If you're interested in installing a solar photovoltaic system to power up some or all of your home's electrical systems, part of the decision-making process will include choosing the right type of solar panel to employ. Manufacturers generally use one of three processes to produce solar panels.
To make the most of your investment, learn how each one is made, and their advantages and disadvantages.
The technology that started it all, monocrystalline panels, originated in the 1950s. The cells are cut from silicon in a cylindrical fashion, and each cell looks like a wafer. Combined, tens of wafers make up a monocrystalline panel.
Monocrystalline panels are generally constructed from high-quality silicon, giving them the highest performance rates in the industry, usually up to 21 percent. By comparison, monocrystalline panels outperform thin film by four to one. They also make wise use of space, so they offer a high power yield per square foot.
Warranties often last for 25 years, and these panels perform better in low-light conditions than their poly-counterparts.
The disadvantages of this panel type are significant:
Because they are high-quality, these panels are also costly.
Circuit break down is common when the panel is obstructed or shaded.
The manufacturing process produces significant waste.
The panels perform best in warm weather, with performance decreasing as temperatures increase.
While monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels are both manufactured from silicon, instead of cutting out wafer shapes, manufacturers pour silicon into a mold to form polycrystalline panels.
High temperature ratings are slightly lower than those for monocrystalline panels; however, the difference is minor, making these types of panels a good option for many homeowners.
The manufacturing process produces little waste, and the technology allows for a cost-effective panel.
Efficiency is lower, typically between 13 and 16 percent, which is not nearly as high as the ratings for monocrystalline panels.
The panels require more space when installed to produce the same electrical output as a panel constructed from monocrystalline.
Manufacturers construct thin-film solar panels by putting down layer upon layer of a photovoltaic element, such as amorphous silicon or organic photovoltaic cells.
The advantages of thin-film panels are many but generally don't outweigh the disadvantages. These panels are lightweight, they are generally immune to problems from shading or obstructions and low-light conditions generally don't hinder their performance. These panels are easy to mass produce, so they are an affordable option.
On the other hand, thin-film solar panels come with a number of weighty downsides, including these:
Efficiency. Most thin-film panels score very low in terms of performance, hovering between 7 and 13 percent, with an average operating efficiency of about 9 percent.
Space. These panels generally require a lot of space. For commercial applications, they often make sense. For most residential installations, where space is tight, they don't work.
Cost. Due to the number of panels required for this type of system, associated costs are also higher because you'll need to purchase more support elements, cables and so forth to accommodate the system.
Life span. In most cases, thin-film panels don't last long and quickly succumb to the effects of weatherization. You typically won't find a manufacturer offering a long warranty to go along with a thin-film panel.
For help understanding the complexities of solar panels, or to discuss your home's power needs, be sure to contact your local solar contractor.