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​Solar technologies are characterized as either passive or active depending on the way they capture, convert and distribute sunlight and enable solar energy to be harnessed at different levels around the world, mostly depending on distance from the equator. Although solar energy refers primarily to the use of solar radiation for practical ends, all renewable energies, other than Geothermal power and Tidal power, derive their energy either directly or indirectly from the Sun.

Active solar techniques use photovoltaics, concentrated solar power, solar thermal collectors, pumps, and fans to convert sunlight into useful outputs. Passive solar techniques include selecting materials with favorable thermal properties, designing spaces that naturally circulate air, and referencing the position of a building to the Sun. Active solar technologies increase the supply of energy and are considered supply side technologies, while passive solar technologies reduce the need for alternate resources and are generally considered demand side technologies.

In 2000, the United Nations Development Programme, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and World Energy Council published an estimate of the potential solar energy that could be used by humans each year that took into account factors such as insolation, cloud cover, and the land that is usable by humans. The estimate found that solar energy has a global potential of 1,575–49,837 EJ per year
Advances in technology and increased manufacturing scale have reduced the cost, increased the reliability, and increased the efficiency of photovoltaic instalations and the levelised cost of electricity from PV is competitive, on a kilowatt-hour basis, with conventional electricity sources in an expanding list of geographic regions. Solar PV regularly costs USD 0.05-0.10 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in Europe, China, India, South Africa and the United States. In 2015, record low prices were set in the United Arab Emirates (5.84 cents/kWh), Peru (4.8 cents/kWh) and Mexico (4.8 cents/kWh). In May 2016, a solar PV auction in Dubai attracted a bid of 3 cents/kWh.

Net metering and financial incentives, such as preferential feed-in tariffs for solar-generated electricity, have supported solar PV installations in many countries. More than 100 countries now use solar PV. After hydro and wind powers, PV is the third renewable energy source in terms of globally capacity. In 2014, worldwide installed PV capacity increased to 177 gigawatts (GW), which is two percent of global electricity demand. China, followed by Japan and the United States, is the fastest growing market, while Germany remains the world's largest producer (both in per capita and absolute terms), with solar PV providing seven percent of annual domestic electricity consumption.
Photovoltaics are best known as a method for generating electric power by using solar cells to convert energy from the sun into a flow of electrons. The photovoltaic effect refers to photons of light exciting electrons into a higher state of energy, allowing them to act as charge carriers for an electric current. The photovoltaic effect was first observed by Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel in 1839. The term photovoltaic denotes the unbiased operating mode of a photodiode in which current through the device is entirely due to the transduced light energy. Virtually all photovoltaic devices are some type of photodiode.
Recent developments in Organic photovoltaic cells (OPVs) have made significant advancements in power conversion efficiency from 3% to over 15% since their introduction in the 1980s. To date, the highest reported power conversion efficiency ranges from 6.7% to 8.94% for small molecule, 8.4%–10.6% for polymer OPVs, and 7% to 21% for perovskite OPVs.  OPVs are expected to play a major role in the PV market. Recent improvements have increased the efficiency and lowered cost, while remaining environmentally-benign and renewable.
Several companies have begun embedding power optimizers into PV modules called smart modules. These modules perform maximum power point tracking (MPPT) for each module individually, measure performance data for monitoring, and provide additional safety features. Such modules can also compensate for shading effects, wherein a shadow falling across a section of a module causes the electrical output of one or more strings of cells in the module to decrease.
One of the major causes for the decreased performance of cells is overheating. The efficiency of a solar cell declines by about 0.5% for every 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature. This means that a 100 degree increase in surface temperature could decrease the efficiency of a solar cell by about half. Self-cooling solar cells are one solution to this problem. Rather than using energy to cool the surface, pyramid and cone shapes can be formed from silica, and attached to the surface of a solar panel. Doing so allows visible light to reach the solar cells, but reflects infrared rays (which carry heat)Type your paragraph here.
The large magnitude of solar energy available makes it a highly appealing source of electricity. The United Nations Development Programme in its 2000 World Energy Assessment found that the annual potential of solar energy was 1,575–49,837 exajoules (EJ). This is several times larger than the total world energy consumption, which was 559.8 EJ in 2012.
In 2011, the International Energy Agency said that "the development of affordable, inexhaustible and clean solar energy technologies will have huge longer-term benefits. It will increase countries’ energy security through reliance on an indigenous, inexhaustible and mostly import-independent resource, enhance sustainability, reduce pollution, lower the costs of mitigating global warming, and keep fossil fuel prices lower than otherwise. These advantages are global. 
The Earth receives 174,000 terawatts (TW) of incoming solar radiation (insolation) at the upper atmosphere. Approximately 30% is reflected back to space while the rest is absorbed by clouds, oceans and land masses. The spectrum of solar light at the Earth's surface is mostly spread across the visible and near-infrared ranges with a small part in the near-ultraviolet. Most of the world's population live in areas with insolation levels of 150-300 watts/m², or 3.5-7.0 kWh/m² per day. 

Understanding Solar Energy


Solar energy is radiant light and heat from the Sun that is harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, solar thermal energy, solar architecture, molten salt power plants and artificial photosynthesis.It is an important source of renewable energy and its technologies are broadly characterized as either passive solar or active solar depending on how they capture and distribute solar energy or convert it into solar power. Active solar techniques include the use of photovoltaic systems, concentrated solar power and solar water heating to harness the energy. Passive solar techniques include orienting a building to the Sun, selecting materials with favorable thermal mass or light-dispersing properties, and designing spaces that naturally circulate air.

Solar radiation is absorbed by the Earth's land surface, oceans – which cover about 71% of the globe – and atmosphere. Warm air containing evaporated water from the oceans rises, causing atmospheric circulation or convection. When the air reaches a high altitude, where the temperature is low, water vapor condenses into clouds, which rain onto the Earth's surface, completing the water cycle. The latent heat of water condensation amplifies convection, producing atmospheric phenomena such as wind, cyclones and anti-cyclones. Sunlight absorbed by the oceans and land masses keeps the surface at an average temperature of 14 °C. By photosynthesis, green plants convert solar energy into chemically stored energy, which produces food, wood and the biomass from which fossil fuels are derived.

The total solar energy absorbed by Earth's atmosphere, oceans and land masses is approximately 3,850,000 exajoules (EJ) per year. In 2002, this was more energy in one hour than the world used in one year. Photosynthesis captures approximately 3,000 EJ per year in biomass. The amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the planet is so vast that in one year it is about twice as much as will ever be obtained from all of the Earth's non-renewable resources of coal, oil, natural gas, and mined uranium combined.

The potential solar energy that could be used by humans differs from the amount of solar energy present near the surface of the planet because factors such as geography, time variation, cloud cover, and the land available to humans limit the amount of solar energy that we can acquire.

Geography affects solar energy potential because areas that are closer to the equator have a greater amount of solar radiation. However, the use of photovoltaics that can follow the position of the sun can significantly increase the solar energy potential in areas that are farther from the equator. Time variation effects the potential of solar energy because during the nighttime there is little solar radiation on the surface of the Earth for solar panels to absorb. This limits the amount of energy that solar panels can absorb in one day. Cloud cover can affect the potential of solar panels because clouds block incoming light from the sun and reduce the light available for solar cells.

In addition, land availability has a large effect on the available solar energy because solar panels can only be set up on land that is otherwise unused and suitable for solar panels. Roofs have been found to be a suitable place for solar cells, as many people have discovered that they can collect energy directly from their homes this way. Other areas that are suitable for solar cells are lands that are not being used for businesses where solar plants can be established.


Photovoltaics

Photovoltaics (PV) covers the conversion of light into electricity using semiconducting materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect. A typical photovoltaic system employs solar panels, each comprising a number of solar cells, which generate electrical power. The first step is the photoelectric effect followed by an electrochemical process where crystallized atoms, ionized in a series, generate an electric current. PV installations may be ground-mounted, rooftop mounted or wall mounted. They may be mounted in a permanent orientation to maximize production and value or they may be mounted on trackers that follow the sun across the sky.

Solar PV generates no pollution. The direct conversion of sunlight to electricity occurs without any moving parts. Photovoltaic systems have been used for fifty years in specialized applications, standalone and grid-connected PV systems have been in use for more than twenty years. They were first mass-produced in 2000, when German environmentalists and the Eurosolar organization got government funding for a ten thousand roof program. On the other hand, grid-connected PV systems have the major disadvantage that the power output is dependent on direct sunlight, so about 10-25% is lost if a tracking system is not used, since the cell will not be directly facing the sun at all times. Power output is also adversely affected by weather conditions such as the amount of dust and water vapour in the air or the amount of cloud cover. This means that, in the national grid for example, this power has to be made up by other power sources: hydrocarbon, nuclear, hydroelectric or wind energy.

Solar cells produce direct current electricity from sun light which can be used to power equipment or to recharge a battery. The first practical application of photovoltaics was to power orbiting satellites and other spacecraft, but today the majority of photovoltaic modules are used for grid connected power generation. In this case an inverter is required to convert the DC to AC. There is a smaller market for off-grid power for remote dwellings, boats, recreational vehicles, electric cars, roadside emergency telephones, remote sensing, and cathodic protection of pipelines.

Photovoltaic power generation employs solar panels composed of a number of solar cells containing a photovoltaic material. Materials presently used for photovoltaics include monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon, amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium gallium selenide/sulfide. Copper solar cables connect modules (module cable), arrays (array cable), and sub-fields. Because of the growing demand for renewable energy sources, the manufacturing of solar cells and photovoltaic arrays has advanced considerably in recent years.

Solar photovoltaics power generation has long been seen as a clean energy technology which draws upon the planet’s most plentiful and widely distributed renewable energy source – the sun. The technology is "inherently elegant" in that the direct conversion of sunlight to electricity occurs without any moving parts or environmental emissions during operation. It is well proven, as photovoltaic systems have now been used for fifty years in specialised applications, and grid-connected systems have been in use for over twenty years.

Cells require protection from the environment and are usually packaged tightly behind a glass sheet. When more power is required than a single cell can deliver, cells are electrically connected together to form photovoltaic modules, or solar panels. A single module is enough to power an emergency telephone, but for a house or a power plant the modules must be arranged in multiples as arrays.

Photovoltaic power capacity is measured as maximum power output under standardized test conditions (STC) in "Wp" (watts peak). The actual power output at a particular point in time may be less than or greater than this standardized, or "rated," value, depending on geographical location, time of day, weather conditions, and other factors. Solar photovoltaic array capacity factors are typically under 25%, which is lower than many other industrial sources of electricity.

Current developments

For best performance, terrestrial PV systems aim to maximize the time they face the sun. Solar trackers achieve this by moving PV panels to follow the sun. The increase can be by as much as 20% in winter and by as much as 50% in summer. Static mounted systems can be optimized by analysis of the sun path. Panels are often set to latitude tilt, an angle equal to the latitude, but performance can be improved by adjusting the angle for summer or winter. Generally, as with other semiconductor devices, temperatures above room temperature reduce the performance of photovoltaics.

A number of solar panels may also be mounted vertically above each other in a tower, if the zenith distance of the Sun is greater than zero, and the tower can be turned horizontally as a whole and each panels additionally around a horizontal axis. In such a tower the panels can follow the Sun exactly. Such a device may be described as a ladder mounted on a turnable disk. Each step of that ladder is the middle axis of a rectangular solar panel. In case the zenith distance of the Sun reaches zero, the "ladder" may be rotated to the north or the south to avoid a solar panel producing a shadow on a lower solar panel. Instead of an exactly vertical tower one can choose a tower with an axis directed to the polar star, meaning that it is parallel to the rotation axis of the Earth. In this case the angle between the axis and the Sun is always larger than 66 degrees. During a day it is only necessary to turn the panels around this axis to follow the Sun. Installations may be ground-mounted (and sometimes integrated with farming and grazing) or built into the roof or walls of a building (building-integrated photovoltaics).

Another recent development involves the makeup of solar cells. Perovskite is a very inexpensive material which is being used to replace the expensive crystalline silicon which is still part of a standard PV cell build to this day. Michael Graetzel, Director of the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces at EPFL says, "Today, efficiency has peaked at 18 percent, but it's expected to get even higher in the future."  This is a significant claim, as 20% efficiency is typical among solar panels which use more expensive materials.

​Researchers from the University of Oulu in Finland have discovered a crystal mineral material that is able to simultaneously generate energy from light, heat, and mechanical force, opening up a whole new range of possibilities for multi-source electricity-generating devices.

The material used by the researchers is a perovskite material, a group of minerals that have the same type of crystal structure as that of the naturally-occurring mineral calcium titanate (CaTiO3) and are known for their various abilities to help boost the conversion of sunlight to power in solar cells and even assist in creating hyperefficient light-emitting crystals.

Different types of perovskites have the ability to harness different types of energy. When a certain type of perovskite solar cell is exposed to light, for example, photons of light cause electrons in the crystal to jump across an "energy gap" and create an electric current. A similar effect occurs when thermal energy, or heat, is applied to a different type where the excitation of electrons causes an electric current to flow, known as the pyroelectric effect.

Deforming the material also generates a current as the crystalline atomic structure flexes in perovskites in response to external stimuli, causing the magnetic dipoles of the electrons in the structure to be forced out of alignment, thereby inducing an electric current due to what is known as the piezoelectric effect.

The material used by the University of Oulu team is capable of producing an electric current from all three of these types of energy.

The type of perovskite in question is created from what is known as KBNNO, which is formed when KNbo3 nanocrystals are modified with the addition of quantities of barium and nickel. Previous studies have only concentrated on the photovoltaic and magnetic properties of KBNNO at temperatures hundreds of degrees below freezing, and without testing the effects of pressure or temperature. According to the researchers, their work is the first time that a complete range of pressure, heat, magnetic, and light effects on KBNNO has evaluated all of these properties at the same time above room temperature.

The researchers claim that their initial experiments indicate that KBNNO is quite adept at generating electric current from light, but it isn't so good as other perovskites at doing so with heat and pressure. But they are confident that altering the balance of elements in KBNNO will vastly improve its piezoelectric and pyroelectric capabilities.

"It is possible that all these properties can be tuned to a maximum point," says Dr Yang Bai from the University of Oulu, who is aiming to have a prototype multi-energy device built within the next year. "This will push the development of the Internet of Things and smart cities, where power-consuming sensors and devices can be energy sustainable."

Exploring the potential improvements that addition of sodium would bring to the mix, the researchers hope to eventually commercialize their discovery, noting that its production is a straightforward and scalable process. The researchers also believe that this type of material could eventually be used in mobile devices to supplement batteries to improve energy efficiency and reduce recharge cycles, or, one day, create multi-energy harvesting units that may even make batteries for small devices obsolete.


Efficiency

Electrical efficiency (also called conversion efficiency) is a contributing factor in the selection of a photovoltaic system. However, the most efficient solar panels are typically the most expensive, and may not be commercially available. Therefore, selection is also driven by cost efficiency and other factors.
The electrical efficiency of a PV cell is a physical property which represents how much electrical power a cell can produce for a given insolation. The basic expression for maximum efficiency of a photovoltaic cell is given by the ratio of output power to the incident solar power (radiation flux times area)

The efficiency is measured under ideal laboratory conditions and represents the maximum achievable efficiency of the PV material. Actual efficiency is influenced by the output Voltage, current, junction temperature, light intensity and spectre.
The most efficient type of solar cell to date is a multi-junction concentrator solar cell with an efficiency of 46.0% produced by Fraunhofer ISE in December 2014. The highest efficiencies achieved without concentration include a material by Sharp Corporation at 35.8% using a proprietary triple-junction manufacturing technology in 2009, and Boeing Spectrolab (40.7% also using a triple-layer design). The US company SunPower produces cells that have an efficiency of 21.5%, well above the market average of 12–18%.

There is an ongoing effort to increase the conversion efficiency of PV cells and modules, primarily for competitive advantage. In order to increase the efficiency of solar cells, it is important to choose a semiconductor material with an appropriate band gap that matches the solar spectrum. This will enhance the electrical and optical properties. Improving the method of charge collection is also useful for increasing the efficiency. There are several groups of materials that are being developed. Ultrahigh-efficiency devices (η>30%) are made by using GaAs and GaInP2 semiconductors with multijunction tandem cells. High-quality, single-crystal silicon materials are used to achieve high-efficiency, low cost cells (η>20%).

​​Growth

Solar photovoltaics is growing rapidly and worldwide installed capacity reached at least 177 gigawatts (GW) by the end of 2014. The total power output of the world’s PV capacity in a calendar year is now beyond 200 TWh of electricity. This represents 1% of worldwide electricity demand. More than 100 countries use solar PV.  China, followed by Japan and the United States is now the fastest growing market, while Germany remains the world's largest producer, contributing more than 7% to its national electricity demands.  Photovoltaics is now, after hydro and wind power, the third most important renewable energy source in terms of globally installed capacity.

China is predicted to take the lead from Germany and to become the world's largest producer of PV power by installing another targeted 17.8 GW in 2015. India is expected to install 1.8 GW, doubling its annual installations. By 2018, worldwide photovoltaic capacity is projected to double or even triple to 430 GW. Solar Power Europe (formerly known as EPIA) also estimates that photovoltaics will meet 10% to 15% of Europe's energy demand in 2030.

By the year 2030, 1,845 GW of PV systems could be generating approximately 2,646 TWh/year of electricity around the world. Combined with energy use efficiency improvements, this would represent the electricity needs of more than 9% of the world's population. By 2050, over 20% of all electricity could be provided by photovoltaics.

The costs of power from wind and solar are already below those of conventional electricity generation in some parts of the world, as they have fallen sharply and will continue to do so. The electrical grid has been greatly expanded worldwide, and is ready to receive and distribute electricity from renewable sources. In addition, worldwide electricity prices came under strong pressure from renewable energy sources, that are, in part, enthusiastically embraced by consumers.

Grid parity has already been reached in at least 19 markets by January 2014. Photovoltaics will prevail beyond feed-in tariffs, becoming more competitive as deployment increases and prices continue to fall

Costs

There have been major changes in the underlying costs, industry structure and market prices of solar photovoltaics technology, over the years, and gaining a coherent picture of the shifts occurring across the industry value chain globally is a challenge. This is due to: "the rapidity of cost and price changes, the complexity of the PV supply chain, which involves a large number of manufacturing processes, the balance of system (BOS) and installation costs associated with complete PV systems, the choice of different distribution channels, and differences between regional markets within which PV is being deployed". Further complexities result from the many different policy support initiatives that have been put in place to facilitate photovoltaics commercialisation in various countries.

The PV industry has seen dramatic drops in module prices since 2008. In late 2011, factory-gate prices for crystalline-silicon photovoltaic modules dropped below the $1.00/W mark. The $1.00/W installed cost, is often regarded in the PV industry as marking the achievement of grid parity for PV. Technological advancements, manufacturing process improvements, and industry re-structuring, mean that further price reductions are likely in coming years.

Financial incentives for photovoltaics have often been offered to electricity consumers to install and operate solar-electric generating systems. Government has sometimes also offered incentives in order to encourage the PV industry to achieve the economies of scale needed to compete where the cost of PV-generated electricity is above the cost from the existing grid. Such policies are implemented to promote national or territorial energy independence, high tech job creation and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions which cause global warming. Due to economies of scale solar panels get less costly as people use and buy more—as manufacturers increase production to meet demand, the cost and price is expected to drop in the years to come.

Solar cell efficiencies vary from 6% for amorphous silicon-based solar cells to 44.0% with multiple-junction concentrated photovoltaics. Solar cell energy conversion efficiencies for commercially available photovoltaics are around 14–22%.[79][80] Concentrated photovoltaics (CPV) may reduce cost by concentrating up to 1,000 suns (through magnifying lens) onto a smaller sized photovoltaic cell. However, such concentrated solar power requires sophisticated heat sink designs, otherwise the photovoltaic cell overheats, which reduces its efficiency and life. To further exacerbate the concentrated cooling design, the heat sink must be passive, otherwise the power required for active cooling would reduce the overall efficiency and economy.

Crystalline silicon solar cell prices have fallen from $76.67/Watt in 1977 to an estimated $0.74/Watt in 2013. The levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) from PV is competitive with conventional electricity sources in an expanding list of geographic regions,[9] particularly when the time of generation is included, as electricity is worth more during the day than at night. There has been fierce competition in the supply chain, and further improvements in the levelised cost of energy for solar lie ahead, posing a growing threat to the dominance of fossil fuel generation sources in the next few years. As time progresses, renewable energy technologies generally get cheaper, while fossil fuels generally get more expensive.

Environmental impacts of photovoltaic technologies

While solar photovoltaic (PV) cells are promising for clean energy production, their deployment is hindered by production costs, material availability, and toxicity. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is one method of determining environmental impacts from PV. Many studies have been done on the various types of PV including first generation, second generation, and third generation. Usually these PV LCA studies select a cradle to gate system boundary because often at the time the studies are conducted, it is a new technology not commercially available yet and their required balance of system components and disposal methods are unknown.

A traditional LCA can look at many different impact categories ranging from global warming potential, eco-toxicity, human toxicity, water depletion, and many others. Most LCAs of PV have focused on two categories: carbon dioxide equivalents per kWh and energy pay-back time (EPBT). The EPBT is defined as " the time needed to compensate for the total renewable- and non-renewable- primary energy required during the life cycle of a PV system". A 2015 review of EPBT from first and second generation PV suggested that there was greater variation in embedded energy than in efficiency of the cells implying that it was mainly the embedded energy that needs to reduce to have a greater reduction in EPBT. One difficulty in determining impacts due to PV is to determine if the wastes are released to the air, water, or soil during the manufacturing phase. Research is underway to try to understand emissions and releases during the lifetime of PV systems.

Impacts from first-generation PV

Crystalline silicon modules are the most extensively studied PV type in terms of LCA since they are the most commonly used. Mono-crystalline silicon photovoltaic systems (mono-si) have an average efficiency of 14.0%.  The cells tend to follow a structure of front electrode, anti-reflection film, n-layer, p-layer, and back electrode, with the sun hitting the front electrode. EPBT ranges from 1.7 to 2.7 years. The cradle to gate of CO2-eq/kWh ranges from 37.3 to 72.2 grams.

Techniques to produce multi-crystalline silicon (multi-si) photovoltaic cells are simpler and cheaper than mono-si, however tend to make less efficient cells, an average of 13.2%.[56] EPBT ranges from 1.5 to 2.6 years. The cradle to gate of CO2-eq/kWh ranges from 28.5 to 69 grams. Some studies have looked beyond EPBT and GWP to other environmental impacts. In one such study, conventional energy mix in Greece was compared to multi-si PV and found a 95% overall reduction in impacts including carcinogens, eco-toxicity, acidification, eutrophication, and eleven others.

Impacts from second generation

Cadmium telluride (CdTe) is one of the fastest-growing thin film based solar cells which are collectively known as second generation devices. This new thin film device also shares similar performance restrictions (Shockley-Queisser efficiency limit) as conventional Si devices but promises to lower the cost of each device by both reducing material and energy consumption during manufacturing. Today the global market share of CdTe is 5.4%, up from 4.7% in 2008. This technology’s highest power conversion efficiency is 21%.  The cell structure includes glass substrate (around 2 mm), transparent conductor layer, CdS buffer layer (50–150 nm), CdTe absorber and a metal contact layer.

CdTe PV systems require less energy input in their production than other commercial PV systems per unit electricity production. The average CO2-eq/kWh is around 18 grams (cradle to gate). CdTe has the fastest EPBT of all commercial PV technologies, which varies between 0.3 and 1.2 years.

Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide (CIGS) is a thin film solar cell based on the copper indium diselenide (CIS) family of chalcopyrite semiconductors. CIS and CIGS are often used interchangeably within the CIS/CIGS community. The cell structure includes soda lime glass as the substrate, Mo layer as the back contact, CIS/CIGS as the absorber layer, cadmium sulfide (CdS) or Zn (S,OH)x as the buffer layer, and ZnO:Al as the front contact. CIGS is approximately 1/100th the thickness of conventional silicon solar cell technologies. Materials necessary for assembly are readily available, and are less costly per watt of solar cell. CIGS based solar devices resist performance degradation over time and are highly stable in the field.

Reported global warming potential impacts of CIGS range from 20.5 – 58.8 grams CO2-eq/kWh of electricity generated for different solar irradiation (1,700 to 2,200 kWh/m2/y) and power conversion efficiency (7.8 – 9.12%).  EPBT ranges from 0.2 to 1.4 years, while harmonized value of EPBT was found 1.393 years. Toxicity is an issue within the buffer layer of CIGS modules because it contains cadmium and gallium.  CIS modules do not contain any heavy metals.

Impacts from third generation

Third-generation PVs are designed to combine the advantages of both the first and second generation devices and they do not have Shockley-Queisser efficiency limit, a theoretical limit for first and second generation PV cells. The thickness of a third generation device is less than 1 µm.

One emerging alternative and promising technology is based on an organic-inorganic hybrid solar cell made of methylammonium lead halide perovskites. Perovskite PV cells have progressed rapidly over the past few years and have become one of the most attractive areas for PV research. The cell structure includes a metal back contact (which can be made of Al, Au or Ag), a hole transfer layer (spiro-MeOTAD, P3HT, PTAA, CuSCN, CuI, or NiO), and absorber layer (CH3NH3PbIxBr3-x, CH3NH3PbIxCl3-x or CH3NH3PbI3), an electron transport layer (TiO, ZnO, Al2O3 or SnO2) and a top contact layer (fluorine doped tin oxide or tin doped indium oxide).

There are a limited number of published studies to address the environmental impacts of perovskite solar cells. The major environmental concern is the lead used in the absorber layer. Due to the instability of perovskite cells lead may eventually be exposed to fresh water during the use phase. These LCA studies looked at human and ecotoxicity of perovskite solar cells and found they were surprisingly low and may not be an environmental issue. Global warming potential of perovskite PVs were found to be in the range of 24–1500 grams CO2-eq/kWh electricity production. Similarly, reported EPBT of the published paper range from 0.2 to 15 years. The large range of reported values highlight the uncertainties associated with these studies. Celik et al. (2016) critically discussed the assumptions made in perovskite PV LCA studies.

Two new promising thin film technologies are copper zinc tin sulfide (Cu2ZnSnS4 or CZTS) and zinc phosphide (Zn3P2). Both of these thin films are currently only produced in the lab but may be commercialized in the future. Their manufacturing processes are expected to be similar to those of current thin film technologies of CIGS and CdTe, respectively. Yet, contrary to CIGS and CdTe, CZTS and Zn3P2 are made from earth abundant, nontoxic materials and have the potential to produce more electricity annually than the current worldwide consumption.[69][70] While CZTS and Zn3P2 offer good promise for these reasons, the specific environmental implications of their commercial production are not yet known. Global warming potential of CZTS and Zn3P2 were found 38 and 30 grams CO2-eq/kWh while their corresponding EPBT were found 1.85 and 0.78 years, respectively. Overall, CdTe and Zn3P2 have similar environmental impacts but can slightly outperform CIGS and CZTS.

Organic and polymer photovoltaic (OPV) are a relatively new area of research. The tradition OPV cell structure layers consist of a semi-transparent electrode, electron blocking layer, tunnel junction, holes blocking layer, electrode, with the sun hitting the transparent electrode. OPV replaces silver with carbon as an electrode material lowering manufacturing cost and making them more environmentally friendly. OPV are flexible, low weight, and work well with roll-to roll manufacturing for mass production. OPV uses "only abundant elements coupled to an extremely low embodied energy through very low processing temperatures using only ambient processing conditions on simple printing equipment enabling energy pay-back times". Current efficiencies range from 1–6.5%,  however theoretical analyses show promise beyond 10% efficienc

Many different configurations of OPV exist using different materials for each layer. OPV technology rivals existing PV technologies in terms of EPBT even if they currently present a shorter operational lifetime. A 2013 study analyzed 12 different configurations all with 2% efficiency, the EPBT ranged from 0.29–0.52 years for 1 m² of PV. The average CO2-eq/kWh for OPV is 54.922 grams

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