Solar Panels: The Top Substitutes For Silicon

Silicon is the primary material in solar panels because it's greatly affordable and offers exceptional solar energy collection. However, silicon sources have become less due to a global raw material problem. Fortunately, manufacturers have three alternatives to silicon's solar panel contributions.

Perovskite

Scientists have gone through decades trying to find any property that allows Perovskite to create silicon-performance semiconductors. 

Many initial Perovskite tests prove its solar energy production capabilities. However, the scientific community believes that it requires more tests to confirm its capacities.

CIGS

These silicon substitutes use copper, indium, gallium, and selenide (CIGS) as a substitute for silicon in solar semiconductors. CIGS has promising sunlight-absorbing capabilities. Plus, manufacturers can use a thinner film than silicon for optimal functionality.

Cadmium Telluride

This is the best substitute for silicon for energy production because of its solar energy sensitivity, flexibility, and high resistance to overheating. In addition, it's considerably affordable because manufacturers can find a significant amount of cadmium telluride anywhere in the world.

If you'd like to know more about cadmium telluride, you can read more about it in Grist's post below. 

Most solar panels covering the world’s rooftops, fields, and deserts today share the same ingredient: crystalline silicon. The material, made from raw polysilicon, is shaped into wafers and wired into solar cells, devices that convert sunlight into electricity. Recently, the industry’s dependence on this singular technology has become something of a liability. Supply chain bottlenecks are slowing down new solar installations worldwide. Major polysilicon suppliers in China’s Xinjiang region — accused of using forced labor from Uyghurs — are facing U.S. trade sanctions.

Fortunately, crystalline silicon isn’t the only material that can help harness the sun’s energy. In the United States, scientists and manufacturers are working to expand production of cadmium telluride solar technology. Cadmium telluride is a type of “thin film” solar cell, and, as that name suggests, it’s much thinner than a traditional silicon cell. Today, panels using cadmium telluride supply about 40 percent of the U.S. utility-scale market, and about 5 percent of the global solar market. And they stand to benefit from the headwinds facing the broader solar industry.

“It’s a very volatile time, especially for the crystalline silicon supply chain in general,” said Kelsey Goss, a solar research analyst for the energy consultancy group Wood Mackenzie. “There’s great potential for cadmium telluride manufacturers to take more market share in the coming year.” Especially, she noted, since the cadmium telluride sector is already scaling up.

In June, the solar manufacturer First Solar said it would invest $680 million in a third cadmium telluride solar factory in northwest Ohio. When the facility is finished, in 2025, the company will be able to make 6 gigawatts’ worth of solar panels in the area. That’s enough to power roughly 1 million American homes. Another Ohio-based solar firm, Toledo Solar, recently entered the market and is making cadmium telluride panels for residential rooftops. And in June, the U.S. Department of Energy and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL, launched a $20 million program to accelerate research and grow the supply chain for cadmium telluride. One of the goals of the program is to help insulate the U.S. solar market from global supply constraints. (Continued)

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