The types of solar panels are explained below. The math for the worlds’ energy requirement is quite simple, yet fascinating at the same time.
What the sun gives out in the form of energy in one minute, is more than enough to sustain the energy requirement of the planet for almost a year.
Extrapolate this figure and we have 24 hours of the sun's energy fulfilling the world energy requirement for a whopping twenty-seven years.
When the human race has such an amazing renewable energy source at its disposal, which is cost efficient and good for the environment, it is bound to rapidly develop into a giant industry across the globe.
Solar power has been the talk of the town for the last couple of years. The governments of most nations sitting up and taking notice of the benefits of various types of solar panels. The market today is flooded with new types of solar panels and ancillary equipment in a wide range that makes up the solar system.
Investing in a solar system can involve investing a considerable sum, depending on the type of panel chosen along with the pick of the manufacturer.
But, the benefits include a long-term saving on the electricity bill and reduction in the harm caused by non-renewable energy sources to the environment.
Solar panels, which form an integral part of the solar system, take up about a third of your initial investment. However, with innovations happening every day in this field, the prices for solar panels have trended downwards over the years.
Categories And Types Of Solar Panels
With every innovation that takes place in the technology and design of new types of solar panels, they have become better and cheaper. This means various types of solar panels become more accessible and lower priced panels become attractive to people.
Different types of solar panels cater to different needs, budget availability and feasibility of the customer.
There are several ways in which we can categorize the solar panels. Depending on the amount of sunlight that will be available to the panel, they can be classified into a single junction or multijunction panels.
These panels have a different number of layers on each panel to receive and process the sunlight. If the classification is done on the basis of the material used and the types of solar cells and their efficiency of the panels, then, the categorization is according to the generation; first, second or third.
Let’s see a detailed analysis of the different types of solar panels along with their pros and cons.
First Generation Solar Panels
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
A monocrystalline solar panel is made up of monocrystalline silicon and can be termed as the purest form of solar panels.
Sporting a dark uniform look and rounded edges, these types of solar panels have a high-efficiency rate because of the purity of the silicon used in making them. Mono panels are manufactured using single continuous crystal structure giving them their name. Some of the newer monocrystalline panels in the market have an efficiency rate as high as 20 percent.
These panels rank high on the charts on a lot of parameters like efficiency, power output, usage of less space and even their cost, since they demand a high price owing to their host of plus points.
These panels were the most demanded in the US for quite some time before they were displaced from their top position by the polycrystalline panels.
The construction process of these panels is called the Czochralski method, which involves placing a silicon crystal ‘seed’ in a molten silicon vat. This seed is slowly drawn up along with the solid crystal structure of molten silicon called the ingot that forms around it.
Thereafter, this solid crystal silicon is then finely crafted into a silicon wafer by slicing it and this wafer is then made into a monocrystalline solar cell. We get large ingots in the shape of cylinders which are then cut on the four sides to derive the silicon wafers. Not only does this lead to a large wastage of silicon, but also gives it a high manufacturing cost.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
A polycrystalline solar panel is distinctly different from the mono panel in its appearance. These types of solar panels have a bluish speckled look and unlike the mono panels, they have squared edges. Polycrystalline panels are made using a completely different method than the monocrystalline panels.
Unlike the mono panels where the seed is lifted up along with silicon structure, in case of polycrystalline panels, once the seed is placed in the vat it is allowed to cool down. This cooling down process gives the panel its edges and the grains in the polycrystalline solar cells.
In the residential solar system market, polycrystalline solar panels are cheaper and thus have a market price advantage.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels Vs Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Price point- A simpler process than its counterpart makes polycrystalline panels cheaper and that is one factor which proves as an advantage for them, in the case of customers who are on a budget.
Lifespan- One of the drawbacks of polycrystalline panels is that they cannot withstand extremely hot temperatures, which lowers their lifespan, unlike monocrystalline panels.
Efficiency- Polycrystalline solar panels have an efficiency rate lower than that of monocrystalline panels.
Space efficiency- The major factor which serves as the deciding factor for the homeowner when it comes to choosing between the two types of solar panels is the optimum use of space available. Power outputs in both the cases are the same, the difference being only in the fact that monocrystalline solar panels offer more space efficiency.
Aesthetics- Monocrystalline solar panels offer a more aesthetic and uniform black look, as opposed to the speckled bluish polycrystalline panels.
You can watch a video illustrating the differences between the two types of panels in the video below
Second Generation Solar Panels
Thin Film Solar Cells
A thin film solar cell is the new kid on the block and is still in a nascent stage of technology and innovation.
They are primarily put to use in photovoltaic power stations, as an integral part of a building or in small size solar systems. The manufacturing process of these types of solar panels is relatively easier and involves depositing one or multiple films of photovoltaic materials like Amorphous Silicon, Cadmium Telluride (CdTe), Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) or Dye-sensitized solar cells onto a substrate.
This process requires less material, there is no wastage and therefore, they can be made in bulk at a lesser price.
A unique feature offered by these cells is their flexibility which makes it possible to use these cells in multiple applications. Thin film solar cells are less affected by high temperatures. One of the main deterrents in using these cells is that they require a lot of space which becomes a problem for most homeowners going in for residential solar system installations.
When it comes to comparing the lifespan of thin film solar cells with that of poly or mono panels, they rank lower than these two and have short period warranties.
These panels have an efficiency rate as low as 7-9 percent only.
They are a good option if there is no space restraint for setting up the solar system.
Third Generation Solar Panels
These types of solar panels employ thin film technologies but are currently undergoing development and research to make them perfect for the ripe solar market.
They differ in many ways from the typical types of solar panels in their appearance and in the process of generating power.
Some of these new age panels make use of organic materials while some use inorganic substances like Cadmium.
Biohybrid Solar Cell
The technology of these types of solar panels aims to utilize the photosystem and recreate the natural process of photosynthesis for energy generation. A lot the materials that are being used to make this type of cell are similar to those being used in a typical solar panel.
However, this process which involves combining multiple layers of photosystem to convert chemical energy to electrical energy by using sunlight is touted to become almost a thousand time more effective than the mono and poly solar panels.
Cadmium Telluride Solar Cell (CdTe)
Cadmium Telluride solar cells use technology which produces solar cells at a lower cost as compared to its counterparts. The main aim behind using solar-powered technology is to protect the environment. This type of solar panel does that best as the manufacturing process of these cells requires a very little amount of water for production.
The payback time for these cells is also less than a year. One feature that makes Cadmium Telluride solar cells a little less attractive is its toxicity if ingested or inhaled.
Concentrated PV Cell (CVP and HCVP)
Their best feature is their efficiency rate which is as high as 41%, making them the most efficient among the photovoltaic system. Concentrated PV cells use lenses and curved mirrors which focus sunlight onto small multi-junction solar cells that are extremely efficient.
They also use solar trackers and even a cooling system sometimes which enhances their efficiency. However, the CVP solar panels produce their optimum efficiency levels only if they are facing the sun at a perfect angle. This is where the inbuilt solar tracker inside the solar panel comes in handy as it follows the sun.
As a homeowner, you not only need to consider the advantages, disadvantages, and features to select the best type of solar panel but also the manufacturer making them.
Almost all manufacturers today are into the production of both monocrystalline as well as polycrystalline panels.
As of today, the top three solar manufacturers are Trina Solar, JinkoSolar, and Canadian Solar across the globe according to the market share owned by them.
The top U.S solar installation companies are Sunrun and Vivint Solar while the leading solar panel makes in the U.S includes names like SunWorld and SolarPower.