Solar panel technology has improved substantially in recent years. As advancements continue in the world of solar panel technology, customers have more choices when it comes to the type of solar panel they want to install on their building. More choices are always good, but only when you can fully understand the pros and cons of each choice. Choosing the right solar panel for you might hinge on the installation cost or the power efficiency, which is why you’ll want to know the qualities of each option.
We here at NM Solar Group want to spread as much knowledge about solar panels and solar energy as we can in the hopes that understanding it better will make people see how useful it is. This guide to the different types of solar panels will help you become more acquainted with the most common panel options that you have.
The Three Major Types of Solar Panels
For our purposes, we’ll focus just on the three most common types of solar panels. Those three types are monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film panels. Each of these panels has a slightly different design that makes them useful for different purposes. While there are other forms of solar panels, these three make up the bulk of commercially used panels out there today. The right one for your specific purposes will depend on a few factors, such as budget, available space, and weight requirements.
If we take each of these solar panel types down to their basics, you can get a better idea of when you might use one over the other. Monocrystalline panels perform the best out of the three, but they are large and tend to be more expensive. Polycrystalline panels are more affordable but not quite as efficient at generating power as monocrystalline. Thin-film panels are the most flexible, allowing us to place them in locations where other panels wouldn’t fit, but they also don’t generate as much power as monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels. We’ll dive a little deeper into each type later on.
How Are They Made?
Solar panels make electricity using cells made up of a semiconducting material that takes in light and converts it into electricity. The semiconducting material isn’t always the same between different solar panels, but the vast majority of mono and polycrystalline panels use silicon as their material.
Mono and Polycrystalline
Mono and polycrystalline solar panels have silicon wafers arranged in columns and rows in a rectangular formation. These wafers get covered with glass and set into a frame. The difference between the two types lies in the makeup of the silicon crystal inside the wafers. To make monocrystalline cells, you need to cut the cells from a single, pure silicon crystal. For polycrystalline cells, we use fragmented silicon crystals instead. The fragments melt together inside of a mold, and the wafers get cut from the mold.
Thin-film panels use a wider variety of semiconducting materials. Cadmium telluride is the most common material you’ll find in use inside thin-film panels. To create these thin-film panels, we use a layer of glass on top of two transparent conducting layers, in the middle of which is a layer of cadmium telluride. Two other major thin-film panels exist: amorphous silicon and copper indium gallium selenide (otherwise known as a CIGS panel).
What Does Each Panel Look Like?
If you plan to use these solar panels on your home or commercial building, it’s important that you know what they look like. You can usually tell what kind of panel one is at a glance, as they have noticeable physical differences that you might want to consider before you get them installed.
Monocrystalline panels have the darkest cells, close to a pure black. As light hits the panels and the silicon crystal within them, your eye registers the cells as black rather than any noticeable color. There is also the frame that the panel is set into, which is usually silver, and the back sheet, which can be silver, white, or black.
Polycrystalline panels look different than monocrystalline because the silicon crystals inside of them are fragmented. This makes light bounce off in different ways than if it had hit a solid crystal. Usually, polycrystalline panels have a blueish tint to them because of this.
The biggest difference between the look of thin-film panels and mono and polycrystalline panels is right there in the name. Thin-film panels are much thinner than their counterparts, making them much more low-profile. Cells inside of a thin-film panel can be over 300 times thinner than the crystalline cells in the other panels.
How Do They Compare in Power?
When we look at the power output of each of the major types of solar panels, monocrystalline panels come out on top in terms of electricity generated. Because they tend to be a larger size and have pure silicon crystals inside of them, monocrystalline panels are the most efficient when it comes to creating power. Polycrystalline panels aren’t far behind in terms of power generation, but you sacrifice wattage for the lower cost.
Thin-film panels are the biggest tradeoff between form and function. Thin-film panels can fit practically anywhere and are much lighter-weight than crystalline panels. However, this does mean they tend to be less efficient when it comes to wattage.
How Do They Compare in Cost?
Given that the cost of creating pure silicon crystals is rather high, monocrystalline solar panels will almost always be the most expensive option for a panel installation. The manufacturing process of polycrystalline panels is less expensive because it can reuse silicon from other sources, making the price lower for the end-user as well. When it comes to thin-film panels, the cost can vary. The cadmium telluride panels tend to be the cheapest option but choosing a CIGS solar panel will increase your costs quite a bit more.
We hope this guide to the different types of solar panels can help give you a better idea of the choices you have. If you’re on the hunt for solar panels in New Mexico, NM Solar Group is where you want to look for assistance. We have the experience and expertise to find the right solar option for whatever building you want to outfit.