Installing solar panels is a great way to conserve energy and lower utility bills. However, it is important to know the differences in the manufacture of solar panels to choose the most efficient for each case, whether commercial or residential.
What are the most efficient types of solar panels?
How is the efficiency of solar panels determined?
There are two factors that determine the efficiency of solar panels: the efficiency of the photovoltaic cells and the total efficiency of the panel. PV cell efficiency is a result of cell design and silicon type, while cell layout and configuration, along with panel size, are the basis of overall panel efficiency.
The total efficiency of the panel is determined by the maximum power in standard test conditions divided by the total surface area of the panels (in meters).
There are a number of factors that can affect efficiency , including temperature, cell type, and irradiance level, which is the rate at which sunlight reaches the panels.
The color of the backsheet that protects the panels can also affect efficiency. For example, although black may seem more attractive for a black protective film, the color absorbs more heat. This leads to higher temperatures and therefore a reduction in overall conversion efficiency, so other colors like dark blue, green or even patterns might be a better choice for your solar panels.
The main types of solar panels
There are three types of solar panels that are most commonly used in commercial or residential installations: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film.
Below is a brief explanation of each of them, as well as for which applications they are most useful:
Monocrystalline Solar Panels: Best for Efficiency
Monocrystalline solar panels are often touted as the most efficient option and are therefore best when installed for larger power systems on commercial and residential properties. However, panel sizes vary, so mono can also be used in smaller installations.
- They are made of high-purity silicon, which increases their efficiency by between 15% and 22%.
- They do not require as much space as polycrystalline and thin film panels.
- Monocrystalline panels can last more than 25 years due to the stable and inert properties of silicon.
- Its price is high due to its complex construction
- Not a good option for cold climates as snow can damage the solar cells and cause the system to fail.
The best brands of monocrystalline solar panels : SunPower, LG and Panasonic.
Polycrystalline solar panels: The best for its cost
They are built from multiple crystals of pure silicon that are fused together. However, more crystals are not always better. Polycrystalline panels are less efficient than their monocrystalline counterparts.
However, they are manufactured in a variety of wattages from 5W to 250W and beyond, making them a good choice for both small and large-scale installations.
- The process to create them is simpler, so they are less expensive than monocrystalline
- Less waste after the casting process, so they are better for the environment
- They are tough and durable like monocrystalline solar panels, making them a good choice for homeowners on a budget.
- Lower efficiency (between 13% and 17%) because the silicon used to manufacture them is of lower purity.
- They take up more space to produce the same level of power as monocrystalline cells.
The best brands of polycrystalline photovoltaic solar panels : TrinaSolar and YingliSolar
Thin film solar panels: The best to power transportation
Although they are light and easy to move, thin-film photovoltaic cells – which are not made of silicon – are the least efficient type of solar panel. They are used only for installations that do not need to produce too much energy; flexibility and portability are the two main factors with them.
- They are easier and less expensive to produce.
- Excellent for solar transportation applications, such as panels that are installed on the roofs of buses and refrigerated trucks .
- They are not a good choice for rooftops as they require a large space to harness enough solar energy to produce it.
- They are weaker, so they wear out more quickly than crystalline panels. There are only short warranties for thin-bed panel installations, something homeowners should be aware of especially based on how long they plan to stay in their homes.
The best thin-film solar panel brands : Stion and Solopower
What should be considered when buying solar panels?
Cost. Solar panels can be expensive up front, which is why many homeowners don’t take the decision to go solar lightly . The Center for Sustainable Energy reports that installation can cost, on average, between $15,000 and $25,000.
Polycrystalline solar panels are considered the most cost-effective option in solar panel installations, but it depends on the type of panels and how many are needed for the installation.
Although the initial investment in solar panels can be paid back over the years, it may take longer to get your money back depending on a number of factors, such as energy use and weather conditions; the latter can affect the operation of solar panels.
Location. Solar energy , of course, is more efficient in places where there is more exposure to the sun. Residential and commercial buildings in Southern California, for example, would benefit more from solar power than those in the cloudy Pacific Northwest. However, even places that are not the sunniest can benefit from solar power , as cooler temperatures will cause the panels to generate more power.
Energy use. If your energy bills are high, it makes sense to install solar panels to reduce costs and recoup your initial investment over time. However, if your energy consumption is minimal, installing solar panels may not be worth the expense. It is also important to keep in mind that maximum efficiency is only achieved under optimal conditions and only during the beginning of the panel’s useful life. As solar panels age and are exposed to the elements, they start to become less efficient.