Main Solar Panel Types and Purposes

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solar panel types

The solar industry has expanded. While lots of research still goes into solar panel development, an equal amount of research goes into the supply side of the equation so these products can become even more efficient.

Each solar panel has different efficiency levels and uses. Let’s review some of these photovoltaic panels and explore what makes them different from each other.

Common Factors Used to Determine Solar Panel Quality

The solar policy, peak sun hours in the area, energy needs of the house, and available space all influence the best type of solar panel for the situation. However, when determining quality, most look at the efficiency and wattage of the solar panel.

Solar panels with higher efficiency gather more energy per cell, which often means these solar panels take up less space. A solar panel with the same wattage, but higher efficiency, will fit better on roofs with limited space. 

However, just because a solar panel has a higher efficiency rating doesn’t mean it will produce more per solar panel. Customers need to pay attention to both the wattage and efficiency of the solar panel to determine whether it’s a superior product.

Difference Between Three Typical Residential Solar Panel Types

Those considering installing photovoltaic solar on their home have three main solar panel types to consider. These include monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film solar panels. Each of these solar panels types underwent rigorous testing and has become regularly used in the solar industry.

While we have our preferences, which one works best depends on the homeowner’s needs. Customers should look at all the pros and cons of each solar panel type to determine which best suits their project.

Pros and Cons of Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline panels use a pure silicon crystal called an ingot. Because the efficiency and wattages of these solar panels typically outperform other solar panel types, they have become the most popular choice. 

Monocrystalline cells have efficiencies as high as 26.7 percent. The wattage per solar panel can reach over 300 watts with ease, meaning each solar panel can produce more in less space. However, they also often cost more because of the quality and quantity of the materials used.

A Look at What Goes Into Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline technology has become the second most commonly used in the residential solar market. Its popularity has increased among low-price-point installers. These installers like these solar panels because they cost less, and consumers who don’t know the downfalls or only care about getting the lowest price often purchase them.

These solar panels use fragmented silicon crystals, which reduces costs. However, it also decreases the efficiency of the cells, which means a solar array with these solar panels will need more than a system using monocrystalline technology. 

The efficiency of a polycrystalline panel has an average of 15 percent, while monocrystalline often have efficiencies of about 20 percent.

Commonly Used Thin Film Solar Panels: Amorphous, CdTe, CIGS, Organic

The solar market has several thin-film panel options with different conductor materials. The material used to conduct electricity determines the solar panel’s efficiency.

Amorphous Solar Panels

Amorphous solar panels use non-crystalline silicon as their conductor. Manufacturers deposit a thin layer of the conductor on a substrate, which means they use less toxic materials per solar panel. Common substrates include glass, metal, and plastic.

Because these amorphous panels have more give, the cells aren’t as likely to crack. However, the efficiency of the solar panels isn’t as high either.

Amorphous solar panels have an average efficiency of seven percent. Interested parties would need far more space to match the wattage of one traditional crystalline silicon panel.

Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) Solar Panels

To create this thin-film solar technology, manufacturers use several layers of cadmium telluride. These photovoltaic panels have efficiencies between 10 and 11 percent. Many have concerns about the toxicity of this conductive material. However, they also have lower efficiency.

Copper Gallium Indium Diselenide (CIGS) Solar Panels

In this thin film, manufacturers put copper gallium indium diselenide (CIGS) between conductive materials, which then go on a substrate. CIGS has efficiencies that can reach as high as 20 percent. However, it does cost more to produce these solar panels than a traditional crystalline silicon panel, making it unpopular with most solar installers in the Western U.S.

Organic Photovoltaic Cells

Organic photovoltaic cells use conductive organic polymers or small organic molecules as conductive material with efficiency ratings of about 11 percent. Organic PV cells also don’t last as long as other solar panel options.

New Types of Solar Panels

As a relatively new industry, the solar industry has new products coming to the market. These products claim to have better efficiencies and aesthetic appeal. However, these products aren’t always ready for the general public.

Graphene Enhanced Solar Panels

Graphene has a layer of carbon atoms in a repeating hexagon-shaped pattern. Some of the positives about this material include being highly conductive, flexible, and transparent. However, it’s not very good at collecting the electrical current produced.

Graphene-based solar panels aren’t commercially available. However, Graphene enhanced solar panels have seen some success. These solar panels use a Graphene film to increase the light transmission of the glass.

Clear Solar Panels: Perovskite, Infrared-Absorbing Cells and Quantum Dots

Skyscrapers use large amounts of energy. The heat generated in the summer and drained in the winter through the countless windows runs the energy bills even higher. 

With clear solar panels, however, these windows can help the building generate its electricity. Three transparent solar technologies that have made some headway include perovskite, infrared-absorbing cells, and quantum dots.

Perovskite Solar Panels

Perovskite (pe·​rov·​skite) solar technology has become a hot news topic in the solar industry. This technology uses an almost transparent conductor called perovskite to generate electricity. 

While the highest efficiencies for Perovskite technology have topped out at 25 percent, a study from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville have discovered how to slow photons down using hot-carrier solar cells. They predict that combining perovskite technology with a hot-carrier device could help solar panels reach 66 percent efficiency.

Infrared-Absorbing Solar Cells

Infrared-absorbing cells also show some promise. This technology recaptures heat lost by solar cells and emits it as light in a different wavelength so the solar panel can capture it. It’s predicted that this technology could boost solar panel efficiency to 80 percent.

Quantum Dot Solar Panels

Quantum dot windows have microscopic semiconductor material embedded in the glass. The semiconductor generates a current, which transmits to solar strips for collection. The efficiency of this technology reached 16.6% efficiency during lab testing in 2020 and shows promise. 

Transparent solar technology has become a viable option. Currently, however, it’s not a viable option for residential use.

Taking a Look at Solar Shingles

Solar shingles have received lots of hype over the last couple of years. Most solar shingles have efficiencies between 10 and 20 percent, with only 13 to 63 watts per shingle. The average cost to install solar shingles also varies widely. 

While many individuals like the idea of solar shingles, it doesn’t work for most homes. Homeowners need to make sure they meet the added criteria of solar shingles.

Non-Residential Solar Panels

Not all solar panels work for residential use. Taking a look at these different solar options and their intended use will help you determine which option best meets your needs.

Handheld Solar Panels: Solar Power Banks

Handheld solar panels make a great addition to camping gear or emergency preparedness. However, they aren’t the best solution for powering a home.

Handheld solar panels use thin-film technology, and they’re small. This combination means that they won’t power much.

A typical power bank produces between 10,000mAh and 25,000mAh with about 5 volts. The total capacity of the solar power bank ranges between 50 and 125 watts, which works great for charging a phone or other small electronics, but not much else.

NASA Solar Panels

NASA has created a solar panel that has phenomenal efficiency ratings. These solar panels have a thin layer of selenium, which bonds silicon substrate and thin-film multi-junction wafers.

Using these three conductors together has increased panel efficiency to 40 percent. However, these solar panels haven’t passed the testing stage yet, so they aren’t accessible to the public. Even if the public had access to them, 99 percent of consumers couldn’t afford the technology, at least right off the bat.

Portable Solar Panels

Portable solar panels can enhance your camping experience. Some portable solar panels can fit on a backpack. These work great for charging a couple of small devices like a phone, laptop, or tablet.

Other portable solar panels come slightly smaller than residential solar panels allowing them to transport more easily. However, they won’t power a home.

These photovoltaic panels typically produce between 100 to 200 watts. Enough to charge a solar generator or a battery backup option like Go Solar Group’s 2nd Level of Portable Battery Backup, which can store enough electricity to keep a fridge and a couple of other appliances running.

Solar Panels for RVs

Because of the structure and limited space of RVs, typical crystalline solar panels won’t fit on the roof. However, you can install smaller solar panels permanently to the RV. Solar professionals who specialize in RV solar installations can help individuals interested in adding solar to their recreational vehicles.

Go Solar Group specializes in residential installations. Those looking for a superior monocrystalline solar array for their home with the option of solar backup need to look no further. However, we do encourage customers to compare prices and products.


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