Comparitive Overview

Within the course of technological development that solar photovoltaic field has experienced in the last 25 years, various commercially applicable technologies have emerged. The shortage of silicon and high capital cost of photovoltaic systems has been a major driving force for these advancements. Today, we see thin film materials like CIGS (Cadmium-Indium-Gallium-Selenide) and amorphous silicon giving equal competition to the long established crystalline silicon market.

Commercially used solar photovoltaic technologies:

Silicon Crystalline Cells

The cells uses crystalline silicon as the semiconductor in a thick and single layer of ribbon or ingot. On the basis of generation process, theses cells are further of two types:

  • Monocrystalline Cells, which uses mono-crystals of silicon, produced from pure silicon by float zone method or Czochralski method, forming perfect crystals. It delivers an efficiency of 15-18%.
  • Polycrystalline Cells, which uses the silicon in form of imperfect crystals, formed by heating and cooling of pure silicon to get the fibrous structured silicon. Efficiency delivered by same occupies a range of 13-15%.

Thin Film Cells

These cells were created with aim to reduce costs of the cells by using the semiconductor in the wafer or thin layer form. These cells are cheaper but occupy more space for equivalent power generation.

Two major categories are:

  • Amorphous Silicon which is made of non-crystalline or powder form of the silicon. The added advantage of these cells is its usage on flexible surfaces like plastic. Their efficiency ranges from 5-8 %.
  • Another category makes use of material other than silicon in order to reduce manufacturing cost. Popular material available commercially include Cd-Te, CIGS and Cu/ In/ di-Se. Efficiency ranges from 9-11%.

Multi-Junction Cells

These are made of different semiconductor layers stacked on one another. Since one material absorbs light of a particular wavelength, the underneath material absorbs the other and so on thereby making the best use of solar spectrum. Through this filtering process and also due to the maximum internal reflection in-between the gap, the complete solar spectrum is efficiently utilized. It usually uses concentrating structures and often designated as concentrating PV cell.

Technology Advantages Challenges
Silicon Crystalline PV
  • Tried since 20 years
  • Highest on field efficiency  on Indian grounds
  • Quick Deployment
  • Easy O&M
  • Maximum market dominance
  • Temperature degradation  at high temperature
  • Global silicon price volatility
  • Still considered a costly technology
Thin film PV
  • Lowest cost of all the commercially available PV technology
  • More stable towards environmental hazards
  • Not tested for long duration
  • Lower efficiency
  • Higher area requirements
Concentrated Photovoltaic
  • Low Si dependence
  • High lab efficiency
  • Low capital investment
  • High working capital
  • Power loss tracking
Solar Thermal Concentrating
  • Large installations out of India
  • Serves multiple usages
  • Monopoly market of suppliers
  • Lack of 100% efficiency of curved mirrors involved
  • Higher per MW cost
  • Feasible for large installations
  • Bulky structures
  • Large area requirement
  • High O&M cost

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