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 t... Read more