Comprehensive Guide to Solar Panel Types

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Solar energy is a fast-growing industry. Over the past decade alone, the solar industry has increased its capacity from 5,000 MW (2010) to almost 90,000 MW (2020). The push for renewable forms of energy will continue to increase, but what do we know about the types of solar panels. Since the first solar panel made in the 1950s, solar panel technology continues to grow its capabilities and regularly change its style. Let’s look at how solar panels work, and the different solar panel types out today.

How Solar Panels Work

Solar cells, the parts within a solar panel itself, utilize the many photons coming from the sun. Our planet receives enough solar energy to create approximately 1,000 watts of power per square meter. That’s quite a bit. The issue is, and this is where you hear about the panels’ efficiency, solar cells can only harness 18% – 26% of that energy. Your average solar panel will get you at least 20% of that potential energy. That may not seem like much, but most people can power their homes from 16 – 20 panels, roughly a 192ft2 – 204ft2 area.

Back to the solar cells. The cells consist of a few different layers composed of different materials, such as silicon, boron, and phosphorus. When the sunlight’s photons contact this material, the boron produces a positive charge while the phosphorus generates a negative charge. The silicon wafers become the semiconductor. The silicon’s electrons are “knocked out” by the photons, pushed into the solar cells generated electrical field creating a directional flow of current. After all, electricity is just electrons flowing through our wires.

Voila! You have a moving current directed and changed to AC electrical current for our homes to utilize. Simple, right?

Solar Panel Types

Solar panel designs offer four basic types. There have been different varieties throughout the years, but today you see monocrystalline, polycrystalline, PERC, and thin-film panels.

Monocrystalline solar panels

The panels come from a single silicon crystal cut into several wafers. That’s why you can hear them referred to as single-crystal panels. Their use of pure silicon in manufacturing makes these the most space-efficient and longest-lasting solar panels. However, they have a higher price tag due to the amount of silicon used and wasted in their production.

Polycrystalline solar panels

These multiple silicon crystal panels are created from silicon fragments melted down and poured into a mold. You will notice the squares within the panel when you look at it, but know these are the most affordable solar panels out there. Unfortunately, they are not as efficient as monocrystalline panels because they are less pure in silicon and less efficient in high temperatures.

Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) panels

One of the newest types of solar panels, PERC, improves upon the monocrystalline solar cell. Manufacturers added a passivation layer in the rear surface of the cell that enhanced solar cell efficiency via:

  • Reflecting light back into the cell increasing solar absorption.
  • Reducing electron recombination, which hinders electron flow
  • Protecting against wavelengths that heat cells and reduce the efficiency

PERC solar panels are great for getting a good deal of solar energy generation in a smaller area.

Thin-film solar panels

Thin-film panels are a flexible thin sheet of solar cells that do not require the previously mentioned solar panel types’ mounting systems. These “panels” consist of Cadmium telluride (CdTe), Amorphous silicon (a-Si), and Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) materials, and they are pretty easy to mount and use relatively little material. It would seem like they are the better option. However, between the toxicity in the materials and inferior efficiency, 15% or less, these panels are rarely used today. They were an earlier option in solar panel development that has phased out of mainstream use. Most installers will use one of the first three panel types.

Bifacial vs Monofacial

Another type, or characteristic, of solar panels to know is bifacial and monofacial. The default model for the panel types above is monofacial. That means, the solar cells inside the panels only collect solar radiation from one side. This side is the one installers orient to the best direction and angle maximizing solar radiation exposure. However, bifacial panels come with an open or transparent back that allows the solar panel to collect solar energy from both the front and back of the panel. This ability to use direct and indirect sunlight increases the output of bifacial panels in comparison to monofacial panels, especially when using PERC technology.

Now, you don’t use bifacial in every scenario. Homeowners usually use rooftop solar systems for their home and some companies have to attach solar panels to the side of their office buildings due to their location. However, if you have an open area on your property or space on top of your flat roof building and great ground albedo levels, then bifacial panels are best for you. Bifacial setups are also recommended if traditional monofacial panels can’t get owners the desired output.

Solar Panel Types Comparison

Each type of solar panel offers different capabilities, so let’s put them side-by-side to compare their efficiency, price tag, and power capacity.

solar panel type efficiency chart - Option One Solar

Solar Panel BrandThis data shows that the PERC solar panels are the new champion. Still, many monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels will make up your larger solar arrays (utility grade). Either way, professional solar installers can analyze your unique situation and help you make the best decision.

Just like many items today, different solar panel brands are synonymous with quality and appeal. Manufacturers such as Trina, REC, LG, Panasonic, and Canadian Solar are members of solar’s top-tiered panel class, especially for home installs. They provide the high-end side of quality, capacity, durability, and efficiency. That is why Option One Solar only carries these brands in order to provide its customers with the best in system quality. Get started today with a first-class solar system for your home.

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