Thin film cells are photovoltaic cells used in the production of electricity from light. Photovoltaic (PV) cells are more commonly known as solar cells; while sunlight is the most common source, PV cells can create energy from any form of light. Solar panels use large groups of PV cells to generate electricity from sunlight, but traditional panels do not produce energy as efficiently as other sources such as coal. Thin film cells have the potential to increase the efficiency and cost effectiveness of solar power. The technology was perfected in the early 21st century.
The photovoltaic effect was discovered in the 19th century, although the first true solar cells were not built until the 1950s. They work by using photons, or light particles, to agitate electrons. These electrons are then directed into a circuit, becoming usable electricity. Since the 1950s, various materials have been used to create solar cells, increasing their efficiency and reducing production costs. Government incentives and concerns over the environmental effects of fossil fuel use have driven increasing interest in solar power generation around the world.
Traditional solar cells can be cumbersome and expensive to produce. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, PV cell designers began examining thin-film technology. This developing science allows the creation of layers of material of microscopic thickness, sometimes as narrow as the width of a single atom. First used to power small electronic devices like toys and calculators, thin film cells were soon in production for full-scale solar power generation.
The production of thin film cells requires a sterile environment, sometimes known as a clean room. The substance used to make up the film, usually a semiconducting material such as silicon, is reduced to a liquid solution. The plate on which the film is to be deposited is given a negative electrical charge. The liquid substance, bearing a positive charge, is then sprayed near the plate, dissolving into tiny airborne particles. These particles are attracted to the plate with its opposite charge, adhering to it in a layer of uniform thickness, which later solidifies into the thin film covering.
The advantages of thin film cells have reinvigorated interest in solar power. Solar technology is already the fastest growing energy production method on the planet. It is predicted that inexpensive, light, and efficient thin-film PV cells will make solar power more attractive as an alternative to traditional power generation. Solar-power advocates hope the developing technology will achieve their objective of grid parity, making solar power as cheap and efficient as traditional power generation methods.