kw please i would like to know the cost of your products. Thanks

  • brando v

    help my name is brando v! I realy want to get in to the buisness and I keep on hiting walls and cant get past then. i want to get into installing pv pannals. thin film caught my eye on the video called who killed the electric car. it is the strongest feeling just as bad as i wanted my own baby then we had one it was the best thing in the world. anyways solar is the only thing besides my baby i think about all the time and i realy realy want to get into solar and wind. brandov13@yahoo.com please help

    Thanks brandov

  • brando v

    help my name is brando v! I realy want to get in to the buisness and I keep on hiting walls and cant get past then. i want to get into installing pv pannals. thin film caught my eye on the video called who killed the electric car. it is the strongest feeling just as bad as i wanted my own baby then we had one it was the best thing in the world. anyways solar is the only thing besides my baby i think about all the time and i realy realy want to get into solar and wind. brandov13@yahoo.com please help

    Thanks brandov

  • Evan

    does the entire panel have to experience the same light intensity?

    in other words, could you roll the panel into a circle? or bend it around a corner?

    (and still have them produce power of course).

  • Evan

    does the entire panel have to experience the same light intensity?

    in other words, could you roll the panel into a circle? or bend it around a corner?

    (and still have them produce power of course).

  • TruthSeeker

    Unisolar sells the “laminates” for about $3.00 per Watt to its large distributors. Add the proper mark-up and labor costs and extra materials, and Magco’s price apparenly ended up being about $8 per Watt all-in cost before ITC or other incentives. Unfortunately, using price per Watt does not tell the whole story when comparing Unisolar’s PV product to the rest of the market (Unisolar’s share of the worldwide rooftop market is about 3%). Unisolar’s laminates, especially when glued to flat roofs, generate substantially less electricity (in KWH) over the warranted life of the system per rated Watt than optimally tilted crystalline, given shorter warranty life and higher degradation. The underperformance is even more severe vs optimally tilted thin-film glass panels. For example, 1 KW worth of Unisolar laminates glued to a flat roof are expected to generate 23% less electricity than 1 KW worth of optimally tilted crystalline panels over the respective warranted life.

  • TruthSeeker

    Unisolar sells the “laminates” for about $3.00 per Watt to its large distributors. Add the proper mark-up and labor costs and extra materials, and Magco’s price apparenly ended up being about $8 per Watt all-in cost before ITC or other incentives. Unfortunately, using price per Watt does not tell the whole story when comparing Unisolar’s PV product to the rest of the market (Unisolar’s share of the worldwide rooftop market is about 3%). Unisolar’s laminates, especially when glued to flat roofs, generate substantially less electricity (in KWH) over the warranted life of the system per rated Watt than optimally tilted crystalline, given shorter warranty life and higher degradation. The underperformance is even more severe vs optimally tilted thin-film glass panels. For example, 1 KW worth of Unisolar laminates glued to a flat roof are expected to generate 23% less electricity than 1 KW worth of optimally tilted crystalline panels over the respective warranted life.

  • The critical question is what Mike asked. What is the cost per watt for these panels. If they are down to $1.00US, then the market is unlimited. If they are nearer the $4.50 of conventinal panels then you have a pay back period around 50 years which makes them a non starter.

    Regards

    William

  • The critical question is what Mike asked. What is the cost per watt for these panels. If they are down to $1.00US, then the market is unlimited. If they are nearer the $4.50 of conventinal panels then you have a pay back period around 50 years which makes them a non starter.

    Regards

    William

  • Pingback: Renewzle Knowledge Base » Blog Archive » » Solar Thin Film Technology Attracts Big Players in Japan()

  • I have a whole line up of questions here, mostly about price. I just want everyone to know that I’m currently following up on this story and hoping to write an update soon.

    Mike: that depends on where you live and what you need out of your thin-film solar panels. The easiest thing to do would be to check your phone book or try an advanced google search for your area.

  • I have a whole line up of questions here, mostly about price. I just want everyone to know that I’m currently following up on this story and hoping to write an update soon.

    Mike: that depends on where you live and what you need out of your thin-film solar panels. The easiest thing to do would be to check your phone book or try an advanced google search for your area.

  • mike

    whats the price per Watt of this thin film panels?

  • mike

    whats the price per Watt of this thin film panels?

  • mike johnston

    I am a designer trying to incorporate thin film solar in to a project, who else, other than uni-solar, makes a similar product?

  • mike johnston

    I am a designer trying to incorporate thin film solar in to a project, who else, other than uni-solar, makes a similar product?

  • Don Joyner

    What is cost per foot of the thin panels?

  • Don Joyner

    What is cost per foot of the thin panels?

    • Ratheesh

      if you are interestd, we can give it for around 6 USD.
      ratheesh@hhv.in

  • David Brands

    I broke into the solar industry selling Uni-Solar installations six years ago. True, Uni-Solar’s triple-junction cells are easily the best thin-film photovoltaics on the market. The article above quotes 12% efficiency but if you click that hotlink you’ll see it is “beginning of life” production. Amorphous silicon PV–which is what Uni-Solar cells are–all experience a short-term burn-in period called the Stabler-Wronski effect. For some as yet uncertain reason, the electrons are hyperactive during this 60-90 day period thus producing more electricity. After that the cells settle into the 8-9% efficiency at which they’re actually rated.

    Is this significant? Definitely, as average efficiency for standard silicon panels is around 13% with some as high as 20%. This means considerably less roof space is necessary for a crystalline panel system.

    Uni-Solar PV does work well in various light conditions because of their wider spectral response to light. Some of my past customers here in San Diego marvel at how much power is produced by their Uni-Solar panels during heavy marine-layer overcasts. Furthermore, laminates are just .7 lbs per foot square and have that more “built-in” look. They also cost less per watt than silicon panels but not by much.

  • David Brands

    I broke into the solar industry selling Uni-Solar installations six years ago. True, Uni-Solar’s triple-junction cells are easily the best thin-film photovoltaics on the market. The article above quotes 12% efficiency but if you click that hotlink you’ll see it is “beginning of life” production. Amorphous silicon PV–which is what Uni-Solar cells are–all experience a short-term burn-in period called the Stabler-Wronski effect. For some as yet uncertain reason, the electrons are hyperactive during this 60-90 day period thus producing more electricity. After that the cells settle into the 8-9% efficiency at which they’re actually rated.

    Is this significant? Definitely, as average efficiency for standard silicon panels is around 13% with some as high as 20%. This means considerably less roof space is necessary for a crystalline panel system.

    Uni-Solar PV does work well in various light conditions because of their wider spectral response to light. Some of my past customers here in San Diego marvel at how much power is produced by their Uni-Solar panels during heavy marine-layer overcasts. Furthermore, laminates are just .7 lbs per foot square and have that more “built-in” look. They also cost less per watt than silicon panels but not by much.

  • @ Tony:

    I wish I could give you (and all our other readers) some real numbers for this panel on any given day, but at the moment they’re still finishing the last of the electrical work. Who knew there were so many wires?

    I’m not sure if Magco intends to monitor the real-world output of their solar panels (wouldn’t surprise me if they did). Unfotunately this is my last week working with the company, so I won’t be around to monitor the system myself. I do, however, have all the contact information I need to write a follow-up post in the future. Stay tuned.

    Tony, you can feel free to quote away! I’m glad you like my article *that* much. Some link love would also be appreciated, of course. If you have any other questions, just let me know.

  • @ Tony:

    I wish I could give you (and all our other readers) some real numbers for this panel on any given day, but at the moment they’re still finishing the last of the electrical work. Who knew there were so many wires?

    I’m not sure if Magco intends to monitor the real-world output of their solar panels (wouldn’t surprise me if they did). Unfotunately this is my last week working with the company, so I won’t be around to monitor the system myself. I do, however, have all the contact information I need to write a follow-up post in the future. Stay tuned.

    Tony, you can feel free to quote away! I’m glad you like my article *that* much. Some link love would also be appreciated, of course. If you have any other questions, just let me know.

  • Excellent article, and very exciting to hear of a “real” project instead of a theoretical lab experiment. What sort of real/ actual power output can be expected from the installation shown on full sun and on cloudy days??

    I guess with the much higher efficiencies now being reached (in the lab) with thin film PV cells – that this type of installation will become more and more viable with time.

    Could I have your permission to quote section of your post and use the photos on my blog site??

    Best regards, Tony McGinley. Ireland.

  • Excellent article, and very exciting to hear of a “real” project instead of a theoretical lab experiment. What sort of real/ actual power output can be expected from the installation shown on full sun and on cloudy days??

    I guess with the much higher efficiencies now being reached (in the lab) with thin film PV cells – that this type of installation will become more and more viable with time.

    Could I have your permission to quote section of your post and use the photos on my blog site??

    Best regards, Tony McGinley. Ireland.

  • @ Rod:

    Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you sooner, but I wanted to make sure my numbers were correct.

    We installed 4,900 sq feet on our roof, which breaks down to 204 individual panels.

    Each panel can produce a maximum of 136 watts at any given moment, under optimal conditions. Obviously on a daily basis the panels might produce less at any given moment. How much power they produce each hour/day will vary.

    As for maintenance, my understanding is that there is none. Apparently they did studies and didn’t notice any significant effect on performance if you did/did not clean them. The wires connecting the panels will probably wear out before the panels do.

    If you decide to look into panels, don’t worry too much about the brochures. Just look at the numbers and compare them to the competition. Obviously the companies will want to market their product, but they are required to give you a large amount of accurate information concerning their product. Just be prepared to understand what all those measurements and figures mean.

  • @ Rod:

    Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you sooner, but I wanted to make sure my numbers were correct.

    We installed 4,900 sq feet on our roof, which breaks down to 204 individual panels.

    Each panel can produce a maximum of 136 watts at any given moment, under optimal conditions. Obviously on a daily basis the panels might produce less at any given moment. How much power they produce each hour/day will vary.

    As for maintenance, my understanding is that there is none. Apparently they did studies and didn’t notice any significant effect on performance if you did/did not clean them. The wires connecting the panels will probably wear out before the panels do.

    If you decide to look into panels, don’t worry too much about the brochures. Just look at the numbers and compare them to the competition. Obviously the companies will want to market their product, but they are required to give you a large amount of accurate information concerning their product. Just be prepared to understand what all those measurements and figures mean.

  • @ Tom:

    These panels deal with the heat rather well; better than other forms of solar. Since they use different kinds and combinations of chemicals, each type of solar reacts differently. Here’s a link of Unisolar’s tech report. There are graphs and some detailed info concerning performance and temperature. (If the link doesn’t work, go to Unisolar’s website and click on Technology and Engineering ->

    technology overview.

    http://www.uni-solar.com/interior.asp?id=66

  • @ Tom:

    These panels deal with the heat rather well; better than other forms of solar. Since they use different kinds and combinations of chemicals, each type of solar reacts differently. Here’s a link of Unisolar’s tech report. There are graphs and some detailed info concerning performance and temperature. (If the link doesn’t work, go to Unisolar’s website and click on Technology and Engineering ->

    technology overview.

    http://www.uni-solar.com/interior.asp?id=66

  • Michelle,

    I have been looking for information on the overall performance across a rooftop’s thermal temperature range of the Unisolar product. I asked one of the reps at the NRCA convention in Las Vegas and was promised the information but have not recieved any as yet.

    I am aware that some solar solutions perform better at lower temperatures than can occur during the height of a summer day on a roof. Since this product is laid on the membrane, and it is dark, does it absorb much UV radiation and heat? If it does, how does it perform at these higher temperatures?

  • Michelle,

    I have been looking for information on the overall performance across a rooftop’s thermal temperature range of the Unisolar product. I asked one of the reps at the NRCA convention in Las Vegas and was promised the information but have not recieved any as yet.

    I am aware that some solar solutions perform better at lower temperatures than can occur during the height of a summer day on a roof. Since this product is laid on the membrane, and it is dark, does it absorb much UV radiation and heat? If it does, how does it perform at these higher temperatures?

  • Michelle:

    Thank you for sharing the information about your company’s project. I hope that you will be able to update us as you gain experience with the system. I am always interested in real world experiences from the customer point of view that is not quite as – shall we say “slanted” – as the glossy brochures that companies provide.

    It would be great to find out how large your installation is in square feet (or square meters) and how much total energy that it produces.

    If there is any maintenance required, that would also be great information.

    Looking forward to those updates!

  • Michelle:

    Thank you for sharing the information about your company’s project. I hope that you will be able to update us as you gain experience with the system. I am always interested in real world experiences from the customer point of view that is not quite as – shall we say “slanted” – as the glossy brochures that companies provide.

    It would be great to find out how large your installation is in square feet (or square meters) and how much total energy that it produces.

    If there is any maintenance required, that would also be great information.

    Looking forward to those updates!

    • Hi Sir or madam,
      Good day.Glad to hear that you’re in the field of solar products. I’m Tom.C from , Xiamen Fengwei Energy Technology Co., Ltd.,are specialize in exporting Solar Mounting Systems to Austrilia.
      Our company has researched and developed the newest Thin Film Module Clamp,be suitable for 6-10mm Thin Film.also this is apt to your customers,also suit for Pitched Roof systems

      Best regards,

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