Sustainable Design for the 21st Century


by Brent Sauser

It was in the mid-1970’s that I recall Texas Instruments coming out with their first solar powered calculator.  I remember my first calculator.  It was Christmas 1973 and Sears was offering a simple function calculator for only $100.  Although huge by today’s standards, it occupied a place of honor on my belt.  I got it just in time for my Calculus class the following semester.  That was a long time ago.  Today they give simple function calculators away as promotional gifts at trade shows, some no bigger than a thumb nail.  I now have an iPhone 5 on my hip that can perform sophisticated calculations as well as hundreds of other applications.  It is more technologically advanced than anything NASA used to get to the moon and back . . . . for only $100 more than my original simple function calculator.  The majority of these early calculators were powered by thin film solar cells.  Thin film solar power has been used quite a bit in the electronics industry, where nothing greater than 50 watts was required.  However, recent advancements in thin film solar have raised the level of interest in the building industry as a viable option for solar power on a greater scale.  Crystalline panels still out perform thin film in regard to overall efficiency, but that is because of the recent improvements to crystalline panel technology.  Thin film lags a few percentage points behind, but has advanced enough to be considered for unique building applications.   

Thin film panels can be made flexible and light weight by using plastic glazing.  Thin film solar panels are commercially available for installation onto the roofs of buildings, either applied onto the finished roof, or integrated into the roof covering. The advantage over traditional PV panels is that they are very low in weight, are not subject to wind lifting, and can be walked on (with care). The comparable disadvantages are increased cost and reduced efficiency.

A silicon thin film technology is being developed for building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) in the form of semitransparent solar cells which can be applied as window glazing. These cells function as window tinting while generating electricity.  This is an exciting advancement in thin film technology. 

For more information regarding thin film solar cells please click on the following websites: 

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