U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Tribal Energy Program

Photovoltaic Materials

Photo of a cystalline and flexible thin-film solar cell.

Cystalline and flexible thin-film solar cell

Crystalline silicon (c-Si) is the leading commercial material for photovoltaic cells, and is used in several forms: single-crystalline or monocrystalline silicon, multicrystalline or polycrystalline silicon, ribbon and sheet silicon and thin-layer silicon.

Thin film PV cells use layers of semiconductor materials only a few micrometers thick, attached to an inexpensive backing such as glass, flexible plastic, or stainless steel. Semiconductor materials for use in thin films include amorphous silicon (a-Si), copper indium diselenide (CIS), and cadmium telluride (CdTe). Amorphous silicon has no crystal structure and is gradually degraded by exposure to light, although certain processing techniques can reduce this effect. Because the quantity of semiconductor material required for thin films is far smaller than for traditional PV cells, the cost of thin film manufacturing is far less than for crystalline silicon solar cells, but thin-film solar modules also produce less power than crystalline-silicon solar modules. For these reasons, a one-kilowatt thin-film PV system will be larger than a one-kilowatt crystalline-silicon PV system, but the two systems may be competitively priced.