A question recently asked of me whilst preparing a feasibility study for a prospective Solar PV client was, “is thin film Solar PV suitable for my project”,

After looking into this relatively new source of solar power generation, there are a number of elements which come into play for thin film which are not immediately apparent when dealing with “traditional” solar panels.

thin film solar PVThin film Solar PV is, by its very nature, considerably lighter and more flexible than a normal solar panel (each normal panel can weigh up to 20kg) they use far less intrusive or complex methods of installation on roof surfaces, which will save even more weight. Lightweight roofing integrated solar PV systems are now becoming readily available on the market, which are ideally suited to the domestic or residential consumer.

Manufacturers claim that the photo-voltaic tiles work with direct light / diffused light, they capture a bigger range of the solar spectrum, they are flexible, they resist freezing conditions, you can walk on them safely, they are not reflective, they are easy to move and lay, they are self-cleaning and they have a better performance for unit of power installed.

For larger solar power arrays, the weight considerations may make the difference between being able to install the system at all. For example, a 50kw array would need at least 200 solar panels at 250w per panel, and with each weighing up to 20kg (without the weight of the fixings) that’s 4 metric tonnes of strain on the property roof. Any potential installation would need a clean bill of health from a properly qualified structural engineer before thinking about the next steps.

Whatever method is used for the application either steel plate, bituminous roll or tensile membrane, the solar product will have a lower “headline” efficiency rate (around 6%), although the efficiency seems low compared to a solar panel, it collects sun on a broader spectrum and at lower levels. This enables it to outperform solar panels on a large flat roof.

In the views of some, one of the least addressed issues regarding solar panel installations is the progress of the technology involved.  With thin film technology it is possible to build in upgrade options, allowing for replacement of the PV film or tiles as and when the market produces more efficient modules. Given the speed of product development, this could be a major consideration for any one.

Performance figures in the market (based on the UK Feed in Tariff) suggest that over 25 years, even allowing for the cost of upgrades, thin film solar power can produce an excellent return on investment.

It’s seems clear that with consumers looking more towards renewable energy, either as an investment or to reduce costs, that solar PV is a major contender, thin film variations of solar panels may well be the future so it’s going to be worthwhile to keep yourself informed.

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Is thin film solar PV suitable?