Newer solar power tech not 'better'

Cape Town - Thin Film Solar (TFS) panels may be the latest technology in solar power, but they are not necessarily better in terms of their power delivery, a researcher has said.

"From a materials point of view, TFS panels that are in commercial production are not fundamentally more efficient than the latest Silicon (Si) crystalline photovoltaic (PV) solar panels," Dr Frederik Vorster, senior researcher at the Photovoltaics Research Unit, in the Centre for Energy Research (CER), Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University told News24.

The cost of TFS panels has declined in developed markets, but Vorster said that despite this, the panels suffered from degrading light effects.

"The PV materials that are used in TFS panels suffer from a host of degradation effects, including light induced degradation. Most reputable manufacturers of TFS panels will offset the expected reduced power production as a result of degradation, when quoting the long term performance figures of the module."

He also said that the cost of the panels was not an advantage when considered against the degrading effects of light over time.

Electricity prices

"Although most TFS panels are cheaper to buy, the durability of a panel and its ability to produce energy (kWh) over a 25 year term needs to be considered. In other words, the cost per unit of energy produced (R/kWh) over a long term needs to be considered," Vorster argued.

Electricity prices in are set to increase for domestic consumers in SA and the cost has seen solar power become a viable option for home owners who may spend in excess of R1 000 per month on electricity.

The local industry has seen a boom with several manufacturers offering everything from DIY solar kits to fully professionally installed solar systems at price points ranging from system with enough power for lights to those that can a take a house completely off the national grid.

TFS panels are amorphous in nature which means that the atoms are arranged in an irregular order which is inefficient for conduction of electricity.

There are continued developments in traditional Silicon solar panels though, and Vorster said that innovation with these could increase their performance.

"Big improvements in the antireflective coatings that are used in crystalline Si panels have, however, dramatically increased the ability of these solar panels to absorb sunlight. In low light (cloudy) conditions the ability of any solar panel to absorb sunlight gives it an advantage."


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