Cadmium Telluride vs. Silicon-Based Solar Cells

The solar energy industry has experienced significant growth in recent years, driven by a global push for renewable energy sources and advancements in solar cell technology.

Cadmium telluride (CdTe) and silicon-based solar cells are two leading photovoltaic technologies that have captured the interest of both researchers and consumers.

In this post, we'll dive into the key differences between these two solar cell types, exploring their material properties, efficiency, manufacturing processes, costs, and performance.

Material Properties: A Tale of Two Semiconductors

Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) Solar Cells

CdTe solar cells are thin-film photovoltaic devices that use a semiconductor material made from cadmium telluride.

This material boasts a direct bandgap of about 1.45 eV, making it highly efficient in absorbing sunlight. Additionally, CdTe is known for its defect tolerance, which simplifies the manufacturing process and helps lower production costs.

Silicon-Based Solar Cells

Silicon-based solar cells, on the other hand, rely on crystalline silicon as their primary material. Silicon has an indirect bandgap of 1.12 eV, resulting in less efficient sunlight absorption compared to CdTe.

However, silicon's abundance in Earth's crust makes it a readily available and sustainable choice for solar cell production.

Silicon-based solar cells are further categorized as monocrystalline or polycrystalline, depending on their crystal structure.

Semiconductor MaterialCdTeSilicon
Bandgap (eV)1.451.12 (indirect)
Sunlight Absorption EfficiencyHighly efficient due to direct bandgapLess efficient than CdTe due to indirect bandgap
Defect ToleranceHighModerate
Manufacturing ProcessSimplified and cost-effective compared to silicon-based cellsEstablished manufacturing processes, but can be energy-intensive
AbundanceLess abundant than siliconAbundant in Earth’s crust
SustainabilityContains toxic cadmium and not easily recyclableA readily available and sustainable choice
Crystal StructureAmorphous or polycrystallineMonocrystalline or polycrystalline
Comparison of Material Properties in CdTe and Silicon-Based Solar Cells

Efficiency and Performance: Comparing Apples and Oranges

Silicon-based solar cells generally outperform CdTe solar cells in terms of efficiency, with monocrystalline cells reaching over 20% and polycrystalline cells achieving 15-20% efficiency.

CdTe solar cells, although capable of hitting 22% efficiency in laboratory settings, usually offer commercial efficiencies between 11-16%.

However, CdTe solar cells do have some advantages. They demonstrate better performance in high-temperature environments and low-light conditions, making them suitable for regions with less sunlight or fluctuating weather conditions.

Manufacturing Processes: Thin Film vs. Crystalline

The manufacturing process for CdTe solar cells involves depositing thin layers of CdTe and other materials onto a substrate, such as glass or flexible materials.

This process is relatively simple, fast, and less energy-intensive compared to silicon-based solar cell production.

Silicon-based solar cells require a more complex and energy-intensive process, which involves obtaining high-purity silicon, forming ingots, slicing them into wafers, and further processing to create solar cells.

Cost Considerations: Balancing Efficiency and Affordability

CdTe solar cells typically have lower production costs, thanks to their simpler manufacturing process and lower material costs.

However, their lower efficiency means that a larger installation area is needed to generate the same amount of electricity as a silicon-based solar cell system, which could offset some of the cost savings.

Silicon-based solar cells have higher production costs but also offer higher efficiency. The choice between these technologies depends on factors such as installation space, budget, and specific application requirements.


When choosing between cadmium telluride and silicon-based solar cells, it's essential to consider the material properties, efficiency, performance, manufacturing processes, and costs of each technology.

Both solar cell types have their advantages and disadvantages, and the best choice will ultimately depend on the specific requirements of your solar energy project.

By understanding the key differences between these two technologies, you can make an informed decision and invest in a solar solution that meets your needs.