The US now has enough solar panel installations to power more than 21 million homes. Experts forecast that to grow even more in the following years, thanks to the Build Back Better Act.
One reason behind that growth is the increasing awareness about solar energy’s benefits. For instance, solar is cleaner than fossil fuels, which emit pollution when burned. In addition, the sun’s power is renewable, unlike fossil fuels that are close to depletion.
To top everything off, all types of solar panels give you the chance to save on energy bills.
As you can expect, though, how much you can save depends on the exact type of panel you install. Moreover, it’s a factor that drives the cost of solar panel system installation.
To that end, we came up with this guide on common solar panel types. Read on so that you can better prepare yourself when buying solar panels.
The Most Common Types of Solar Panels
Monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film are your three primary solar panel options. The first two make up around 90% of the global solar PV market. However, they’re also the priciest, which is why many still opt for the third one.
Monocrystalline (Single-Crystal) Solar Panels
Monocrystalline solar panels consist of cells made of cuts of pure silicon crystal. The solar industry refers to these cuts as wafers.
Solar panel makers assemble the pure crystal wafers into rows and columns. The finished panel can then feature between 32 to 96 wafers. Note that the more wafers there are, the higher the total power output of the module.
Since pure silicon makes up monocrystalline cells, they offer the highest energy efficiencies. They’ve displayed more than 25% energy conversion efficiencies in laboratory tests. By contrast, multi-crystalline cells (which we’ll discuss later) only have over 20% efficiencies.
Because of that high-efficiency rating, you might need fewer monocrystalline panels. That makes them some of the best solar panels for homes with limited spaces.
Moreover, monocrystalline cells come in black, making them aesthetically appealing.
However, it’s also because of those benefits that this type of solar panel costs the most.
Polycrystalline (Multi-Crystalline) Solar Panels
Like monocrystalline, polycrystalline solar panels also have cells made of silicon wafers. However, their difference is that the latter has cells made of crystal fragments. That’s also why the solar industry calls them multi-crystalline.
Manufacturers make polycrystalline solar panels by melting the crystal fragments first. They then place the melted material into a mold and cut it into wafers afterward. From there, they assemble the wafers into panels.
That melting process is why polycrystalline is less efficient than monocrystalline. However, it’s also why multi-crystalline panels cost less than the single-crystal type.
If you decide to buy polycrystalline home solar panels, you might have to get more of them. That way, you can make up for the modules’ lower efficiency rating. Just be sure you have enough space on your property for more panels.
Thin-Film Solar Panels
Unlike crystalline solar panels, thin-film solar panels consist of various materials. For instance, there’s cadmium telluride, amorphous silicon, and Copper Indium Gallium Selenide.
Cadmium telluride (CdTe) is the most common material used in thin-film solar panels. CdTe is a compound made by mixing cadmium and tellurium.
CdTe panels have transparent conducting layers that aid in sunlight capture. The CdTe layer itself then goes between those other materials. Finally, a glass sheet goes on top of the panel for extra protection.
Amorphous silicon (a-Si) is another popular material used in thin-film solar panels. While they use silicon, they’re not the same materials found in crystalline panels. Instead, they have non-crystalline silicon that goes on top of glass, metal, or plastic.
Another thin-film solar panel option is Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS). CIGS solar panels use aluminum, glass, plastic, and steel elements. These materials then sit between two conductive layers.
CIGS panel makers then place electrodes on both the front and back of the panels. The electrodes are there to help capture electrical currents.
Which Type of Residential Solar Panels Should You Buy Then?
That depends on why you want to go solar, such as if it’s for energy-saving or eco-consciousness. From there, you can factor in your budget, location, and the available space in your home.
For example, let’s say you want to eliminate your energy bills. In that case, you might want to go for monocrystalline panels, as they’re the most efficient. Remember: the more efficient PV modules are, the more energy they generate.
However, since single-crystal panels cost the most, you also need to consider if you can afford to buy them. So, if your budget is a little tight, your next best option is to go with polycrystalline panels. Just be sure to factor in the space you have since you’d need more multi-crystal panels.
Base your decision on where you live, too, as it determines how much sunlight your area receives.
For example, if you check out this location guide, you’ll learn that Wyoming gets over 200 sunny days a year. Thus, if you live in the Cowboy State, one of your options is to install fewer monocrystalline panels. They’re highly efficient, anyway, so even a few may already be enough to meet your household’s needs.
What if you have a tiny budget but still want to use solar? In that case, you can go for thin-film panels, provided you have lots of space at home. That’s because they’re the least efficient, so you need more of them to generate enough power you can use at home.
Time to Invest in High-Efficiency Solar Panels
There you have it, your ultimate guide on the types of solar panels you can buy today. Now, you know that monocrystalline panels are the most efficient, followed by polycrystalline. They’re the priciest, though, but keep in mind that you can trim their cost with the 26% federal solar ITC.
In any case, you’d want to go with high-efficiency panels, as they can give you the most bang for your buck.
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