Understanding the Different Types of Solar Panels

Thinking of switching to solar power?

Solar panels are excellent energy-saving models that not only reduce our dependence on fossil fuels but also its impact on the environment. But there are a variety of solar panels in the market, each with their distinguishing pros and cons.

Read more to understand how different solar panels work and which type suits your budget and home best. This article covers types of solar panels in depth, highlighting their features, design, and efficiency ratings.

Table of Contents

Different Types of Solar Panels

All types of solar panels can convert solar energy into electricity. Each panel features individual solar cells packed together.

Commonly used solar panels contain 72 and 60 cells, each with an approximate size of 2m x 1m & 1.6m x 1m respectively. Solar cells are made from thin layers of silicon, which acts as a semiconductor, and phosphorus and boron.

When photons strike the solar panel surface, they initiate an electric current that passes directly through busbars and fingers, printed on the silicon cells. In this way, solar energy helps produce electrical power in a process known as the Photovoltaic Effect.

There are three major kinds of solar panels: monocrystalline panels, polycrystalline panels, and thin-film panels. Each type has its own pros and cons, so your installation will depend on factors specific to your property and system characteristics.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline panels feature an intensive manufacturing process so they are the most expensive option. These solar cells are made using single and pure silicon crystals, in a technique known as the Czochralski process.
Monocrystalline solar panels have higher conversion efficiency, because their composition allows more electrons to move. As a result, they produce more kW/hour of solar electricity compared to polycrystalline panels.
The panels also display higher heat resistance compared to other solar panels. They also have the highest power capacity of up to 300w, owing to their single crystal configuration that allows for more output energy.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline solar panels are cheaper to produce because they occur as a result of silicon fragments combined together. Such a composition limits the amount of solar power you can produce. As a result, polycrystalline panels have lower energy efficiency compared to monocrystalline panels.
Polycrystalline solar panels are more affordable than monocrystalline solar panels because material used is less compared to the pure crystal used in monocrystalline solar panel manufacturing. Even the quantity of silicon waste produced is less, making the process simpler and more efficient.

Thin-film Solar Panels

Thin-film solar cells are lightweight and more flexible compared to traditional silicon panels, which makes them easy to install. What you pay for thin-film solar panels will largely depend on the type of material used; CdTe, amorphous silicon or CIGS solar panels.

Cadmium telluride

CdTe solar panels are the most prevalent type of thin film solar and have the lowest carbon footprint. Keep in mind that untreated cadmium can pose a threat to the environment.
To make this type of solar panel, a layer of CdTe is placed between transparent conducting layers, a configuration that helps capture sunlight. This type of thin-film technology also comes with a glass covering on the top for protection.

Copper Indium Gallium Selenide

CIGS panels are another popular type of thin-film solar panel technology. Made from depositing all four elements between two conductive layers, like glass, steel, or aluminium. This configuration increases the panels absorption abilities. The setup also includes electrodes placed on the front and the back of the material to capture electrical currents.

Amorphous Silicon

This type of thin film panel is made from amorphous silicon (a-Si), often shapeless in nature as they aren’t made up of solid silicon wafers. Rather, they’re composed of non-crystalline silicon placed atop glass, plastic, or metal surfaces.
Passivated Emitter and Rear Contact Cells (PERC) Solar Panel
PERC (passivated emitter and rear contact cells) solar panels are manufactured by adding a silicon layer on the back of the solar panel. This additional layer captures sunlight from the rear side of the panel, increasing the panel’s energy efficiency. You can also combine PERC technology with monocrystalline solar panels for the highest output.

Do Different Solar Panel Types Look Alike?

How to Recognize Monocrystalline Solar Panels?

Monocrystalline solar cells appear black because of the light transmission that occurs with pure silicon. Though the solar cells are black, the panels have a variety of colours for their frames and back sheets, often being white or silver.

What Do Polycrystalline Solar Panels Look Like?

Polycrystalline solar cells reflect light off the silicon fragments in a different way. Each solar cell tends to have a bluish hue. They also have different colours for back sheets and frames. Most often, the frames of polycrystalline panels are silver in colour, and the back sheets are either silver or white.

How are Thin-Film Solar Panels Different From Crystalline Panels?

Thin-film solar panels have a sleek profile, often slimmer than other panel types. The cells inside the panel system are 350 times thinner than crystalline wafers used in monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panel manufacturing. Thin-film panels may have a blue or black hue, depending on the type of material they’re made from.

Finding the Most Suitable Solar Panel Type

All major solar panel types; monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film panels, provide a range of sustainable options. The choice of solar panel ultimately comes down to your specific property and environmental settings. 

Solar panel systems can also differ in their application, depending on the goals of the solar project. For instance, solar panel systems for commercial or residential infrastructure, will differ in design, capacity, and energy efficiency.

For Limited Space

Homeowners looking to maximize their energy bills should consider monocrystalline solar panels, especially when you have limited space. Such panels help make the most of your physical space and ensure utility savings. If the budget permits, combining this setup with PERC panels can also help lower energy generation costs.

For Large Properties

Large properties can save on upfront electrical costs by using polycrystalline solar panels, as a bigger footprint can offset the lower panel efficiency. Thin film solar panels are ideal for commercial buildings with compact spaces and thin roofing systems. They’re excellent for areas that require flexible installation instead of rigid paneling. 

Impact of Temperature

Temperature is one of the main factors that influences a solar panel’s ability to produce energy, often resulting in loss of output for every 1°C rise over 25°C (77°F). 

While monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels have a temperature coefficient ranging between -0.3% / °C to -0.5% / °C, thin-film panels peak at -0.2% / °C. As a result, thin-film panels are best suitable for places that experience sunlight throughout the year.

Energy Efficiency Rating

  • Thin-film solar panels are 2% to 3% less efficient than traditional crystalline solar panel types.
  • Monocrystalline panels are between 15% to 20% efficient, being the most energy efficient model.
  • Polycrystalline panels are between 15% to 17% efficient, being the most cost effective option.

How to Calculate the Cost of Different Types of Solar Panels?

The cost of a solar panel is determined by its capacity, physical size, quality of materials used, warranty period, and other certifications the panel might have.

  • Monocrystalline panels carry a hefty price tag, due to their energy-intensive manufacturing process with only a 50% yield for every silicon crystal. 
  • Polycrystalline modules are cheaper because they make use of the crystal fragments leftover from monocrystalline production, which helps reduce production costs.
  • Among thin-film solar panels, CIGS is the most expensive, followed by CdTe and amorphous silicon, though thin-film modules are easier to install.

Solar panels are designed for long-term use and high performance, lasting as long as 25 years, when installed properly. Whatever type you choose to go with, make sure you speak to an expert to understand all your options.

Key Takeaways

Ready to Install New Solar Panels?

At HCB Solar, our qualified operators can help you get the most out of your solar energy system. Our licensed technicians provide solar installation services to local customers across Newcastle, Sydney, and the Hunter Valley.

As leading solar technology experts, we can configure, optimize, and install residential solar panel systems, as per your structural requirements. To access our troubleshooting services remotely, give our experts a call.

Contact us now for more information!

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