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The Different Kinds of Solar Panels

Jessica PirroDecember 30, 20194090

When it comes to solar panels there are a few popular options that are available to homeowners. In this article, we are going to look at three of the most popular solar panels used for both residential and commercial solar panel installations. Most of today’s solar-powered systems will use one of three kinds of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline (often called multi-crystalline), and thin-film. These kinds of solar panels vary in how they’re made, the appearance, the performance of the solar panels, the cost of solar, and the solar panel installations that each is best suited for.

Depending on the kind of solar panel installation that you’re considering, one option might be more suitable than others!

The Major Types of Solar Panels

The different options of solar panels for your most typical solar-powered systems are going to be monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film solar panels. Each of the solar panels is going to come with their specific advantages and disadvantages, and the type of solar panels that are best suited for your solar panel installation is going to depend on a few specific factors to your property and desired solar-powered system characteristics.

Solar Panel Type

Advantages

Disadvantages

Monocrystalline

- High efficiency of a solar panel

- Aesthetically pleasing

- The higher cost of solar

Polycrystalline

- Low cost of solar

- The lower efficiency of a solar panel

Thin-film

- Portable and flexible

- Lightweight

- Aesthetically pleasing

- Lowest efficiency of a solar panel

 

What are the Different Kinds of Solar Panels Made Of?

To produce solar electricity, solar cells are made from a semiconducting material that is going to convert the light into solar electricity. The most common material used as a semiconductor during the solar cell manufacturing process is silicon.

Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels have solar cells made of silicon wafers. To build monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panels, wafers are assembled into rows and columns to form a rectangle, covered with a glass sheet, and framed together.

While both of these kinds of solar panels have solar cells that are made from silicon, monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels vary in the composition of the silicon itself. Monocrystalline solar cells are going to be cut from a single, pure crystal of silicon. Alternatively, Polycrystalline solar cells are composed of fragments of silicon crystals that are melted together in a mold before being cut into wafers.

Thin-Film Solar Panels

Unlike monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, thin-film solar panels are made from quite a few different materials. The most prevalent kinds of thin-film solar panels are going to be made from cadmium telluride (CdTe). To make this type of thin-film solar panel, the manufacturers place a layer of CdTe between transparent conducting layers that help capture the sunlight. This kind of thin-film technology also has a glass layer on the top for protection,

Thin-film solar panels can also be made from amorphous silicon (a-Si), which is similar to the composition of monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels. Though these thin-film solar panels use silicon in their composition, they are not made up of solid silicon wafers. Rather, they’re composed of non-crystalline silicon that is laced on top of glass, plastic, or metal.

The Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) solar panels are another popular type of thin-film technology. CIGS solar panels have all four elements placed between two conductive layers (i.e. glass, plastic, aluminum, or steel), and electrodes are placed on the front and the back of the material to capture electrical currents. 

What do the Different Solar Panels Look Like?

The difference in materials and production cause differences in appearance between each type of solar panels:

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

If you see solar panels with black solar cells, it’s most likely a monocrystalline solar panel. These solar cells appear black because of how the light interacts with the pure silicon crystal.

While the solar cells themselves are black, monocrystalline solar panels have a variety of colors for their back sheets and frames. The back sheet of the solar panel will most often be black, silver, or white, while the metal frames are typically black or silver.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Unlike monocrystalline solar cells, polycrystalline solar cells tend to look blue, due to the light reflecting off the silicon fragments in the solar cell in a different way than it reflects off a pure monocrystalline silicon wafer.

Similarly to monocrystalline, polycrystalline solar panels have different colors for back sheets and frames. Most often, the frames of the polycrystalline solar panels are silver, and the back sheets are either silver or white.

Thin-Film Solar Panels

The biggest differentiating aesthetic factor when it comes to thin-film solar panels is how thin and low-profile the technology is. As their name suggests, thin-film solar panels are often thinner than other types of solar panels. This is because the solar cells within the solar panels are roughly 350 tunes thinner than the crystalline wafers used in monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels.

It’s important to keep in mind that while the thin-film solar cells themselves might be a lot thinner than the traditional solar cells, and entire thin-film solar panels may be similar in thickness to a monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panel if it includes a thick frame. There are adhesive thin-film solar panels that like as-close-as possible to the surface of a roof, but there are more durable thin-film solar panels that have frames up to 50 millimeters thick.

As for the color of thin-film solar panels, you can get them in both blue and black hues, it will all just depend on what they are made from.

The Type of Solar Panels Best For you Solar Panel Installation

As you begin to select the solar panels that you want for your solar-powered system, much of your decision will depend on the specifics of your property and situation. Monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film solar panels each have their advantages and disadvantages, and the final decision of if you should move forward with depends on your property and your goals for the solar panel installation.

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