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The Physics of Photovoltaics: An Analysis of

Solar Panel Cost, Efectiveness and Efciency


Project Overview
As a grou we decided to go the analytical route!
The urose of our roject was to investigate the
hysics of solar anels including their roduction
and how they convert light to energy! Also
investigated are their efciency and efcacy as
long"ter# $green% solutions as well as so#e of
the olitical i#lications of their use!
The &aw 'aterials &e(uired for
Solar Panels
There are several varieties of cells today that can be used to absorb sunlight and convert those
photons into electrical energy. These include:
CIS (Copper Indium Diselenide) Cells
CdTe cells (Cadmium Telluride) Cells
Organic Cells
ulti!"unction Cells
#lthough multi!"unction cells have the highest efficiency among solar cells achieved in a laboratory
setting (demonstrated by the follo$ing graph)% Silicon Cells (monocrystaline% polycrystaline and
amorphous) due to their lo$ cost and decent efficiency are the most feasible for $ide production
and $ill thus be the main interest of our study.
)hat*s in a Polycrystalline Si Solar Cell+


"Polycrystalline cells are
slightly less efcient than
#onocrystalline solar cells,
,ut are cheaer to
#anufacture in wafer for#!
"The diagra# ,elow fro#
-ow Stuf )or.s illustrates
the order of the raw
ingredients needed to
create a generic
olycrystalline silicon cell!
They include:
A! A layer of glass for
rotection
/! Antire0ective coating
C! Contact grid
1! -ighly uri2ed 3"Tye
Silicon
E! P"Tye Silicon
4! /ac. Contact!
&aw 'aterials Continued
There is no threat to the glo,al suly of
any of the raw #aterials used to
#anufacture silicon solar cells, even if
their roduction dra#atically accelerated!

Silicon is an a,undant ele#ent in the


earth*s crust, and is in no way otentially
threatened with shortage!
There is so#e concern a,out the suly of
#aterials needed for non"silicon ,ased
cells:
The develo#ent of C56S cells $#ight ,e
slightly constrained ,y shortages of
galliu# and seleniu#,% while, #ass
roduction of CdTe cells #ay ,e ha#ered
,y telluriu# availa,ility 78ynn, 9:;, 9:<:=!
6eneric 'anufacturing of Silicon
Panels:

Starting oint for a olycrystalline cell is in #olten


for#, $cast in su,stantial ,loc.s,% and then cut down
to s#aller ,ric.s and eventually into a thin wafer
78ynn, 9:<:=!

$As the #olten silicon cools, crystalli>ation occurs


si#ultaneously,% and these cells are soldered to a
diode that conducts electricity 78ynn, 9:<:=!

4or a helfully illustrative video on how a generic


silicon cell is roduced clic. on the following lin.:

1iscovery Channel: Solar Panel 'anufacturing


4or#s of Solar Energy
6athering

A single unit is
referred to as a
cell

A collection of
cells is a #odule

A collection of
#odules is an
array
3ote that while they #ay all ,e #ade u of the sa#e tye
of cell a #odule and an array will have diferent
efciencies due to the e#ty saces ,etween each cell
htt:??science!nasa!gov?science"news?science"at"
nasa?9::9?solarcells?
-ow Solar Cells )or.:
The Photoelectric Efect

The ,asic rincile of hotovoltaics @


the ,ranch of solid state hysics which
has a focus of turning light into
electrical energy

5t is a roerty of certain #aterials


where hotons of light are a,sor,ed
and the energy causes electrons to ,e
$.noc.ed loose%

Those #aterials are referred to as


se#iconductors
Se#iconductors

Se#iconductors can
,e natural or created
through $doing%
where i#urities are
added to give #ore
or less electrons

Two .inds of
se#iconductors used
for a single solar
cells
A A Positive P"tye
7Electron Poor=
A A 3egative 3"tye
7Electron &ich=

Pure Silicon @ while it is
the #ost co##only
used ele#ent for solar
cells, it is usually doed
with other #aterials to
create the seci2c tye
of se#iconductor
needed
htt:??www!cushac.!co#?'a.ing)afers!
ht#l
P"3 Bunction

The electric otential


,arrier ,etween the
two se#iconductors
of a solar cell

Creates a low
resistance ath for
eCcited electrons to
0ow through

$8oose% electrons 0ow


fro# the rich end to
the oor one creating
a direct current
AThis is called the
hotovoltaic efect
and eClains why the
true na#e for solar
cells are PD cells
htt:??eCress!howstufwor.s!co#?eC"solar"
ower<!ht#
The /and 6a

A roerty of the
ato#s of the
se#iconductor

This is the energy


ga ,etween two
$,ands% of energy
,etween tow
electron states in a
solid

Only hoton energy


which #atches the
,and ga energy of
the #aterial can
free an electron
fro# that state!
Energy of a hoton
htt:??#ousely!co#?encycloedia?/andEga?
Solar Cell Efciency

Considers how
#uch energy
availa,le and
co#ares it to
how #uch
energy is used
roductively
Solar cell efciency 7 =
deends on

" The total ower light
ower density 7BD= on the
cell
" The actual otential
diference of the syste#
" The actual current
density of the syste#
" The $2ll factor%
constant which is the ratio
,etween the actual values and
the #aCi#u# values
Efciency @ The /and 6a
Pro,le#

6et i#age fro# ,oo.


Certain hoton energy levels which are created ,y the sun get a,sor,ed
or re0ected ,y the at#oshere, which revents solar cells fro#
accessing that articular level for its electrons! 73ote: A' #eans Air
'ass which is e(uivalent to the thic.ness of the at#oshere=
7Picture Credit @ 8ynn 9:<:=
The 'ultijunction Solution

'ultijunction cells are


the #ost efcient solar
cells when tested

Overco#es the issue of


a single ,and ga ,y
incororating #any
diferent #aterials into
a single cell, thus
adding #ore ,and
gas

'ultile ,and gas


allow for #ore of the
availa,le light energy
to ,e used
htt:??science!nasa!gov?science"news?science"at"
nasa?9::9?solarcells
The /est Solar Cell &esearch Efciencies as &ecorded ,y the 3&E8 73ational &enewa,le Energy 8a,=
7Picture Credit " htt:??www!nrel!gov?v?thinE2l#?docs?.a>E,estEresearchEcells!t=
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Other for#s of Efciency

Two .inds of ay,ac.s


A Energy Pay,ac. @ how long does it
ta.e for the solar cell to #a.e the
energy it too. to #a.e the anel
itself
A Cost Efectiveness @ how long does
it ta.e for the solar cell to generate
the energy e(uivalent to its cost
Current Statistics

Energy Pay,ac.:
A5t ta.es the
average silicon solar
cell in the Fnited
States ,etween two
7for the lower half=
to four years 7for the
uer half=

Average life of a
silicon solar cell: 9:"
9G years

Cost Efectiveness:
A 5t currently costs
a,out HI!:: er )att
,ut can go as low as
HJ!K: er )att
7This is a signi2cant
decrease fro# the
HK:: er )att cost
during the <LI:*s=
A 3ote that once
installed unless it has
a sun trac.ing syste#
installed to it, its only
needed fuel is
sunlight
1ata fro# 8ynn
9:<:
'oney 'atters

Solar cells now cost HK!G: er watt of


roduction caacity vs! HI: in the <LI:s!

-owever, the 2nished roduct of the actual


anel itself will run for at least H9<G! -ighly
efcient ones will tyically go for around
H<:::!

Panels #ade fro# scra solar cells 7those


,ro.en in #anufacturing= can ,e urchased
for a cheaer rice ,ut are highly inefcient
which see#ingly defeats the urose!
The Dassar Switch:
Dassar 1or#s
Fsing Solar Energy

G:M of 1or#
Electricity
A Total Cost:
H<,L9<,KK: @
HK,GKI,<G<
A Total Area: J:,JN: @
IK,JKN s( #
A Average 'onthly
Savings: H;:::
A Cost Pay,ac.: <G!::
@ 9K!:L years

<::M of 1or#
Electricity
A Total Cost: HK,L:K,L<<
" HI,<KG,GGK
A Total Area: ;:,L9< @
<JN,;IK s( #
A Average 'onthly
Savings: H <N,:::
A Cost Pay,ac.: <G!J @
9K!99 years

As of 9::;, Dassar was aying H<N,::: a #onth for dor#
electricity alone! /ased on so#e of the leading 3ew Oor.
electric co#anies and 3ew Oor.*s average solar irradiance
of J!JI .)h?s( # er dayP
Statistics Credit goes to Cooler
Planet!co#
)ill Solar Energy &EA88O reduce
deendency on other resources+
Solar anels only generate electricity during daylight hours! 5n #ost
cases this #eans that it will only rovide energy for half of the day!
O,viously, electricity used at night is gathered fro# energy stored
during daylight collection hours!
)eather o,viously also o,structs the a,sortion of hotons!
Te#erature, however, has little efect on the efciency of solar anels!
Pre"eCisting ollution can interfere as well which will rove difcult in
industrial areas and in cities!
4or these reasons, solar anels cannot, unfortunately, ,e the sole
rovider of energy for the Fnited States
)ill solar ower &EA88O afect
i#ortation of foreign fuels+

J:M of the energy suly in the FS


co#es fro# etroleu#

N:M of this oil is i#orted! /ecause


those who control these foreign
resources hold so #uch ower, there
is little olitical will to develo solar
technology!
6overn#ent 5ncentives
EClored

5n so#e instances the federal govern#ent


ofers ,ene2ts to those who invest in solar
technology such as the &esidential 4ederal
TaC Credit or Co##ercial 4ederal 6rant!

-owever, regulations are set on the state,


3OT federal levels! This can #a.e it #ore
difcult to ,e eligi,le for rogra#s that
tyically do not rei#,urse consu#ers for
#ore than K:M of the total cost of their
solar anel rojects!
1eveloing Technology: Thin 4il# Solar
Energy
A co#any in California called 3anosolar 79::I= has recently ,een #ass"roducing a
thin 2l# caa,le of roducing high levels of energy fro# sunlight at a cost of one
dollar er watt, co#etitive with coal! Co#ared to usual solar cells that re(uire
glass, alu#inu#, coer and silicon, these cells are a thin 2l# consisting of 2ve
layers:
<! Alu#inu# foil for sta,ility!
9! 'oly,denu# Electrode
K! C56S a,sor,er ? se#i"conductor: an in. #ade of a #iC of coer, indiu#, galliu#,
and seleniu#!
J! As in the old solar #odel a P?3 junction, a se#i"conductor that doesn*t a,sor,
light!
G! 8astly, a clear >inc oCide se#i"conductor!
Chec. out the cool ani#ation at the ,otto# of the ageQ
htt:??www!osci!co#?osci?0at?,own?9::I?green?ite#EGL!ht#l

Environ#ental i#acts associated with


hotovoltaic roduction
Conif 79:<:= sites a reort fro# the Scris 5nstitution of
Oceanograahy that found the greenhouse gas 34K 7nitrogen tri"
0ouride=, a co##on ,y roduct of roduction of thin"2l# solar
cells 7an $econo#ical and increasingly oular solar ower
for#at%= has $<I,::: ti#es the war#ing otential of car,on
dioCide,% otentially under#ining any environ#ental gain in the
widesread use of the develoing technology 7Oale eKN:,
3ove#,er, 9::;=!
Additionally, Cad#iu# is a heavy #etal .nown used in CdTe
solar cells
5t is .nown to cause har#ful long ter# efects when ingested
or inhaled such as .idney failure, lung da#age and ,rittle
,ones
)hile dangerous, it is a ,y roduct of >inc #ining and its
alication in solar cells would ,e a #uch #ore roductive
use
)hen recycled and carefully disosed of it there is hardly
any ris. using it
4uture Alications

Constant trend of
increasing efciencies
across all for#s of
solar cells

5nventive #ethods
currently ,eing
considered include
Asolar anels on
sattlelites which
,ea# the energy
,ac. to earth in the
for# of #icrowaves
Adesert sanning
solar far#s
Alaser sunlight
collectors to focus
sun rays right at the
solar cells
htt:??www!#aCi#u#c!co#?article?news?solarenE(u
enchEgesEenergyEthirstEwithEsace,asedEsolarEo
wer
htt:??neu#aticaddict!wordress!co#?
age?9G?
)or.s Cited
'oyer, 'ichael! SPoSciTs /est of )hatTs 3ew 9::I!S Popular Science | New Technology, Science News, The Future
Now. 2007. Web. 25 pr. 20!!. "http#$$www.popsci.co%$popsci$&at$bown$2007$green$ite%'5(.ht%l).
Conif, &ichard! SThe 6reenhouse 6as That 3o,ody Unew ,y &ichard Connif: Oale Environ#ent KN:!S *ale
+n,iron%ent -.0# /pinion, nalysis, 0eporting 1 2ebate. !- No,. 2003. Web. 25 pr. 20!!.
"http#$$e-.0.yale.e4u$content$5eature.%sp6i472035).
8ynn, Paul A! +lectricity 5ro% Sunlight! 7Chichester, )est SusseC: Bohn )iley V Sons, 9:<:=!
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SCad#iu# CasY IJJ:"JK"L!S 2i,ision o5 To<icology an4 +n,iro%ental =e4icine To<F>s! ATS1&: 7Agency for
ToCic Su,stances and 1isease &egistry=, Set! 9::;! )e,! 9G Ar! 9:<<!
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4thena.is, Dasilis '! S8ife Cycle 5#act Analysis of Cad#iu# in CdTe PD Production!S 0enewable an4
Sustainable +nergy 0e,iews ;!J 79::J=: K:K"KJ! Science 2irect! )e,! 9: Ar! 9:<<!
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ersionZ<VEurlDersionZ:VEuseridZGGIIJKV#dGZJ;dJI9<e,fN9<:c,fL,:JNc9KcJGcGJdVsearchtyeZaYtoc
9JX!
S-ighest Silicon Solar Cell Efciency Ever &eached!S Science 2aily# News 1 rticles in Science, ;ealth,
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