You’re interested in finding out what type of solar panel is best. But how do solar panels work? Let’s start at the beginning. What is a solar panel made of?
Internal Structure of Solar Panels
Let’s take a look at the typical structure of a solar panel. A solar panel usually consists of these components:
- Solar Cells
- Junction Box
90% of all photovoltaics today are based on some variation of silicon. The main difference is the purity of the silicon. So what does silicon purity mean? Basically the better aligned the silicon molecules are, the better the solar cell will be at converting solar energy (sunlight) into electricity (the photoelectric effect).
Types of Silicon Solar Panels
There are 3 main types of silicon panels for household use: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Solar cells made of monocrystalline silicon also called single-crystalline silicon. Monocrystalline panels are easily recognized by an external even coloring and uniform look. This indicates high-purity silicon. This type of solar panel has four sides cut out of the cylindrical ingots.
- Uses the highest grade solar silicon
- Has the highest efficiency rates
- Requires the least amount of space to install
- Longest life: most carry a 25 year warranty
- Performs best in low-light conditions
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline silicon panels, known as polysilicon and multi-crystalline silicon, were introduced to the market in 1981. Raw silicon is melted and poured into a square mold. After that it is cooled and cut into square wafers.
- Less commonly used now that monocrystalline solar panels are easier and less expensive to make
- Lower silicon purity
- Less efficient
- Requires a larger installation area
- Speckled blue color makes them easily identifiable
Thin-Film Solar Panels
Thin-film solar panels are made by depositing one or several thin layers of photovoltaic material onto a substrate. There are many different categories of thin-film solar cells based on which photovoltaic material is used.
- Easy to mass-produce for low-cost
- Homogeneous appearance can be visually appealing
- Less efficient than monocrystalline solar panels
- Well-suited for large-scale industrial usage
- Flexible material with potential for future technological applications
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