SOLAR POWERED ENERGY: EVOLVING TECHNOLOGY IN PHOTOVOLTAICS
First Generation, or Crystalline Silicon-
Crystalline silicon has historically been the favorite material for solar cells, even though it’s not a great light absorber, and it needs to be several hundred microns thick to work properly (which creates high materials costs). Crystalline silicon is not only expensive but also very delicate, so solar panels made of this material can’t endure rough handling or environments. It continues to be the predominant type of semiconductor in solar cells because there is a large amount of existing process manufacturing knowledge for this technology; plus, it is highly efficient.
Second Generation, or Thin Film-
These thin film technologies are better light absorbers and require only one micron or so of thickness, making them significantly less expensive than 1st generation technology. They are also generally more resilient and weather-proof than crystalline silicon panels. Solar panels with thin solar cells use semiconductors made from amorphous silicon or other polycrystalline materials, such as cadmium telluride, copper indium, and diselenide. This technology, however, is newer and more complex than crystalline silicon (i.e. harder to manufacture because of the lack of existing technology and experience in manufacturing), so it’s still the secondary player in the solar cell industry.Prism Solar, Konarka, Sunworks Solar, and Petra Solar are all solar cell companies that have received government/state funding for their development of advanced photovoltaic technologies for wide commercial and residential use. Konarka, a SPEC client, was awarded $5 million in funding for the development of their new photovoltaic manufacturing plant in New Bedford, MA.
Konarka is one of the many companies using thin, plastic materials as substrates for semiconductors, making solar panel technology affordable and (more readily) available for government, consumer, and commercial use. Their company frequently partners with manufacturing companies to integrate their solar cell technology into existing products, making products that are usually powered by stored energy, solar-powered.
For example, Konarka worked with Arch Aluminum and Glass Co., Inc. to develop the first solar panel installed in the wall of their facility in Tamarak, Florida. These solar panels will use sunlight as a source of clean energy to power their facility.
Konarka has also worked with a German company, Neuber, to produce “Energy Sun Bags,” a solar powered bag for charging electronics, using their lightweight, plastic photovoltaic technology.