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Did you know there are three main types of solar panels?

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

Types of solar panels and their benefits

There are three main types of solar panels that may benefit consumers: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film solar panels. Each of these solar panel types consist of different solar cells that are each manufactured in unique ways, have contrasting appearances and have differing efficiency rates. Each panel has its own advantages and disadvantages with the optimal system being dependent on consumer’s specific property, environmental and situational factors.

Monocrystalline solar panels

The solar panel cells for monocrystalline solar panels use silicon wafers as a semiconductor material to convert light into electricity. The silicon used in these solar cells are cut from single, pure crystals of silicon. Then when building the panels the wafers are congregated into rows and columns that form a rectangle which then gets covered with a glass sheet and framed together.

Monocrystalline solar panels are black in appearance. This is because of the way the light interacts with the pure silicon crystals. The back sheets and frames of the solar panel do come in a variety of colours, ranging from black, white or silver.

The efficiency and power capacity of the monocrystalline solar panels are typically the highest in comparison to other panels. They can reach efficiency rates of higher than 20 percent and as a result of this it helps generate more power. They also have a higher wattage in comparison to other panels, often with 300 or more watts, which furthers the power capacity for this type of solar panel.

For these reasons, Monocrystalline is the most expensive panel to invest in. The production process is known as the Czochralski process, which is highly intensive and requires a large quantity of silicon.

Polycrystalline solar panels

Polycrystalline solar panels are similar to monocrystalline because they too also utilise silicon wafers to make up their solar cells. They are also built in a similar way with the wafers formulated into rows and columns creating a rectangular shape that is then covered in a glass sheet panel and framed together. What makes this solar panel different is the composition of the silicon used. Polycrystalline panels are composed of lots of silicon crystal fragments that are melted together into a set mould that is then cut into wafers.

These particular solar cells often have a blue tint to them which is a result of the light reflecting off each of the silicon fragments individually within the cell. Often the frames for the panels are silver, with the backing sheets that can be either silver or white. Polycrystalline solar panel efficiency is typically between the 15 to 17 percent range. This is in fact often the cheaper solar panel option as the manufacturing process required to make the panels is less complicated because the cells are made from the silicon fragments instead of the pure silicon crystals.

Thin-film solar panels

Interestingly thin-film solar panels can be produced from a magnitude of different materials. The most common type of thin-film solar panel is made from cadmium telluride (CdTe). When constructing this model a thin layer of CdTe is positioned between two transparent conducting sheets. A glass layer is then placed on top for protection, as it all works simultaneously to best capture the sunlight.

Another popular material for the panel to be made of is amorphous silicon (a-Si). This is similar to both the composition of monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels except they are not made up of silicon wafers and instead are made of non-crystalline silicon placed on top of glass, plastic or metal.

Another type of thin-film solar panel can be made of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS). These panels have four elements between conductive layers, and then electrodes are placed at the front and back of the panel to best capture the electrical currents.

The solar cells in this panel type are 350 times thinner than the silicon crystalline wafers used in the other panels which is why they are called thin-film solar panels. But while the cells are thinner the panels themselves remain relative in size and thickness to its competition when considering the frame measurements.

Thin-film solar panels generally have the lowest efficiency and power capacity rates. The specific efficiency rates will vary depending on the main materials used but it’s usually close to the 11 percent mark.

The price point for this panel will be interchangeable depending on the main material that is utilised. CdTe is usually the cheapest whilst CIGS is often the most expensive. But because these panels are lighter in weight, sometimes the labour cost can be reduced. This price is determined based on the individual installer’s specialist pricing but as a less labour intensive installation it could contribute to the overall price point being lower in comparison to the other panel types.

What type of panel is best for your installation?

When deciphering which solar panel type will be best for your installation it will largely be determined by your specific property, environment and situation. Each of the recognised panel types have their own advantages and disadvantages associated with them and your decision should depend on your goals for the solar systems.

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