Different types of Solar Cells

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Different types of Solar Cells and Their Efficiency

Are you planning to go solar, but don’t know which particular type of solar panel to get? Don’t worry—you’re not alone.

There are various types of solar panels, designed for specific uses. Incidentally, each have their own specific advantages and disadvantages as well.

To know which is which, let’s look into the different types of solar panels, and how they can be of use to you (Note: In here, we’ll be discussing solar panels that actually generate electricity—and not those that are used as solar thermal collectors).

So, let’s start:

1. Crystalline Silicon

Generally, around 90% of the solar panels being used for photovoltaic systems today are based on silicon.

The main basis for the efficiency of a silicon is its purity. The purity of a silicon pertains to the alignment of the silicon molecules. If its molecules are aligned perfectly, then it will perform better in converting stored solar energy (from the sun) into the electricity that we use.

Although a solar panel’s efficiency is usually affected by its purity—there are many other factors that we will need to address. These may include cost, space and others.

Note: Two of the most popular solar panel types—the Monocrystalline Silicon Solar Cells and Polycrystalline Silicon Solar Cells — are actually made up of crystalline silicon, although they do differ in purity and other elements. We will discuss the specifics as we move forward.

2. Monocrystalline Silicon Solar Cells

These solar cells are composed of silicon ingots, usually coming in cylindrical shaping. They are typically designed with four sides, with silicon wafers cut out of the ingots. In fact, this design is what brings monocrystalline silicon solar panels that specific look.

Advantages

  • They are considered as one of the most efficient solar panels, with an efficiency rate ranging from 15% to 20%.
  • Because they produce more power, monocrystalline silicon solar cells won’t need as much space to produce power, compared to other solar panel types. In fact, this specific solar type have been found to produce electricity four times greater than thin-film solar panels.
  • Longevity-wise, monocrystalline solar panels are considered to be among the top on the list. In fact, most manufacturers will usually extend a 25-year warranty for this type of solar panel.
  • Compared to polycrystalline solar panels, monocrystalline solar panels fare better in low-light environments or conditions.

Disadvantages

  • This type of solar cell or panel is the most expensive. Incidentally, that’s among the reasons why some homeowners would prefer other options (on a financial standpoint).
  • In some instances, the presence of shade, snow and dirt can cause some issues with circuitry. In this case, utilizing micro-inverters (and not central string inverters) can help resolve the issue. Through micro-inverters, issues with shading or covering can be aptly handled, as it can help ensure that shading issue/s with a single solar panel will not affect the entire solar circuitry.
  • The process it uses (the Czochralski process) will usually result to a lot of wasted silicon.
  • Just like all other solar panel types, monocrystalline solar panels are found to be more efficient during warm weather. Although higher temperatures have been found to affect the efficiency of this solar panel type—it is still more efficient compared to other solar panel types (ex: polycrystalline solar panels).

3. Polycrystalline Silicon Solar Cells

The original polycrystalline silicon solar cells were introduced in 1981. It does not make use of the Czochralski process (unlike monocrystalline silicon solar cells). For this solar type, the process includes melting of raw silicon which is then poured into a square mold—and then cut into square wafers, which is the main design we see for this solar panel type today.

Advantages

  • The procedure for making this solar panel type is generally simpler and actually costs less than monocrystalline silicon solar panels.
  • The process used for polycrystalline solar panels will result to less silicon waste, compared to the procedure used for monocrystalline solar panels (the Czochralski process).

Disadvantages

  • This solar panel type has a lower heat tolerance capacity compared to monocrystalline solar panels – which means it may have performance issues in high temperatures. Please note, however, that although heat may be a factor on the performance and longevity of a solar panel—its effect isn’t necessarily a major one.
  • Polycrystalline solar panels have a lower efficiency rating compared to monocrystalline solar panels. Generally, the efficiency rating of polycrystalline solar panels range from around 13% to 16%. Accordingly, this lower efficiency level may be attributed to this solar panel type’s lower silicon purity.
  • Polycrystalline solar panels will most likely have lower space efficiency. This means that it would have to cover a larger surface area, before they can produce a specific amount of electricity or power. Monocrystalline solar panels, on the other hand, won’t require as much as space to power the same surface area.
  • Polycrystalline silicon solar panels aren’t as aesthetically-pleasing compared to thin-film and monocrystalline solar panels (which have a more uniform design). Polycrystalline silicon solar panels will usually have a speckled blue color, which somewhat reduces its aesthetic factor.

4. Thin-Film Solar Cells

Generally, thin-film solar cells are manufactured by utilizing one or more thin layers of photovoltaic materials, and depositing them onto a substrate – which then gives it the ability to store, absorb and provide electric power.

Depending on the type of technology used, thin-film solar cells may reach efficiency ratings ranging from 7% to 13%. But with the planned advancements for this solar panel type, its efficiency is expected to increase to around 10% to 16%.

Advantages

  • In light of its features, mass production for this solar panel type is more possible. As it is, manufacturing them would be potentially more feasible and cheaper—thereby making them more accessible to the public (compared to crystalline solar panels).
  • These solar panels have a homogenous design, which makes them aesthetically appealing.
  • They are quite flexible, which means they have the potential for different types of applications and scenarios.
  • They are less vulnerable to shading and high temperatures (efficiency-wise).
  • They can be quite a good option for situations and circumstances where the space of the area isn’t really an issue.

Disadvantages

  • Generally, using thin-film solar cells for residential use can be quite challenging. This is in light of the fact that although they are relatively cheap – utilizing them will involve the use of a larger space.
  • Because they have low-space efficiency—installing and using them may require additional tools and equipment, such cables, support structures, etc. (usually more than what is required for crystalline based solar panels).
  • Thin-film solar panels – compared to mono and polycrystalline solar panels – are known to degrade and depreciate more quickly. Accordingly, that is the main reason why they usually come with a shorter warranty period.

Currently, there are only 3 known solar panels that use thin-film technologies. These are:

  • Amorphous Silicon Solar Cells: Traditionally, these are known for having very low electrical power output, which is why they are usually found in small-scale applications (ex: pocket calculators). However, with more advancements in the field, this type of solar cells is now expected to be used for large-scale applications (although quite expensive).
  • Cadmium Telluride Solar Cells: This solar panel technology has been gaining ground, in light of the fact that it has exceeded the cost-efficiency ratio of crystalline-based solar panels in a big part of the market today. Currently, its efficiency rating is at 9% to 11%.
  • Copper Indium Gallium Selenide Solar Cells: In terms of efficiency, this solar panel type is said to hold the most potential. It has been found to contain less amounts of toxic material (such as cadmium), which is usually found in Cadmium Telluride cells. Its efficiency rate ranges from around 10% to 12%.

Commercial production for this solar panel type has already started in 2011, in Germany—and more research are still being undertaken to maximize its full potential.

So, have you decided on which particular solar panel type to invest in? Before you do, please take note of the following considerations:

  1. Take available space into account. Remember that monocrystalline solar panels are the most space-efficient (but they will cost a bit more). Polycrystalline solar panels aren’t as space efficient, but they can work depending on your available space. Thin-film solar panels will require a lot of space before they can efficiently work for you.
  2. Budget. Try to review the advantages and disadvantages mentioned for each solar panel—and then correlate them with your allocated budget. But as always, you need to keep quality in mind. As much as possible, take serious consideration of efficiency, space efficiency, longevity and if it will require additional improvements or equipment. Try to add them up to see which would be the more feasible option for you.
  3. Know Your Specific Needs. If you want, try to consult the experts. Most of the time, solar panel specialists offer free consultations to interested parties. So, you might want to take that offer, in order to see what particular solar panels will work best with your set needs and requirements.

So, these are just some of the things you might want to know about the types of solar panels—and how they can actually bring you the benefits you’re looking for. Just remember: The benefits of solar power can be quite impressive. It is now up to you if you want to grab them.

Last modified: July 17, 2020
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