If you want to be part of the UK’s 2023 clean energy revolution, installing a solar system for your house or office building is the way to go. Not only does it help reduce your carbon footprint, it’ll also help you save significantly on electricity bills. But what are the types of solar panels that are open as options to you.
This article will be your in-depth guide to the different kinds of solar panels classified by generation. First, we’ll address the types of solar energy and types of solar systems.
Types of Solar Energy Technologies
To better understand the different types of solar panels, you must familiarise yourself with the technologies that allow us to use solar energy. You can either go the photovoltaic (PV) route or concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP).
In short, photovoltaic technology is the one used in all types of solar panels and solar cells. PV works this way:
The sun’s rays shine upon the PV cells on a solar panel, where it’s absorbed in the form of energy. As a result, this energy will translate into electrical charges that move according to a built-in electrical field inside the cell.
In turn, this interaction causes an electrical current to flow.
Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power (CSP)
Concentrating solar-thermal power is a solar-energy-generating method that you’ll find in large power plants instead of residential-type panels. This technology utilises mirrors that focus and reflect sunlight onto external receivers.
The role of these receivers is to convert this solar energy into heat to produce electricity in massive amounts.
Types of Solar Systems
When it comes to solar systems that you install in your home or office, you’ve got three options to pick from: Grid-tie, off-grid, and backup systems.
Here’s a brief description of each type:
Grid-Tie Solar System
Basically, if your home is getting electricity from a power company, you’re connected to the grid. Now, a grid-tie solar system lets you transfer all the sun-generated energy your solar panels have collected to the grid, where it’s eventually stored for when it’s needed.
In turn, you get credit for this energy, which you can utilise whenever you wish.
Off-Grid Solar System
Contrary to a grid-tie solar system, an off-grid system delivers power to houses in remote areas where there aren’t utility companies nearby. This system is responsible for powering up your house day by day.
Oftentimes, off-grid solar systems are paired with backup generators to provide electricity to homes in case the weather turns bad and there isn’t enough sunlight to generate electricity.
Backup Solar System
Lastly, a backup solar system works essentially like a grid-tie solar system. However, it’s also equipped with a backup battery bank that automatically kicks into action in the case of power outages.
This solar system can be incredibly useful for homes, offices, and commercial buildings in areas prone to natural disasters and frequent storms.
Solar Panel Types: First Generation vs. Second Generation vs. Third Generation
There are many classifications to group similar solar panels together, yet dividing them according to generation proves to be more relevant than other ways.
Below is an in-depth breakdown of the types of solar panels to help you learn more about how they work, what they’re made of, and which scenarios they’re good for.
First Generation Solar Panels
In short, first-generation solar panels are the most popular on the market, and they’re also called conventional or traditional solar panels. This type of solar panel is the most widely used across the world right now, especially in residential settings.
The main component of these solar cells is silicon, and it comes in two forms: monocrystalline silicon and polycrystalline silicon.
Let’s address each type in more detail.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels (Mono-SI)
Monocrystalline solar panels are the purest type of solar panel you’ll find on the market. The most recently produced ones have an impressive efficiency rate of more than 20%, all thanks to the high purity of silicon cells used in their making.
This increased purity also means that these dark-looking cells produce so much more energy from a smaller surface compared to other solar cells. As a result, monocrystalline solar panels are the perfect candidate if you don’t have much space for your solar panel installation.
However, one downside of these panels is that they’re costly because of their high efficiency. Plus, they might start to wear down at high temperatures, although they aren’t as sensitive as their polycrystalline counterparts.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels (Poly-SI)
While their power outputs are practically the same as monocrystalline solar panels, polycrystalline panels are different from their cousins in several ways.
First off, they have a blue, speckled look that’s easy to tell apart from the uniform dark appearance of monocrystalline solar panels. Second of all, their manufacturing process centres around melting raw silicon, which is far cheaper than the making of monocrystalline panels.
Yet, polycrystalline panels aren’t as pure, meaning that their efficiency rate is significantly lower—up to 15%. In addition, they tend to take up more space once installed, making them only suitable for large homes or buildings.
Still, one major disadvantage of these cells is that they’re prone to damage at high heat. This means that they aren’t good options for people who live in hot, humid regions.
Second Generation Solar Panels
Second-generation panels are different from first-generation cells in that their layers are only a few micrometres in thickness. Their working mechanism includes the use of several layers of semiconductor materials instead of silicon crystals.
Here are the two types of second-generation panels you’ll find on the market.
Amorphous Silicon Solar Cell (A-Si)
The first type of second-generation cells are amorphous silicon solar cells, which use a triple-layered technology to do their work. Unfortunately, panels made of these cells are pretty low on the efficiency scale (only 10%), but they’re also much lower in cost than crystalline solar panels.
A good example of an (A-Si) cell is the one you’d find in solar-powered pocket calculators!
Thin-Film Solar Cells (TFSC)
Next, we’ve got thin-film solar cells, which are made by placing one or more thin films of photovoltaic material on top of each other onto a substrate. Some examples of such materials include copper, silicon, or cadmium.
What a lot of users like about TFSCs is that they’re a lot more affordable than crystalline cells because they’re easier to mass-produce. Plus, they’re highly flexible, making them a versatile option for numerous applications. Even better, they’re not as sensitive to high temperatures.
However, the increased flexibility of TFSCs can also be a disadvantage because it shortens their lifespans. Also, these solar cells tend to take up a lot of space, so they aren’t the best pick for residential settings.
This type of solar panel has an efficiency rate that ranges from 7% to 18%.
Third Generation Solar Panels
Lastly, third-generation solar panels offer further advances in thin-film cell technology. However, many of these solar panel types are still in the research or modification stage.
Concentrated PV Cell (CVP and HCVP)
Let’s start with concentrated PV solar panels—a type of solar panel that’s paired with curved surfaces, mirrors, lenses, and cooling systems to help their efficiency rate jump to 41%.
Yet, it’s worth noting that this multi-junction solar panel requires the installation of a sun tracker to keep up with the movement of the sun. Otherwise, if the sun’s rays don’t hit the surface of this panel just right, it won’t be able to keep up its impressive performance.
Needless to say, concentrated PV cells are expensive, and they require large, open spaces to work seamlessly.
Cadmium Telluride Solar Cell (CdTe)
A major benefit of making cadmium telluride solar panels is that the photovoltaic technology that backs them up doesn’t cost as much as most solar panels on the market. Even better, the payback time for their production process is also shorter, which can help cut down on your carbon footprint further.
As for their efficiency, it’s somewhere between 9% and 11%.
Yet, because nothing is perfect, a huge concern surrounding this type of solar panel is that it’s toxic if animals or humans ingest or inhale it. This is why people across the UK and the entirety of Europe are still hesitant about using this type of solar panel despite its plus points.
Biohybrid Solar Cell
Finally, biohybrid solar cells are still being developed for the global market, so, until this day, they remain in the research phase. However, based on what we’ve learned about them so far, their technology sounds promising.
In short, these solar panels aim to replicate the process of photosynthesis in collecting and storing energy from the sun. The experts responsible for developing this technology are based at Vanderbilt University.
Biohybrid solar panels are expected to be a thousand times more efficient than first-generation cells, which can simply be described as mind-blowing!
Solar Panel FAQs
Which solar panel type is the most efficient?
Currently, the most efficient type of solar panel is the concentrated PV solar panel with an efficiency rate of 41%.
On the other hand, the best solar cells for residential applications (when it comes to efficiency) are monocrystalline solar cells at more than 20%. Polycrystalline silicon cells are a close second with an efficiency rating of 15%.
Which solar panel type has the highest power capacity?
Monocrystalline solar panels also excel in this regard, as they have the highest power capacity to date (up to 300w). Next, polycrystalline cells aren’t far off, with a power capacity of 240 to 300w.
It’s still worth noting that monocrystalline panels offer a higher power capacity per cell.
As for thin-film panels, it’s hard to judge their power capacities because they don’t come in uniform sizes. Therefore, the capacity of thin-film panels can vary to a great degree from one panel to another based on size.
But again, if you were to compare two similarly-sized crystalline and thin-film panels, the crystalline solar panel will give you a higher power output.
Which solar panel type has the longest lifespan?
Once more, the monocrystalline solar panel has the longest life expectancy out of all types of solar panels on the market as it can last for around 25 years. In the second place, cadmium telluride cells average 20 years.
These are followed by amorphous silicon cells at 15 years, then polycrystalline silicon panels at 14 years.
Final Thoughts on Solar Panel Types
Whether you’re the owner of a large office building, factory, or even a house in the suburbs, investing in the right type of solar panel to save up on energy should be a priority.
Hopefully, after reading our comprehensive guide, you now have a better understanding of the different technologies behind most solar systems and solar panels on the market.
If you’re ready to take the first step into a greener future (and lower electricity bills!), it’s time to consider installing solar panels. ESE Group have all it takes to help you begin that journey, as we provide solar PV maintenance, installation, upgrades, and more.
Contact us to learn more about our services!