Types of PV Solar Panels

Photovoltaic solar panels are the main component of your solar energy system. With the variety of PV solar panel models available on the market, it can be difficult to choose which type of panel will be suitable for your needs. We’ll explain the different types of solar panels and how they differ from each other.

How do PV Solar Panels work?

The way that PV solar panels generate electricity is based on the Photovoltaic effect, where specific materials known as semiconductors can generate electricity from sun exposure. In solar panels, photovoltaic solar cells are made up of silicon semiconductors. The sunlight particles or photons will knock the electrons free from their atoms. This movement of these electrons is the electricity that solar panels capture and turn into a direct electrical current.

What are PV solar panels made up of?

A standard PV solar panel consists of multiple parts:

  • The main parts are photovoltaic cells made of silicon. The silicon is treated with phosphorus and boron to give it positive and negative charges. These charges help them to carry an electric current. Silicon photovoltaic cells can come in monocrystalline or polycrystalline formations.
  • An exterior glass casing. This casing acts as durable protection for all of the silicon PV cells.
  • A layer of insulation and a protective back sheet. These protect the inside of the panel from heat and humidity. If the temperature is too high, the efficiency and overall output of the solar panel will go down.
  • An anti-reflective coating that increases sunlight absorption and allows the silicon cells to receive maximum sunlight exposure.

All of the components listed above are assembled to create a single PV solar panel. However, different types of PV solar panels will use different materials or structures but will function just the same.

solar panel mockup
From innovation to illumination: Navigating the diverse horizons of PV solar panels, powering possibilities under every type of sun.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels (Mono-SI)

Monocrystalline solar panels are made of monocrystalline silicon. This is a form of pure silicon crystal as a semiconductor in solar cells. This formation gives the solar panel a uniform dark color and rounded edges. The advantage of this type of solar panel is:

  • Higher efficiency rates compared to other types of solar panels. These efficiency rates can go past 20% efficiency, thanks to the purity of the silicon crystal. This allows them to operate in less than ideal conditions.
  • Monocrystalline panels are less affected by higher temperatures. As increased temperatures negatively affect the performance of electronic devices, including solar panels.
  • Monocrystalline panels can come in smaller form-factors, because of their higher output and efficiency. Making them a great choice for areas with limited space.

While these are all great advantages, there is one notable disadvantage. The cost of monocrystalline panels is higher than other types of solar panels. Due to the purity of the silicon, and their powerful performance these models come at a premium compared to other PV solar panel types on the market.

solar panel in field

Polycrystalline Solar Panels (Poly-SI)

Polycrystalline solar panels are made up of solar cells that contain fragments or shards of silicon. This type of solar cell formation is what gives polycrystalline solar panels their blue, speckled look. The main advantage is that they are cheaper and faster to produce, making them an affordable option for PV solar panels. However, it also does come with some considerable drawbacks:

  • Due to the lower purity of the solar cells, the panels have lower efficiency values of around 15%. The lower efficiency is much more noticeable when it operates in less than ideal conditions.
  • Due to the reduced efficiency, they are much more affected by higher temperatures. Which can drastically decrease their power output and lifespan.
  • With the reduced efficiency, they are much less space-efficient. Require more panels and space to match the output of a monocrystalline array.

While these downsides seem hard to accept at first, they must be noted regarding the price differences between mono and polycrystalline panels. The efficiency rates aren’t as far apart, meaning you may find that a polycrystalline array will perform well enough for your needs.

solar panel presentation
solar diagram

Thin-film solar panels

Thin-film solar panels are another type of solar panel. They stand out due to their thin and flexible construction, which allows them to flex and even roll-up. Their sizes can also be altered to suit certain needs, rather than conforming to standardized sizes. These panels are made of fine layers, with different materials compared to crystalline panels:

  • Cadmium telluride (CdTe) is among the low-cost options for thin-film panels. They also have the lowest carbon footprint. However, it must be noted that cadmium is toxic and will need specific recycling methods.
  • Amorphous silicon (a-Si) panels do include silicon like crystalline panels. However, they are shapeless and consist of much less silicon in comparison. They have the lower production cost but the lowest efficiency of the thin-films available.
  • Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) is used in thin layers which are deposited on a glass or plastic backing. These elements together have the highest efficiency of all the thin-film panels. 

The main advantages of thin-film panels are:

  • They are cheaper than crystalline panels. Due to the ease of production and economies of scale.
  • Their form makes them much easier to install.
  • Their flexibility makes them less affected by higher temperatures.
  • They can be used for alternate uses next to home energy.

However, the disadvantages of thin-film panels are:

  • Their efficiency is lower than poly and monocrystalline panels. CIGS ranges 13-15% efficiency and CdTe ranges between 9-11%. With a-Si having the lowest efficiency at 6-8%.
  • The lower efficiency makes them less space-efficient than the crystalline panel types.
  • These panel types have shorter warranties, due to their lower lifespans.

While this doesn’t make thin-film panels an appealing option for powering a home. Developments in thin-film technology are pushing the amount of efficiency these panels can reach. While thin-film cells have less efficiency than crystalline ones, they have a higher theoretical efficiency than silicon. This is why people believe that the future of solar panels will be thin-film.

With these solar panel types available on the market, you will have an idea of how these panels can fit into your solar energy system. If you’re looking to learn more about solar panels, we have articles about comparing solar panels and how they function.

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