Different Types of Solar Panels: Know Them All!

solar panels on a building's façade

There are different types of solar panels that we’ll cover today, but before we being, let’s start with the basics. In 24 hours, the sun generates more power than the entire human population can use for 27 years! Solar power is also cheap, and the sun will be here as long as the earth exists. Research on how best to utilize solar power has been ongoing for some years. The efficiency of these systems keeps improving.

The solar panel is probably the most crucial feature in a solar power system. If you are thinking of utilizing solar power, you need to understand solar panels to make informed decisions during your purchase. There are different types of solar panels. Before we look at the different types of solar PV panels, let us see how they are categorized.

solar power farm
Solar panels convert the sun’s energy into electricity

How are Solar PV Panels Categorized?

The location where you will be using the solar panel is a vital determinant of the type of solar PV panel you should use. Our focus is mainly on the solar panels we use locally in our homes and businesses. However, it is essential to remember that solar panels can be used anywhere the sun shines, which means throughout the galaxy.

Solar panels are mainly categorized according to their generations. Categorization by generation usually refers to the panel’s efficiency and the material used to manufacture it. Older generation panels are less efficient than the later ones since the latter have benefited from more research and development.

Different types of solar panels alternative energy
Photos of solar panels in a snow-covered field

Here are the Different Types of Solar PV Panels

There are seven primary types of solar PV panels that we shall discuss below. We shall look at them within the context of their generations. These include: –

  1. Monocrystalline Solar Panels
  2. Polycrystalline Solar Panels (Poly-SI)
  3. Thin Film Solar Cells (TFSC)
  4. AmorphousSilicon Solar Cell (A-SI)
  5. Biohybrid Solar Cell
  6. Cadmium Telluride Solar Cell (CdTe)
  7. Concentrated PV Cell (CVP and HCVP)

1st Generation Solar Panels

These were the earliest solar panels to be distributed to the masses. They fall under two categories; monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

These are also called Mono-SI, and their primary material is monocrystalline silicon. They have a uniform dark appearance, and their edges are round in shape. These solar panels are the purest ones yet, and they reach the highest levels of efficiency of any solar panels even after many years of research. The newer versions of monocrystalline panels can reach an efficiency of 20%, which is relatively high at this juncture of the development of solar technology.

Besides trapping the most power, these panels also have relatively high power output. Space is a big issue when you are generating solar power. The more power you generate from the smallest possible space, the better. These panels occupy less space than other varieties, lasting the longest. One of the reasons they last longer than other types of panels is their tolerance to heat. These advantages also mean that these panels are the most expensive, but they are worth every dime you pay.

Photo of Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Lamiot, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Polycrystalline Solar Panels (Poly-SI)

This is the other type of solar panel that falls under the first generation. Unlike monocrystalline panels, which have a dark color, these have a speckled blue appearance. They have squares, and their angles are not rounded.

Manufacturing these panels involves melting raw silicon. These panels are easier to manufacture than their monocrystalline counterparts. However, their efficiency ranges at 15%, significantly lower than monocrystalline solar panels.

Also, since heat affects them more adversely, polycrystalline solar panels don’t last as long as their monocrystalline counterparts. The power output between mono and polycrystalline panels is more or less the same. This means that the two will give you the same outcome where power is concerned. Your choice between the two 1st generation solar panels may ultimately be determined by your budget or the particular circumstances in which you are operating. Poly-SI also has a little less space efficiency.

A photo of Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Mariojan photo, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

2nd Generation Solar Panels

These type of solar panels are primarily used in photovoltaic power stations, and they can be installed for buildings. The solar PV panels can also be used for smaller power generation purposes such as lights, cellphone chargers, etc. These panels are known as thin-film solar cells. The two that fall under this category are Thin-Film Solar Cells and Amorphous Silicon cells.

Thin-Film Solar Cells (TFSC)

These types of solar PV panels are manufactured by placing a few films of photovoltaic material on a substrate. The material may be copper, silicon, or cadmium. TSSC panels are easy to produce, and they are also quite affordable because it takes less material to manufacture them.

Like monocrystalline panels, high temperatures don’t affect them easily, and they, therefore, don’t peel easily. The main challenge with these panels is that they aren’t space-efficient. They take up so much space that they are utterly unsuitable for use at home. Their lifespan is much shorter compared to their monocrystalline and polycrystalline counterparts. The beauty of these panels is that they can find many more applications than just the traditional uses.

Photo of Thin-Film Solar Cells
Photo by Ian Skor. – U.S. Department of Energy from United States, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Amorphous Silicon Solar Cell (A-SI)

These type of solar panels are mainly used to power devices such as calculators. They enable you to power a device directly from the sun’s rays. These panels use thin-film technology which is referred to as triple-layered.

Amorphous panels are pretty cheap, so the calculators and other fitted devices don’t have any significant price increase. Unfortunately, these panels are much less efficient than the ones we discussed. Their efficiency rate stands at 7%.

Photo of Amorphous Silicon Solar Cell commonly used in calculators
Sergei Frolov, Soviet Calculators Collection, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Read More: How to Become Proficient in Solar Panels for an RV

3rd Generation Solar Panels

Some of the technologies that support these third-generation panels are still in the research and development stage. They include different types of thin-film technologies, and they generate power using either inorganic substances such as CdTe. Some use organic materials. The following are some third-generation solar panels.

Biohybrid Solar Cell

Researchers from Vanderbilt University are still in the process of developing this technology. Biohybrid solar cells are meant to mimic photosynthesis, referring to how plants use sunlight to produce energy.

The materials used in these solar panels are more or less the same as those used in the first-generation solar panels. However, they combine the multiple layers in a system known as photosystem one. This system generates the energy and converts the chemical energy to electrical energy.

These solar panels are expected to be much more efficient than the first and second-generation solar panels. They can be up to 1000 times more efficient, a total game-changer.

Photo of a different type of solar panel showing a biohybrid solar cell
Vanderbilt University, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cadmium Telluride Solar Cell (CdTe)

These panels are manufactured using the photovoltaic technique. The technique uses Cadmium telluride which reduces the panels’ production cost significantly compared to other types of panels. CdTe cells are, therefore, relatively affordable, and they enable you to recover your investment much faster than other types of cells would.

Many people concerned with sustainability prefer these panels because they spend the least amount of water to produce. Also, manufacturing them leaves the lowest carbon footprint in the list of panels. The main challenge with these solar PV panels is that cadmium and telluride are toxic when ingested and inhaled. Many people and some regulating authorities consider it unsafe.

Photo of Cadmium Telluride Solar Cell (CdTe)
Dennis Schroeder, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Concentrated PV Cell (CVP and HCVP)

These panels generate power the same way as the 1st and 2nd Generation Photovoltaic panels. However, their efficiency is considerably higher than the traditional panel’s efficiency; it can hit up to 41%, which is the highest for photovoltaic systems.

The high-efficiency rate is because the panels have curved mirror surfaces and lenses. Some are fitted with fans and other cooling systems to preserve the panels, thus protecting them from the sun. Curved mirrors and lenses focus the sun rays, thus increasing the solar energy the panels gather.

To reach the optimal level of efficiency, these panels must be positioned so that the sun hits them at the best possible angle. As the position of the sun changes, these panels move with it as they have solar trackers to keep them optimally positioned. Their position is not fixed, and they have a concave shape. These are among the main differences between this panel type and the traditional monocrystalline and polycrystalline ones. These panels are seldom used in domestic settings. They are mainly used for large-scale power generation.

Read More:

Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Energy

What is a Solar Power System?

What is Solar System Sizing?

Below, 200W portable solar panels, which are easy to carry since they have a carrying case. They also run on 18V.

Can you mix Different Types of Solar Panels?

It is possible to mix different types of solar panels in theory, but it is neither easy nor recommended. These panels have different connectivity ports, which are unlikely to fit together without modifications. The necessary modifications will, in turn, reduce the panels’ efficiency.

It is a little easier to connect panels of the same types with different wattage, amps, voltage, and efficiency, but this is not recommended. It reduces the efficiency of the entire system. The answer to this question is yes, you can do it, but it is not recommended.

What are the Best Types of Solar Panels?

There is no one-word answer to this question. The quality of solar panels varies depending on the buyer’s needs. You need to consider certain factors to determine which panel is best for your specific situation. The following factors help you answer the question, ‘what type of solar panel do I need?’

Cost of the Panel

The cost of a solar panel is essential, but it is not the most critical factor. At this juncture of solar panel development, the cost of a solar panel indicates quality. Cheaper panels are usually of lower quality, while the more expensive ones have higher quality.

Your budget is still an essential factor, and if the cheaper, lower-quality panel meets your needs, you should go ahead and purchase it and save money while meeting your need. It is, however, essential to have a long-term view of the quality of these panels.

For example, monocrystalline panels can last up to 30 years, while their polycrystalline counterparts don’t last as long. Even if polycrystalline panels, with their lower efficiency, are cheaper and meet your need, whatever saving you make can be offset by the longer service you will receive from the better quality panel.

Panel Quality

The quality of a solar PV panel is usually not only determined by the type, as we discussed above. Brands and manufacturers are also important determinants. Some vertically integrated manufacturers in the industry have control over every level of manufacture of these panels.

They invest in research and development and have stringent quality control mechanisms. The solar panels such companies produce are likely to be of better quality. The other group of manufacturers assembles parts to come up with panels. They don’t invest in R&D and don’t produce any of the panel’s parts. Their panels are likely cheaper, but their quality control may be problematic.

Panel Efficiency

The efficiency of a solar panel refers to the percentage of solar power the panel can convert into electrical energy. Solar panel efficiency is described in percentage, and the higher the percentage, the more efficient the panel.

To get the best panel for your needs, you should look at the panel’s efficiency, Vis a Vis its size, and your energy needs. This is how you will know whether the panel will meet your needs. You don’t have to go for the most efficient, which will also be more expensive.

Temperature Coefficient

One of the leading causes of degradation for your solar panels is heat. These panels are constantly exposed to the sun, which may degrade their surface, reducing their efficiency. The temperature coefficient is the extent to which temperature from exposure to the sun affects the effectiveness of the solar panels. This coefficient is expressed in percentages, and the lower it is the better the panel’s efficiency.

Panel Size

Physical size is essential because it needs to fit into your roof or available space. The other important aspect of size is the panel’s wattage. Look for a panel that can fit on your roof and meets your energy needs. If you can get one that is physically small but with high wattage, it would be good to go for it if it falls within your budget.

Summary on Solar PV Panels

To wrap it up, the different types of solar panels explained above are continuously being improved. However, the principles we have listed here are unlikely to change even as the panels in experimental stages come to the mass market. However, choosing a solar panel is very need-specific, and you need to be sure of what your needs are and proceed accordingly.

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