When searching for the best solar panels for your home, there are many factors to consider including size, weight, and efficiency. As the solar industry continues to grow, so too do the product offerings – there are a variety of different types of solar panels available on the market today, some of which have unique advantages over traditional solar panels. One alternative to conventional panels are amorphous solar panels: thin-film solar panels that are constructed to be bendable while also using less material. In this article, we’ll explain what you need to know about this exciting technology.
- Amorphous solar panels are the cheapest on the market in terms of price per Watt ($/Watt).
- Amorphous solar cells are more widely used in low-power electronics than solar panels.
- Amorphous solar panels aren’t for everyone: they are much less efficient than traditional solar panels.
- To compare quotes with different types of solar equipment, check out the EnergySage Marketplace.
What are amorphous solar panels?
Like all solar panels available today, amorphous solar panels (a-Si) capture energy from the sun and convert it into usable electricity. These solar panels are made from non-crystalline silicon on top of a substrate of either glass, plastic or metal.
Unlike other types of solar panels, amorphous solar panels don’t use traditional cells; instead, they’re constructed using a deposition process which involves forming an extremely thin layer of silicon on top of a substrate. The thin film interconnects using laser-cut patterns as opposed to mechanical connections used in traditional solar panels. This construction allows for amorphous panels to be extremely bendable and lightweight, while still generating electricity.
It’s important to note that amorphous solar cells are mostly used to power smaller devices – solar panels using amorphous cells are not widely available commercially.
What to know about amorphous solar panel installations
When it comes to amorphous solar panel installations, there are few important aspects to consider. First off, because they’re lightweight and flexible, amorphous solar panels are often easier and cheaper to install than traditional solar panels – in fact, they’re often a good candidate for DIY solar installations. However, they’re generally not used in rooftop solar arrays due to their low efficiency. However, you may be able to fit them on curved surfaces or in smaller spaces due to their flexibility, which makes amorphous panels potentially applicable in unique installation situations. Aesthetically, amorphous solar panels installations have lower profile designs than traditional solar panels, making them particularly attractive to those seeking more discreet solar panels.
What are other applications of amorphous solar cells?
While you can purchase amorphous solar panels, amorphous cells are primarily used in low-power applications. In fact, due to their lightweight design, they’re extremely versatile in terms of applications. In addition to solar panels, some other use cases for amorphous cells include:
- Clocks and watches
- Toys and e-books
- Outdoor lighting
- Car accessories
- Security devices
How do amorphous solar panels compare to traditional solar panels?
Traditional rigid solar panels fall into two categories: polycrystalline or monocrystalline. Like amorphous panels, both polycrystalline and monocrystalline panels are made from silicon. Monocrystalline panels use cells that are composed of a single crystal for higher efficiency and also a premium cost, whereas polycrystalline panels come from melted fragments of many silicon crystals and come at a lower price point, but are comparatively less efficient.
Amorphous solar panels vs. monocrystalline vs. polycrystalline solar panels
|Amorphous Solar Panels||Monocrystalline Solar Panels||Polycrystalline Solar Panels|
|Cost||Least expensive||Most expensive||Less expensive|
|Efficiency||Least efficient||Most efficient||Less efficient|
Advantages of amorphous solar panels
Compared to traditional solar panels, amorphous solar panels have some advantages. First of all, because they’re so thin, they require less silicon to be produced, making them more sustainable. Their flexibility also makes them less prone to cracks, which are one of the most common solar panel defects. Due to the reduced materials and ease of installation, you can also expect amorphous solar panels to cost less than traditional solar panels.
Disadvantages of amorphous solar panels
In addition to not being as widely available, amorphous solar panels come with other disadvantages compared to traditional solar panels. Amorphous solar panels are significantly less efficient than traditional solar panels: most types of amorphous solar panels are only about 7 percent efficient, whereas monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels can exceed 20 percent efficiency. This means that you’ll need a lot more roof space to get the same output as traditional solar panels.
Which type of solar panel is best for home use?
Every home will have different considerations when comparing solar panels. Because their efficiency is so much lower, amorphous solar panels are generally best for those looking to power smaller loads like electronics. They also might be a good choice if you have a roof with a large surface area, allowing for a larger installation. Some experts recommend installations of amorphous solar panels on areas like greenhouses or even windows. While amorphous solar panels may be cheaper in terms of $/Watt, you’ll probably save more overall with traditional solar panels because of their higher efficiency. Importantly, if you’re considering amorphous solar panels, they’ll still be eligible for the federal solar tax credit.
What companies offer amorphous solar cells?
Since their inception in the 1970s, amorphous silicon cells have become more widely used: amorphous solar panels are now the second most popular thin film solar panel option!. Here are some companies that offer amorphous cells and/or products:
Panasonic, one of the leading solar panel brands, has an amorphous solar cell product called Amorton. You can use these cells in low light settings – such as in the morning or evening – for both indoor and outdoor applications. Panasonic doesn’t sell their amorphous solar cells directly to consumers; rather, you can purchase the products that use Amorton from outside retailers.
NauturePower offers small, affordable amorphous solar panels used to run low-power electronics. You might consider their products if you’re looking for an on-the-go power source – like while travelling by car, RV, or boat. If you’re interested in NaturePower amorphous solar panels, you can purchase them through Home Depot and Amazon.
WSL Solar is a manufacturer based in China that creates amorphous solar cells used to power in-home electronic devices. Similar to Panasonic, WSL Solar does not sell their solar cells directly to consumers – you’ll have to purchase products that use their amorphous cells through outside retailers.
Other types of thin-film solar panels
Amorphous solar panels are just one type of thin-film solar panel – If you’re interested in this type of solar panel, you may want to consider the other technologies available:
- Cadmium Telluride (CdTe): this is the most widely used thin-film technology at about 50 percent market share. Because they’re constructed from cadmium, they are more toxic relative to amorphous solar panels, but are also more efficient.
- Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS): these solar cells are highly efficient, having reached up to 22.4% efficiency (though this metric is not yet available at scale). They’re also much more expensive compared to amorphous solar panels.
- Gallium Arsenide (GaAs): these are the most efficient of thin-film solar cells with a world record of 28.9%, but they’re also the most expensive. These solar cells are typically used in mass-scale solar installations in more unusable environments (like on spacecrafts!).
- Organic photovoltaic cells (OPV): organic thin-film technology is most popular among the building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) market. They offer a variety of applications and aesthetic options, and are slightly more efficient than amorphous solar panels, but still much lower than traditional panels.
Start your solar journey today with EnergySage
EnergySage is the nation’s online solar marketplace: when you sign up for a free account, we connect you with solar companies in your area, who compete for your business with custom solar quotes tailored to fit your needs. Over 10 million people come to EnergySage each year to learn about, shop for and invest in solar. Sign up today to see how much solar can save you.