Thin Film Solar PV

This is an exciting but unstable market sector for Solar PV.  For thin solar PV the bottom line to a simple consumer like me is the same as with "thick solar" (hard-panel PV): How much electricity will it produce for how many dollars of cost?  Thin solar is not being produced at the same cost or net-yield efficiency as solar "hardbacks," but it bears this potential: Joe Six Pack buys, budget-permitting, a roll of the stuff from Home Depot's "Solar Aisle" and he and his kin install it on a rooftop or backyard sunny spot over a weekend, then plug-and-play connect it into their utility's grid to collect "reverse meter" credits.  

Hence, thin-solar's highest appeal will be its user-friendliness, and other manufacturers' ability to integrate it into windows, roof shingles, and other building products.  If it's cheap and easy enough to buy/install, then volume can compensate for lower efficiency, especially for rural folks who've got plenty of free acreage (I'm growing pine trees subsidized by the state; they can be harvested at any time and that land can handle 5000 solar panels no sweat).  

The Solar PV panels I installed in October, 2010, were rated at 14.5% efficiency.  This company is claiming that it will reach 14% efficiency for its thin-solar product by mid-2012.  In fact, here's a claim to have reached 14.4% now (January 18, 2012).  And here's another claiming 15.5% (May 29, 2012).  On July 3, 2012 GE suspended work on the largest thin solar plant in the USA because of falling prices for hard-PV panels, and also, it claims, to bump its thin solar product's efficiency from 13% to 15%.  (Source).  Here's a fascinating, behind-the-scenes story on Nanosolar.

Yet, even noted luminary Ken Zweibel confessed he was "surprised by crystalline success" (meaning, that "thick solar" beat out thin in 2011).  My gut tells me that by 2017 thin solar will be at 17% efficiency (the highest one can theoretically get is 30%), and if I can buy rolls of it cheap well then I'm backing my truck up to the back of Home Depot and going for it.  

Again, the bottom line for Joe Six Pack is not so much a Solar product's efficiency rating, but how much electricity his home system will produce for how many dollars up front?  If thin solar strips output at 17% and hard-panels output at 25% but thin solar is substantially cheaper (both in the cost of the product and in installing it), then thin solar can still beat out thick.  Pundits use the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) factor to make the call (click here for my Solar Glossary explaining LCOE and other terms).

Here are some other articles that I've collected on thin solar:

A University Thin Solar Lab aimed at lower-cost Thin Solar products.