Imagine Earth as a type of solar panel or many types of solar panels.
If you could capture all of the sun's energy striking Earth's surface in one minute it would provide enough electrical energy to sustain everyone's power requirement on the planet for almost a year.
Extrapolate this figure until we have 24 hours of the sun's energy fulfilling the world energy requirement. The math for the worlds’ energy requirement is quite simple addition of all electrical power generation sources.
We humans have developed an amazing set of renewable energy sources that are cost efficient and good for the environment, albeit some are intermittent. Renewable energy sources are bound to develop into a giant industry providing power across the globe.
Solar power has been the focus of renewable talk for the last couple of years. The governments of most nations notice the benefits of various types of renewables but particularly the industry using solar PV panels. The market today is abundant with new types of solar panels and a wide range of ancillary equipment that makes up the solar power generating system.
Investing in a solar panel system can involve you investing a considerable sum for solar panels, roof racking, inverters, wires and switching chosen on the recommendation of an installer, friend or blog writer suggesting the pick of the system components' manufacturer.
You might go along as the cited benefits include a long-term saving on your electricity bill. Some other purchasers may have been enticed by the potential good of solar PV systems. The non-renewable energy sources are known for reduction in harm to the environment arising from switching away from fossil fuel for generating electricity.
Solar panels, which form an integral part of the solar system, make up about a third of your initial investment.
Fortunately for solar panel purchasers, with innovations happening in this field and fierce competition among manufacturers, the prices for solar panels have trended downwards over several years.
Categories And Types Of Solar Panels
With each innovation in the technology and design of solar panels, the newer types have become better and cheaper. This means for those people thinking to buy solar panels, the systems become more accessible as lower priced new technology panels become available.
Different types of solar panels are manufactured to cater for different user needs. The purchaser's options then become dependent upon the customer's budget, the system's component availability and financial feasibility of the completed solar installation.
We can categorise the solar panels into a single junction or multi junction panels, and according to the generation of the panel system design; first, second or third.
Solar panel types might be considered for the amount of sunlight that will be available to the panel. Solar panels have a number of photovoltaic layers to receive and process the sunlight, so the classification might be done on the basis of the panel material used, the types of solar cells and their panel efficiency.
Let’s see what the different types of solar panels are along with their pros and cons.
First Generation Solar Panels
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
A monocrystalline solar panel is made from monocrystalline silicon solar cells, where each cell is made using a single silicon crystal ingot sliver and the solar panel can be considered as using the purest form of solar silicon PV cells.
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. As the Mono panels are manufactured using a single continuous crystal structure they have very few impurities in the cell. 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 and their cost, since they demand a high price because of their numerous positive points. As these panels ore more efficient another positive is they use much less roof space to generate an amount of power.
The manufacturing process for these Mono panel cells 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.
The Mono panels were the most popular in the US for quite some time after they were initially introduced but they were displaced from their top position by significantly cheaper and technology improved polycrystalline panels.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
A polycrystalline solar panel is distinctly different from the mono solar panel in its appearance. The polycrystalline solar panels have a bluish speckled look and unlike the mono panels, the cells have squared edges. Polycrystalline panels are made using a completely different method than the monocrystalline panels.
In the manufacturing process of polycrystalline cells, molten silicon in a rectangular vat is allowed to cool down. This cooling down process gives the panel its squared edges but instead of a single silicon crystal in the vat there are multiple crystal grains within the polycrystalline solar cells.
In the residential solar system market, polycrystalline solar panels are cheaper and therefore have a market price advantage.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels Vs Monocrystalline Solar 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 newest kid in the neighbourhood and is still in a developing stage of technology and innovation. The advantages of thin film applications being they are physically flexible, low in cost and lightweight, albeit, much less efficient than the Mono and Poly cells.
They are flexible as to system size. They have been put to use in photovoltaic power stations, as an integral part of a building and 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 Amorphous Silicon materials onto a substrate. Also, Cadmium Telluride (CdTe), Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and other materials used for thin film PV material.
This process requires less material, there is no wastage and therefore, the thin film solar panels can be made in bulk for a lower 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.
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 shorter period warranties.
These panels have an efficiency rate as low as 7-9 percent only.
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. They are a good option if there is no space constraint for setting up the solar system.
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.
Third Generation Solar Panels
The third generation types of solar panels employ thin film technologies that are currently undergoing research and development to make them perfect for the growing solar market.
The typical types of solar panels differ in their appearance and in the process of generating power.
Some of these new age solar panels make use of organic materials while some use inorganic substances like Copper or Dye-sensitized solar cells.
Biohybrid Solar Cell
The technology of these types of solar panels aims to use 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 times more effective than the mono and poly solar panels.
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.
Many resellers of solar equipment advertise their hardware products by the different types of solar panels; saying they use a monocrystalline solar cell, or a polycrystalline solar cell, or they are a particular brand of solar panel.
The relative advantages of solar panels using either mono or poly cells over thin film solar cells is the average efficiency of solar panels is better. However thin film solar has a wider application to windows, vehicles and curved substrates.
The average cost of solar panels is relative to their technology and efficiency; higher prices usually being reflected by better efficiency panels.
For solar farms the financial aspect of return on investment has meant they can use the less efficient thin film option as space is not an issue as much as the cost of more brackets and support structures.
We have looked at the question of "what are solar panels made of?" and explained that there various types of solar panel relating to their solar cell structure.
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