Types of Solar Panels

Types of Solar Panels

Solar energy has been gaining popularity over the years as people are becoming more aware of renewable energy. If you are looking for solar panels, you will notice that there are different types of solar panels in the market. 

Read on to find out more about the types of solar panels that are available on the market and which is the best one for you. 

There are 3 main types of solar panels. Each one is different in its performance,  efficiency and cost. The 3 types of solar panels are:

  • Monocrystalline solar panels
  • Polycrystalline solar panels
  • Thin film solar panels

Monocrystalline solar panels

Monocrystalline panels are a popular choice with homeowners because of the aesthetics. These panels look like squares with their corners cut off and the cells are flat and black in color. 

Monocrystalline solar panels are made from a pure single crystal silicon. The seed crystal is placed in pure molten silicon at high temperature. When it is drawn up, molten silicon is formed around it and thus creates one large crystal. This crystal is then sliced into thin wafers that are manufactured into solar cells. 

types of solar panels

Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Pic Source: Greencoast.org

Advantages

  • High performance and efficiency
  • Looks good

Disadvantages

  • High cost

Performance and efficiency

Monocrystalline solar panels have the best performance when compared to the other types of solar panels. Its efficiency ranges from 17% to 22%.  The higher efficiency is due to the easy flow of electrons through the cell, which is made possible by the single crystal of silicon. 

This means that monocrystalline panels do not need as much space as polycrystalline panels and thin-film panels to reach a particular power capacity. Thus, compared to the other two types of solar panels, you will need less monocrystalline solar panels to generate an equal amount of power.  

Cost

Monocrystalline panels usually have the highest cost due to its high manufacturing expense. The Czochralski process, in which a single silicon crystal is used to make solar cells, is extremely energy-intensive and thus, causes the cost of these panels to increase. 

Polycrystalline solar panels

Also known as multicrystalline panels, polycrystalline panels do not have the corners cut off and are blue in color. While some do not like the blue color on their roofs, homeowners who are on a budget will appreciate its lower cost. 

Similar to monocrystalline panels, polycrystalline solar cells are made by placing a seed crystal in molten silica. The difference is in the cooling process. Instead of pulling out the seed crystal, the whole vat is cooled. This results in the formation of multiple crystals. The multiple crystals cause polycrystalline panels to appear blue in color. 

types of solar panels

Source: m.economictimes.com

Advantages

  • Low cost

Disadvantages

  • Low performance and efficiency

Performance and efficiency

Polycrystalline panels are less efficient than monocrystalline panels. This is due to the multiple silicon crystals structure of the solar cell which makes it difficult for electrons to move. The efficiency of these panels ranges from 15% to 17%. 

Cost

Polycrystalline solar panels are less expensive compared to monocrystalline solar panels. The manufacturing cost is lower as the solar cells are made from silicon fragments as compared to the pure silicon crystal used in monocrystalline panels. Thus, end-users benefit from the simpler process as manufacturers do not have to bear hefty production costs. 

Thin-film solar panels

Thin-film solar panels are solid black and do not have the normal silicon cell outlines that are apparent in crystalline panels. They are much easier to install and are usually the favoured option for commercial and industrial buildings. 

Thin-film solar panels are manufactured by depositing photovoltaic substances on a solid surface. Photovoltaic substances include amorphous silicon (a-Si), cadmium telluride (CdTe), copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and dye-sensitized solar cells (DSC). While the different substances used actually means that the panels are different, they are all categorized under thin-film solar panels. 

The manufacturing process results in lightweight and sometimes flexible panels that are easier to install. The downside is that it also causes the panels to be less efficient. 

types of solar panels

Pic Source: Wikipedia

Advantages

  • Flexible 
  • Portable
  • Lightweight
  • Looks good

Disadvantages

  • Lowest performance and efficiency among the three
  • Sort life expectancy

Performance and efficiency

Thin-film solar panels are known to have the lowest performance and efficiency. Those that are available on the market usually have an efficiency range of 10% to 13%. However, researchers at the Fraunhover Institute of Solar Energy Systems have managed to achieve 23.4% efficiency with new prototypes. 

Since the efficiency of thin-film panels is low, you will need to install more panels in order to achieve the same amount of power that a crystalline panel produces. Thus, thin-film is not usually recommended for homes where there is limited space. 

Cost

The real cost of thin-film solar panels will depend on the type that you choose. However, overall, these solar panels may be less expensive compared to monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels. 

This is due to the fact that these panels are lighter as well as more maneuverable, making it easier to secure them in position. The reduced labour cost plays a large role in the overall price in the installation of thin-film solar panels.

Additionally, because of the shorter lifespans of these panels, you will have to consider that these panels will have to be replaced more often. 

How many cells do solar panels have?

Solar panels usually have 60, 72 or cells. The difference is in the size of the panel, with the 72 cells panel being taller. 

60 and 72 cells panels usually work out to be of the same price in terms of cost per watt and both can be installed in residential properties. The most favourable choice actually depends on your space layout and constrains. 

Though not as common as 60, 72, or 96 cell panels, some solar panel manufacturers produce solar panels with half-cut cells, essentially doubling the number of solar cells within the panel. Half-cut solar cells are monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar cells cut in half using a laser cutter. By cutting the solar cells in half, solar panels can experience marginal gains in efficiency and durability.

Upcoming solar technology

Research on solar energy and solar technology aims to increase the efficiency of solar cells, lower the cost of materials as well as increase the lifespan of the solar systems. 

Following are the few things that you can expect in the near future of renewable energy:

Bifacial solar panels

Bifacial solar panels are able to produce more power as compared to the traditional solar panels. They have solar cells on both the front and back of the panel. 

Bifacial solar panels usually have a back sheet that is transparent. This allows sunlight to go through the panel and reflect off the ground surface back to the solar cells that have been fitted on the back of the panel. They can be made with both monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar cells. 

Concentrated PC technology (CPV)

CPV works to reduce energy loss caused by the diffusion of sunlight over a large surface. It directs sunlight to a concentrated point with the use of lenses or curved mirrors. CPV will be able to produce more energy than monocrystalline solar panels. 

Solar Tile Technology

Solar tiles are supposed to function like the traditional solar panels and can be made from thin film or monocrystalline silicon. They are also known as solar slates or solar shingles. 

While it will be visually more appealing than the common setup that is used for solar panels, this technology is still being developed and improved. 

Transparent solar panels

solar panels

Key components of a transparent photovoltaic device

Source: MIT Energy Initiative

Transparent solar panels work by capturing near-infrared and ultraviolet light while allowing visible light to pass through them. These tiles were discovered by MIT researchers and in theory, can be used in windows, laptops and mobile phones. 

At the moment, the efficiency of transparent solar panels are quite low, but we expect improvements in the near future. 

Transparent solar panels will not need large spaces to be put in use. Imagine fitting all the windows of a skyscraper with these panels. Even if it is low efficiency, the combination of many transparent panels will significantly reduce electricity usage. 

Which is the best solar panel for your needs? 

Choosing the best solar panel depends on why they are being installed. Homes with a large room space can opt for polycrystalline panels as they cost less and will provide enough power for the property. 

On the other hand homes with smaller spaces should take advantage of the efficiency of monocrystalline panels. 

Thin-film solar panels are the best option if you need something lightweight. They are a perfect fit for commercial buildings that are unable to handle the weight of polycrystalline panels and monocrystalline panels. While it’s less efficient, commercial roofs usually have more space, and more panels can be used to provide the power needed for the building. 

Conclusion

With more and more people turning to renewable energy, solar power is being considered as one of the most promising sources in the times to come. The three main types of solar panels listed in the article have their own advantages and disadvantages. Be aware of what each one can do for you to accomplish your purpose. Do remember that each one has a different cost, especially if you are installing the panels on a budget. 

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