More info needed about the world of Thin-Film solar panels
October 5, 2009 11:45 PM   Subscribe

Solar power question: What is the pricing of thin-film solar panels like per watt, compared to standard PV cells? I'm comparing 80W thin-film panels in the 6% efficiency range to 135W, 185W, 210W sized Kyocera panels. Also questions about sourcing from China and thin-film solar manufacturing.

I am working on a spreadsheet that calculates the cost of a medium to large sized off grid solar power system.

This is normally based on a standard setup of 135 to 190 or 210W sized Kyocera panels on ground mounts, with MC4 cabling and connectors to junction boxes, with the rest of the setup pretty normal (a lot of 200aH batteries, fat wires, 3000W sine wave inverter, appropriately sized Morningstar charge controller, etc).

I have what I think are the best $ per watt prices for Kyocera or house brand panels from SunElec and a few other USA dealers of solar panels sold by the pallet load. This works out to $2.38 per watt+shipping for their house brand 210W panels or about $2.98 per watt for the more expensive panels, or slightly smaller sizes.

I have followed with interest the news over the past few years about startups like Nanosolar and First Solar claiming to approach the magical $1/watt figure with inexpensive albeit relatively low output thin film panels. If you google "China thin film solar" and look around on Globalsources you will also find several manufactures of thin film panels in China.

The typical large thin film panel appears to be about 1300 x 1100 x 50mm with an output of 70 to 95W, a bit less than half of the output from a similarly sized traditional PV cell. I don't care that the output is less - I care about the $/watt. If it's less, I'll go with thin film.

The problem, and finally the question, is that thin film pricing is more opaque in the marketplace that the highly competitive regular panel market. I can open the websites of eight bookmarked dealers and look at bulk prices for pallet loads of panels easily, but none of them sell thin film. I have seen a lot of PR about the output of many thin film factories going primarily to large (1 megawatt+) grid-feeding solar panel power plants, which is great... But does that mean the average person or small business putting together a more modest solar setup can't get the best pricing? Particularly I'm thinking of costs under $2/watt. Does anyone know what a 80W thin-film panel is supposed to cost, FOB China, or have links to dealers in the USA that sell them?

Reference links:

SunElec, dealer of regular panels

More on China thin-film solar manufacturing and sources product listing of thin-film panels made in China, 30W to 90W size range
posted by thewalrus to Technology (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Keep in mind the thin-film panels may not last as long as the polysilicon ones. Looking around on google it's not all that clear (some pages say CIGS panels should last 20 years), but you should check to see if the panels have a warranty, and if the company will still be around to honor it in 15 years, IMO.
posted by delmoi at 12:48 AM on October 6, 2009

Response by poster: Since the US Army is building a 500 megawatt plant based on thin film, and China just committed to an incrementally-constructed 2 gigawatt plant, I think its longevity isn't a problem... People with more education, experience and research time have already done the homework on this and determined that it won't degrade any faster than a traditional PV cell. (FWIW I've seen secondhand reports of a 37 year old installation of first generation 10W Spectrolab panels that still function well).
posted by thewalrus at 1:42 AM on October 6, 2009

One source is PowerFilm. If this is what you're asking. I usually call and ask to speak with a local distributor or sales rep when I'm dealing with less well-know materials/applications. They often can give ballpark pricing.
posted by mightshould at 7:04 AM on October 6, 2009

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