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CdTe Panels vs. Solar Shingles: Which Is Perfect for BIPV Projects?

The wave of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) is showing no signs of slowing down as urbanization speeds up and the call for urban Sustainability is getting louder.

CdTe panels and solar shingles have demonstrated impressive results in many BIPV projects worldwide. But for those who are new to BIPV, it is not easy to choose between these two BIPV technologies. 

By reading this article, you will gain a deeper understanding of BIPV and its two panel technologies. Then you can make an informed decision for your project.

Solar Power Facades in BIPV Project

Exploring BIPV…

Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) refers to the integration of photovoltaic materials into the building envelope, such as the roof, skylight, façade or window, to serve both as a building material and as a solar power generator.

A Brief History

This concept was born out of the traditional panel’s having reached a certain stage of development. The 1990s saw the initial commercial availability of BIPV products and this period marked the beginning of BIPV as a distinct category within the solar industry.

Driving Forces

Beyond the staged accomplishments in panel technology, the concept of zero-energy building (ZEB) is a crucial driving force, which has its roots in the late 20th century but gained significant traction in the early 2000s. ZEB aims to make a building consume as little energy as possible with an ultimate goal to produce as much energy as it consumes through a combination of energy-efficient design and on-site renewables generation.

Meanwhile, the increasing demand for the aesthetic value of panel products has further sparked BIPV innovation, which in return enriches the connotations of ZEB in the process.

Technologies Explained: CdTe Panels vs. Solar Shingles

CdTe panels and solar shingles are two popular solutions for BIPV projects, each with their unique characteristics and distinctions.

CdTe Panels

Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) solar panels use the semiconductor properties of CdTe to convert sunlight into electricity. Unlike traditional crystalline silicon panels, which interconnect dozens of solar cell units together, CdTe panels have their absorption layer created via deposition techniques such as sputtering.

In other words, CdTe panels have a continuous material composition in contrast to the modular design of c-Si panels, which have visible thin metallic grid lines on the front as well as octagonal-shaped cells or speckled looks depending on particular models and designs.

Solar Shingles

Solar shingles, also referred to as solar roof tiles depending on their design, are innovative solar panels tailored for rooftop applications. They serve as both roofing materials, like traditional shingles or tiles, and as solar power generators. 

In general, traditional panels and roofing materials are separated. The panels are installed on existing rooftops via mounting and racking systems. While solar shingles typically replace existing roofing materials altogether, blending seamlessly into the roof structure.

In contrast to the CdTe option above, the composition of photovoltaic materials in solar shingles can be more diverse. Apart from CdTe materials, according to the design, crystalline silicon and thin-film CIGS are viable alternatives capable of forming the absorption layer in solar shingles.

The Applications of CdTe and Solar Shingles

While both fall under the umbrella of BIPV panels, CdTe solar panels and solar shingles are ideal for distinct application scenarios.

The BIPV Applications of Solar Shingles

Solar shingles or solar roof tiles are exclusively used for rooftop BIPV projects. They can be installed into new roof constructions or utilized as a replacement for existing roofs.

Actually, the application of solar shingles is more adaptable than what you might initially imagine. You can deploy them on your entire roof to construct a thorough solar power roof. Alternatively, you can strategically install them in the area of your roof that receives the most optimal sunlight exposure, and seamlessly integrate them with surrounding shingles of similar color and texture.

Solar roof tiles, which combine the design of traditional curved tiles, are perfectly suited for installation on sloping roof structures, particularly in regions prone to heavy rainfall.

The BIPV Applications of CdTe Panels

Compared to solar shingles, CdTe solar panels are more versatile in BIPV projects, which can be adopted for roofs, skylights, façades or windows.

CdTe Panels For Roofs

When used for roofs, CdTe panels can be installed like traditional c-Si panels via mounting and racking systems. It is the modern, uniform appearance they offer that makes them beat traditional panels in BIPV projects.

Some CdTe panels manufactured with high-strength substrate and cover can be installed like solar shingles, truly becoming components of the roof structure and providing seamless aesthetic appeal for the building.

CdTe Panels For Façades, Windows & More

The primary reasons CdTe panels are used as solar power façades and solar power window glass are their superior thinness, excellent performance in low-light conditions and lower costs.

The thickness of the absorption layer in CdTe panels only ranges from 1-6 μm, compared to the substantially thicker 150-200 μm layer found in traditional c-Si panels. For BIPV projects, the absorption layer and associated layers of CdTe panels are sandwiched between tempered glass. By altering the thickness and density of the absorption layer, CdTe panels can provide different levels of transparency.

Based on the visual and electrical design of the BIPV project, the transparency level of the CdTe panels will be determined. Higher transparency in these panels allows more visible light to pass through but results in less energy being captured and converted into electricity, and vice versa.

CdTe technology can be far more versatile. Some CdTe panel manufacturers provide customization services to customize the shape, size and color of CdTe panels to perfectly complement the distinctive aesthetic requirements of decorative structures and some one-of-a-kind buildings.

Additionally, CdTe panels are also renowned for their excellent performance under low light conditions. This property, to some extent, compensates for the relatively low efficiency of these panels and the limited sunlight exposure due to their installation positions.

Their lower costs besides higher technological maturity also contribute to their commercialization potential as against MIT’s organic molecules-based transparent solar cells.

CdTe Panels vs. Solar Shingles: Which One to Choose?

Both CdTe panels and solar shingles are commercialized products in the landscape of BIPV projects. The choice between them will be determined by your use case, desired aesthetic value, versatility and budget.

Solar shingles are exclusively for rooftop BIPV projects. If you prefer the aesthetics of tiles, you can opt for the solar roof tile variant. Or if you do not want a complete replacement for your roof or just want a more sleek and uniform appearance but with affordable prices, CdTe panels are a good fit.

On the other hand, if you are seeking BIPV solutions for your façades or windows, CdTe panels are a good option. Their extensive options with proven records make them viable for the public as compared to those revolutionary technologies mainly accessible for demonstration projects.

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