All Types of Solar Panels Explained
Nowadays, the market is inundated with what seems like an endless list of different types of solar panels and solar panel technologies. This long list of materials makes choosing the right panel quite complicated and confusing for your average homeowner when it doesn’t have to be.
This article will break down every different kind of solar panel currently available on the market, what new technologies are emerging, and how to choose the best solar panel type for your project.
The Most Popular Types of Solar Panels
At heart, every solar panel works in the same way – by collecting the energy emitted from the sun to power homes, businesses, and items ranging from streetlights to the calculators we used in math class.
Since the need for renewable energy is increasing every day, scientists, engineers, and manufacturers are constantly creating and testing new solar PV technologies to improve the tech and increase overall efficiency to support the adoption of solar panels. This means that homeowners are left with a long list of different types of solar modules to choose from.
While you’ll find other solar panel types on the market, most solar installation companies carry either some or all of these types of solar panels. Here’s everything you need to know about the 4 most common types of solar panels available today.
Polycrystalline solar panels
Poly solar panels are built with fragments of silicon crystals that are melted together to form a single solar cell and then outfitted into a solar panel. Visually, you can recognize polycrystalline solar panels from their speckled blue shade, and they also have very straight edges and hard corners.
Poly panels are one of the most common types of solar panels available right now since they’re one of the easiest to manufacture, leading to a lower cost overall. They are a good choice for most run-of-the-mill residential solar projects, with efficiency ratings that will ensure that a home is powered as long as the sun is shining.
However, the downside to using poly panels is that they don’t do as well in hotter temperatures, have lower efficiency than their monocrystalline counterparts overall, and are also usually a bit larger than the other types of solar panels you’ll learn about in this list.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
In the case of monocrystalline solar panels, each solar cell is made of a single crystal of cell. The crystals are grown in cylindrical log shapes and sliced perpendicular to their length into wafer-thin discs. Each circular disc is subsequently shaped into a hexagonal cell. This way, the hexagonal cells fit together in a honeycomb structure without any space between adjacent cells.
- They have high power generation efficiency
- Solar panels require less space
- Do not easily lose their power generation efficiency at high temperatures
- Black panels seamlessly blend into the background (shingles, foliage, and roof)
- Have a long life
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline solar panels are created by melting together innumerable silicon crystals. Generally, silicon is extracted through a less meticulous process, which leaves it highly fragmented. To unify the fragments into individual silicon cells, the silicon is melted and amalgamated into cubes. These cubes are then sliced into square wafers. These square solar cells have a distinctive blue color to them.
- Their lower solar power generation efficiency means that you need more solar panels, which occupy more space
- Less sustainable production
- Their power generation efficiency drops at higher temperatures, such as during noon and summer
- Have a short product life
Choosing the Better Option
Solar installers often peddle low-quality polycrystalline solar cells to keep the costs low. However, their short life, low energy efficiency, and low heat tolerance leave the customers shortchanged in the long run. But, by then, it will be too late.
Most trusted solar companies exclusively offer monocrystalline solar panels to their customers. They produce more power, occupy smaller space, and have a longer life.
Here at Green Power Energy, we solely offer monocrystalline solar cells with a 25-year warranty, which usually lasts as long as 30-40 years. In comparison, polycrystalline solar panels reach the end of life in 10-15 years.
Consumers are strongly advised to choose monocrystalline solar panels for their home solar system.
If you would like to speak with one of our solar experts on anything we have highlighted in this blog feel free to contact us here.
Utility-Scale Solar Installation
Available in many sizes, utility-scale installations are designed with maximum output in mind, and they produce electricity energy to power multiple buildings.
The canopy installation epitomizes the phrase “double duty.” These installations are similar to ground-mounted ones, but in this case, the panels are lifted higher up, allowing them to serve as both power generators and shade providers in the form of carports, walkway covers, and more.
Which Option is Right For You?
These methods above are just a few of the installation options available today, and as technology progresses, the list of choices is sure to grow. As they do, SolarTyme looks forward to continuing to lead the pack in innovative solar solutions for both homes and businesses in the mid-Atlantic.
To learn more about the installation options for solar panels we offer, please call us 804-214-7370 today or fill out the form on the Contact Us page.
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What is a Solar Panel?
A solar panel, sometimes called a PV panel, is a device that converts light from the sun into electricity that can be used to power electrical loads.
Solar panels consist of numerous photovoltaic (PV) cells linked together to make up a panel. Each cell is composed of layers of silicon, phosphorous (which provides the negative charge), and boron (which provides the positive charge).
When sunlight touches the surface of the solar panel, the packets of energy from the sun (known as “photons”) are absorbed by the PV cells. This causes the cells to charge and start vibrating. Then it generates the energy allowing free electrons to be released into the electric field and pulled into a directional current.
This is called the “Photovoltaic Effect”, which creates the current that produces green electricity. The electricity the panels produces is then passed through an inverter into an alternating current fed into your home electrical system.
Aside from producing electricity for residential purposes, solar panels can also be used for various applications, including remote power systems for cabins, telecommunications equipment, and remote sensing.
Types of Solar Panels
Different types of solar panels serve different needs and purposes. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand the distinctions before making a decision.
There are four types of solar panels available in the market which includes Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline, Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC), and Thin-Film Solar Panels.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Monocrystalline solar panels are the oldest and most developed of the four types. It is the most commonly used in rooftop solar panel installations because of its power capacity and efficiency.
As its name suggests, these panels are composed of single (mono) crystal (crystalline) silicon solar cells. They are made by forming pure silicon into bars and cut into wafers. During this process, the cell edges are cut off to produce more electricity and then organized to form a solar panel.
When fully formed, monocrystalline panels are easy to recognize. They resemble squares with rounded corners and have a signature black color.
Because they are made from pure silicon, monocrystalline solar panels have a high power output, occupy less space, and last the longest. Of course, this also means they are the most expensive type. Another advantage is that they are slightly less affected by high temperatures compared to other types of solar panels.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
These panels are also called “multi-crystalline” panels because they are made from many crystal fragments unlike monocrystalline panels which are made of only one crystal.
These fragments are melted and shaped into squares, leading to limited waste production because they do not need to be cut. The easier production process also means that they are an affordable option for homeowners on a budget.
However, because they have less pure silicon, they are considered mid-range panels that have a lower efficiency and shorter lifespan compared to monocrystalline panels. They also do not hold up well under high temperatures.
Polycrystalline panels can be identified by their square shape with straight edges and shining blue color, sometimes with a marbled pattern.
Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) panels
PERC panels are a newer type of solar technology designed to be an improved, more efficient version of the traditional monocrystalline panels.
PERC solar cells have an extra layer on the backside. This extra layer reflects some of the sun’s rays back into the solar cell increasing photon absorption. Therefore, achieving higher energy conversion.
With higher efficient cells, it will take fewer panels to produce the same amount of power as traditional monocrystalline panels. This makes it an ideal option for homeowners with smaller roofs.
PERC solar panels also perform well in both high-heat and low-light environments, with about a 3% increase in efficiency compared to conventional panels.
Thin-film solar panels are thinner and have a low profile. This type of solar panel has cells that are 350 times thinner compared to the crystals used in monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels.
Instead of silicon, these panels are made from either of three semiconducting materials:
- Cadium telluride (CdTe): has the lowest carbon footprint, but the toxicity is a major environmental concern as it is not recyclable.
- Amorphous silicon (a-Si): generally shapeless and unconstructed on the molecular level.
- Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS): manufactured using a thin layer of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium on a glass or plastic sheet. It is the most efficient because of its absorption abilities.
The semiconducting material is then placed between transparent conducting layers with a glass layer on top to capture sunlight.
Compared to mono and poly crystalline panels, thin-film solar panels have lower power capacities and lesser efficiency reaching only around 11%. This means that they require a larger roof area to generate energy. They also degrade faster compared to crystalline panels and have a shorter lifespan.
Thin-film solar panels are also known for their flexibility. They are easy to mold into different applications, like shingles or roof tiles. And because they are lightweight and easy to maneuver, they are less labor-intensive and cost less to install.
Solar Panel Types by Efficiency
Most Efficient: PERC Solar Panels
On average, PERC solar panels are 5% to 6% more efficient than monocrystalline panels.
This is because of its extra passivated layer on the back which causes the cells to produce more power and prevent electron recombination. These two benefits result in increased energy conversion efficiency and decreased heat, allowing them to work better in low-light environments.
Efficient: Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Efficiency ratings of monocrystalline solar panels range from 17% to 22%.
This is because it is made from a single pure silicon crystal — making monocrystalline panels the purest out of all the solar panel types. The stable and inert properties of pure silicon also mean that these panels are extremely heat-resistant and long-lasting — capable of lasting more than 25 years.
Mid Tier: Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline panels have lower efficiency rates, typically ranging between 15% to 17%.
This is because the silicon used to make the polycrystalline cells is lower in purity compared to that used in monocrystalline cells. These panels also tend to have lower heat tolerance, performing slightly worse in high-temperature environments.
Least Efficient: Thin-Film Solar Panels
The efficiency of thin-film solar panels varies depending on the type of PV material used in the cells, but in general, they tend to range between 6% to 13% — with amorphous silicon having the lowest rating.
Thin-film panels use less semiconductor material compared to other types, making them lighter and less efficient. Their lighter build also means that they degrade faster compared to mono and polycrystalline panels, and therefore, have a shorter life span.