A Guide to 5 Types of Solar Panels

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Written by Guest | Last Updated October 31st, 2019
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Guest Post by Kayla Matthews

The U.S. solar industry has shown incredible progress over the past several years. It generated a $17 billion investment in the American economy in 2018, and in 2019, the number of solar installations surpassed 2 million. Experts predict that number will continue to grow across all market segments in 2020 and 2021.

Naturally, homeowners across the country have taken notice of the rising popularity of renewable energy. They've seen the appeal in today's systems and want to know more about solar panel technology. That said, the subject isn't as simple as some may believe, as many different types of solar panels are available.

What should consumers know about the various systems they can purchase for their home or business? What are the advantages and disadvantages, and which companies can they turn to? Here are five kinds of solar panel technology to consider:

1. Monocrystalline solar panels

Monocrystalline panels are a more traditional type of solar panel, but no less advanced. They're composed of monocrystalline silicon and are currently the purest type on the market. Since they take less space and have a high energy output, they're a superior option.

However, the benefits of monocrystalline solar panels come at a high price. They are the most expensive solar panel on this list, and more than that, shade, dirt or snow can easily compromise the entire circuit. Those who are still interested can seek them from companies like Vivint Solar or Sunrun.

2. Polycrystalline solar panels

Polycrystalline panels are easily identifiable by their blue, speckled appearance. Even though they fall into the same category as monocrystalline panels — as they're first generation — they have a shorter lifespan and a lower efficiency rating. Despite these negative aspects, they're still a feasible option.

Homeowners on a more limited budget may see the potential in polycrystalline panels. They're more accessible in their price, and considering the fact you could save $84 on your monthly electric bill with solar panels, they're a smart investment. If you want to learn more, many companies sell them, including Sunrun.

3. Thin-film solar cells

Companies manufacture thin-film solar cells by depositing one or multiple layers of photovoltaic material onto an underlying substance. This material, which converts light to electricity, comes in many categories like cadmium telluride, organic photovoltaic cells, amorphous silicon and copper indium gallium selenide.

Depending on the kind of technology, prototypes with thin-film solar cells reach efficiencies between 7 percent and 13 percent. They're not the most efficient, but they're simple to mass produce and are flexible. Unfortunately, they aren't very useful in residential situations, but you can still find thin-film products from Uni-Solar.

4. Building-integrated photovoltaics

Building-integrated photovoltaics aren't necessarily an individual type of solar cell technology, but rather an innovative application of thin-film and crystalline-based solar cells. A company like Onyx Solar can combine them with roofs, facades, walls and windows, but they're primarily for commercial use.

Given the substantial investment of building-integrated photovoltaics, most homeowners aren't able to afford them. Even so, they represent a modern approach to solar energy systems with aesthetic appeal and incredible flexibility. Commercial property owners with a progressive mindset will likely find them interesting.

5. Biohybrid solar cells

Though they're presently in the research phase of their development, biohybrid solar cells have significant promise. They emulate the natural process of photosynthesis for an efficiency rate that far surpasses the first generation of solar panels. As context, they're up to 1,000 times more efficient.

Of course, you aren't going to find biohybrid solar panels in today's market. However, they represent an enormous step forward in solar technology, demonstrating the immense promise of renewable energy. Given the growth of the solar industry, you'll likely see a diverse range of new technologies in the decade to come.

Start your search today

Clearly, you have no shortage of options when selecting solar panels for your home. Though some of them may fall outside your price range, the different types provide a degree of flexibility homeowners didn't have in the past.
Even if building-integrated photovoltaics and biohybrid solar cells are unavailable, you still have monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film solar panels.

Solar technology is increasingly accessible, and if you take the time to look, you'll find something that meets and exceeds your expectations.

Kayla Matthews is a tech journalist who has written for sites such as TechnoBuffalo, MakeUseOf, and Mother Earth News. To see more tech stories by Kayla, visit Productivity Bytes or follow her on Twitter.

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