A Guide to Different Types of Solar Panels

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by | May 3, 2023

Sponsored Content by: Solar Fast

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Solar power is growing in popularity across the globe.

As concerns about climate change continue to mount, many individuals and communities are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and adopt more sustainable practices. Solar power is a key component of this effort, offering electricity generation without producing harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Solar power is an affordable and flexible option, making it arguably the most popular renewable energy source of the moment.

Yet, as with all advanced technologies, there is a lot to understand when you are trying to get your head around solar power. In this guide, we walk you through everything you need to know about the different types of solar panels currently available.

What is solar power?

Before we dive into the details surrounding the different types of solar panels, let’s first outline exactly what we mean by solar power.

Solar power is a type of renewable energy that is produced by converting daylight into electricity. This is achieved through the use of solar panels, which are typically made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells. When daylight hits the PV cells, it creates an electrical charge that can be harnessed and used to power homes, businesses, and other types of buildings.

Solar power is a clean and sustainable alternative to traditional energy sources, as it does not produce harmful emissions or pollutants.

Solar panels: Types

There are 4 main types of solar panels currently in use. Each varies slightly in how they work and offers its own unique benefits and challenges to consider.

Monocrystalline

As the name suggests (mono), monocrystalline PV panels are manufactured using a single crystal of silicon.

Without any connections, electricity flows through without having to overcome barriers. Combined with a  pyramid cell pattern, monocrystalline PV panels have a large surface area and are highly efficient at collecting the sun’s radiation. So, monocrystalline PV panels are incredibly efficient and durable.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, monocrystalline PV panels are also very expensive to manufacture. This makes using them a trade-off between initial cost investment and long-term cost savings due to larger yields.

Polycrystalline

Also often referred to as ‘multicrystalline’, polycrystalline solar panels are manufactured using multiple crystals of silicon in a single PV cell. This is achieved by melting several fragments of silicon together in order to form wafers which are then used in the solar panel.

Although polycrystalline panels are efficient at producing energy from the sun, their ability pales in comparison to monocrystalline PV panels. However, they are also considerably more affordable and offer a great option for those with lower budgets who still want to produce solar power.

Thin-Film

Thin-film solar panels are manufactured using thin-film solar cells. Each cell on a thin-film solar panel is created using several layers of photon-absorbing materials.

Like mono and polycrystalline solar panels, these panels use the principle of the photovoltaic effect to generate electricity.

The major benefits of thin-film solar panels are their flexibility, lightweight and low cost which makes them highly versatile. For example, thin-film solar panels are commonly used on camper vans and boats as a method of energy production.

Yet thin-film solar panels are also typically less efficient than other types of panels, which can make them a poor choice in many circumstances.

Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC)

PERC panels are a relatively new technology, but one that could drastically increase the efficiency of PV solar panels. Originally invented by scientist Martin Green and his team at the University of New South Wales in 1983, we are only now seeing this technology become affordable and viable for widespread use.

Fundamentally, PERC panels take a different approach to stop protons flying straight through the silicon without exciting the atoms. This is a reaction needed to produce electricity.

PERC increases efficiency by adding a layer to the front surface that reduces energy losses and a reflective layer to the rear surface that redirects any light that has not been absorbed.

The biggest downside to PERC is the increased manufacturing costs. The complexity of manufacturing PERC can also lead to more opportunities for manufacturing processes to go wrong.

Which type of solar panel is best?

Which solar panel is best depends on several factors ranging from budget and energy requirements to where the solar panel will be used.

For example, for small-scale solar energy needs, thin-film panels offer an affordable and flexible option. However, for large-scale solar farms, thin film wouldn’t offer the level of efficiency required for success, making polycrystalline, monocrystalline, and PERC technologies more suitable.

Typically in developed countries, such as the UK, the majority of modern domestic installations use monocrystalline panels.

Types of solar panels: Summary

It is clear that there are several viable options when it comes to solar panels. Which option is best depends widely on several factors. For example, we typically find monocrystalline panels used for domestic solar installations, along with an inverter, due to their longevity and efficiency. Commercial installations may use either monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels, depending on budget and energy requirements.

As the importance of solar continues to grow in our pursuit of environmentally friendly energy production methods we are likely to continue seeing new innovations and potentially new types of panels in the coming years.

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