FAQ: Which type of solar panels are best for your needs?

by James Martin II on October 7, 2011

 

“What type of solar panels are the best?” This is one of the first questions usually asked by people who are in the market for a solar photovoltaic (PV) energy system, but it is a question that needs some qualification, as the answer really depends on a number of factors. None of the most common types of solar panel technology–monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon, or amorphous/thin film–can be unequivocally referred to as the ‘best’. This article is a brief overview of the types of solar panels most commonly used in solar power installations in the UK as well as world-wide.

Solar Selections can provide Solar Quotes from the most competitive Solar Installers in the UK. Request a free Solar Quote Comparison by filling out the form to the right of this page or call 020 7205 2267 for more information.

What are the most common types of solar panels?

Most solar cells are made from silicon, a semiconductor material in which the photovoltaic effect (where light is converted to electricity) is possible. There are two types of crystalline silicon: monocrystalline and polycrystalline. When silicon is not in crystalline form, it is called ‘amorphous silicon’, is usually manufactured in thin sheets, and is less efficient at converting sunlight to electricity. Most technologies on the market that do not utilise silicon also fall into this ‘thin-film’ category.


Characteristics of monocrystalline silicon solar cell modules

- You can recognise a monocrystalline silicon cell by its deep black colour. Most monocrystalline panels on the residential market contain about 72 cells.

- Generally have the highest power-to-area ratio of the three main types of solar cells, with efficiencies ranging between 135-170 Watts per square meter.

- Great performance in cooler conditions.

- Industry-leading modules have over 18% conversion efficiency.

- Most-used type of solar panel globally, with over 50 years of technological development.

- Durable and long-lived; most modules come with a 25-year warranty.

- Best option for those with limited roof space.

Monocrystalline Silicon Solar Cell SunPower Panel

A SunPower solar panel using monocrystalline solar cells. Note the deep black colour.


Characteristics of polycrystalline silicon solar cell modules

- Identifiable by the marbled blue colour of the cells. As with monocrystalline, many polycrystalline modules on the market contain around 72 cells.

- Good efficiency at 120-130 Watts per square meter. Depending on the brands and technology being compared, some polycrystalline module efficiencies can exceed those of monocrystalline modules.

- Slightly less expensive than monocrystalline modules.

- Durable and long-lived; most brands come with 25-year warranty.

- Ideal for installations where size is not the first consideration, and often a smart compromise between cost and efficiency.

Suntech Hiperforma Polycrystalline Solar Modules

Suntech Hiperforma panels use polycrystalline silicon solar cells. Note the marbled blue colour patterns.


Characteristics of thin-film solar and amorphous silicon modules

- Thin-film technology is the most quickly evolving type of solar power technology. Thin-film solar technologies are not limited to silicon as a material base; some manufacturers use Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) technology as an alternative.

- Generally lower efficiencies than crystalline panels, at 60-70 Watts per square meter (although market-leading thin-film modules can compete with or exceed crystalline silicon module efficiency).

- Lifespan is generally shorter than crystalline technologies (always check and compare warranties).

- Perform relatively well in hot conditions or in shaded conditions, with less loss of efficiency than crystalline cells in such conditions.

- 3-6 month ‘breaking in’ period where modules produce more power than the will for the majority of their lifespan.

- More modules and surface area required to get the same amount of power as crystalline solar technologies.

- Ideal for hot, sunny conditions, or where roof space is not a major limiting factor.

-Also great in Building-integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) installations, in which solar modules are incorporated into the building envelope itself.

Q-Cells Q.Smart Thin Film Solar Panels

Q-Cells Q.Smart solar panels are exceptional among thin-film panels: Utilising CIGS technology, they have efficiencies that rival or exceed some crystalline panels.


Emerging technologies, and a note about efficiency vs cost

Keep in mind that new types of panels will and do appear on the solar power market as the market for solar power grows and technologies evolve (two examples are Sanyo’s hybrid HIT panels and Solyndra’s solar tubes). The types of modules mentioned above make use of some of the more tried-and-true technologies (especially crystalline silicon). Innovations will make their way onto the market, but generally the more advanced and efficient the technology, the more you’ll have to pay to have it installed on your roof.

Sanyo HIT Solar Panels

Sanyo’s HIT Solar Panels use a patented monocrystalline / amorphous silicon hybrid technology that results in high output power plus above-average performance in low-light conditions.

As we’ve written previously, efficiency isn’t everything. Be careful and deliberate in deciding on your solar power system, and remember that brand reliability and company history should usually be weightier considerations than nominal panel efficiency. Also keep in mind that your solar system will sit on your roof for 25+ years, and you may not be doing yourself a favour in the long run by skimping on up-front costs.

Solyndra Solar Tubes, Using Thin-Film CIGS technology

Solyndra solar panels use thin-film CIGS technology. Instead of having cells, modules are a series of tubes that can collect light from different angles throughout the day.


Contact Solar Selections for free and impartial advice

If you’re ever in doubt about which option is best for you, our experienced team of Solar Brokers is always ready to assist with free and impartial advice, so don’t hesitate to give us a call, send us an email, or fill out the Solar Quote Comparison Request form to initiate a dialogue with us.

Written by James Martin

Analyst for Solar Selections

© 2011 Solar Selections Pty Ltd

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Rich November 4, 2011 at 11:47 am

this has been for me a very useful website and I would like to take this further and get some quotes

Reply

admin November 29, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Thanks Paul, and we see you’ve requested a Product and Price Comparison via the form on our home page already. Great to have you on board.

Reply

Diana March 4, 2012 at 8:12 pm

The salesman told us that we were getting monocrystalline panels but the panels we have had installed are polycrystalline (Talesun TP660P). Should we be worried? Should we be asking for a rebate if they are actually cheaper? I would be grateful for any thoughts on this. Thank you.

Reply

admin March 12, 2012 at 11:19 am

Hi Diana,
In terms of performance as this article indicates you are not receiving a differently performing panel with Polycrystalline vs Monocrystalline. The performance differences are negligible. So long as the panels maintain the appropriate international standards required and have a 25 year performance warranty then there is no reason to be worried. Whether or not the actual price of the panels is comparable to what you were quoted is difficult to determine given the complex procurement rates and factors involved. Panel A may be more expensive that Panel B an any given day and your installer will need to be consulted about this. The practice of an installer switching panel type and brand is not to be encouraged in the industry, however given the supply issues that can arise with deadlines it is not altogether uncommon. We would encourage you to verify the warranty periods are comparable with what you were quoted, request accreditation and international standards are all in place for the new panel and only proceed if you are satisfied with the installer’s explanations. If in further doubt, consult the MCS website for contact and assistance (http://www.microgenerationcertification.org/).
Regards,
Solar Selections Admin

Reply

ABDUL MAJEED November 21, 2012 at 5:46 pm

SIR
NORMALLY PEOPLE USING SOLAR PANELS IN OFF GRID TYPE. BUT I WANT TO USE IT IN ONGRID TYPE CONNECTION WITH CONSTANT VOLTAGE CHARGING. USING 175 WATT PANNEL AND 120 AH LEAD ACID BATTERY AND 500 WATT UPS. SIR PLEASE EXPLAIN ME WHAT ARE THE DEFFICULTY OR PROBLEMS IN ABOVE EXPLAINED TYPE CONNECTION METHOD .

Reply

Solar Selections November 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Hello Abdul,

Most Solar Panel installations in the UK are grid connected. However, rarely does anyone connect a battery to a grid connected system, however it can be done. Please fill our Request Quote Comparison form or call us (0207 1988 388) to learn more. Our service is free. Regards, The Solar Selections Team.

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H Baden March 30, 2013 at 9:29 pm

I am planning to install a 4kw PV solar power but I wanted to have a storage battery to store some power for emergencies and when no solar power is generated but also I wanted to get the excess power sent to the grid . Is it possuble to do that and if it is how and what is the additional cost of the battery e.g 8kw one and where to put it along with the risks involved.

Reply

Solar Selections May 8, 2013 at 8:21 am

Hello Mr. Baden, what you are asking is possible. Once your battery backup system is fully charged your array will automatically start to “export” your excess power to the grid. However battery back up systems are still very expensive and not cost effective in the UK. However to learn more about what is possible please fill out the form to the right or give us a call to speak to your personal solar broker.

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Josh April 16, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Hello, I am considering the different panels on the market and would welcome any information on which manufacturers are most reliable/best value for money and if there are any to be avoided. So far I am only familiar with Kyocera and Sunpower.

Many thanks

Reply

Solar Selections May 8, 2013 at 8:24 am

Good morning Josh, thank you for your enquiry. There are many brands of Solar Panel and all that are available in the UK have to meet international and domestic standards. However depending upon your objectives and preference, different brands may be more suitable than others. To discuss this with your personal solar broker whom can be completely impartial, fill out the form to the right or call us today. Regards, The Solar Selections Team.

Reply

Jag April 19, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Hi
We require a solar panel system to heat water in Tanzania. can you recommend what we require by email me.

Regards

Jag

Reply

Solar Selections May 8, 2013 at 8:27 am

Hello Jag, we are sorry but we only currently operate in Australia, UK & USA. Regards, Solar Selections

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