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Crystalline vs Thin Film Solar Panels

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Crystalline (Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline) solar modules dominate the solar industry, with thin film modules accounting for 5% of global solar installations across the globe. While thin film technology has an advantage over crystalline PV modules in terms of pricing, crystalline silicon modules are rapidly closing the price gap as prices continue to decline. Thin film modules are primarily composed of a rare metal called tellurium that can absorb solar rays better than silicon crystalline modules, which is a factor in the price gap between the two technologies. However, tellurium is toxic and difficult to find, whereas silicon technology only produces small amounts of carbon emissions during the manufacturing process.

With a new store of tellurium being discovered in an undisturbed part of the ocean off of the cost of the Western Sahara, the important question of whether mining the metal is worth the risk needs to be addressed. Mining has the capability of doing a great deal of damage to the environment during the best of conditions, in a deep-sea environment possible damages could be catastrophic. With silicon technology progressing on a nearly daily basis, the risk of disturbing and harming the undisturbed environment is too great and should be avoided. Already silicon technology outpaces thin film in numerous areas: the Voc and Vmp is higher, temperature coefficients are higher, the I-V curve fill factor is 73%-82% in comparison to thin films 60%-68% and efficiency ratings are 13%-19% in comparison to thin films 4%-12%. With this in mind a slightly lower cost with a thinner film is not worth the risk of embarking on an extensive deep sea dive mining project.

Silicon based technology will be closing the gap more quickly than expected in terms of cost and the depth of the panel. Over the last five years he width of solar modules have decreased from two inches to just over one inch while efficiency rates have increased. Furthermore, environmental responsibility is key in any renewable energy application. Even under the best of conditions deep-sea mining has high cost to the environment. Pollution from machines drilling is unavoidable, and marine life displacement is a certainty even if every safety measure is put in place. The risk, ultimately is not worth the return, a less efficient module at a slightly lower cost, and technology is likely to outpace thin film during the time it takes for the project to be completed. Investing more time and technology in the production of silicon cells is likely to yield better results with far less damage to the environment.

In terms of the low carbon emissions that is generated from silicon based modules, the technology advances continue to displace those emissions on a yearly basis. As the technology becomes more advanced, it takes less time and produces less carbon emissions than previous years. In comparison to mining tellurium, fracking, silicon technology produces less emissions by far. It is highly imperative that we continue to be environmentally responsible in our efforts to improve our energy producers, and move away from relying on rare materials that need to be extracted from the environment. True energy independence is only feasible if we stop relying on rare materials that need to be extracted from the Earth that cause damage.

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