Not all solar panels are created equal: What you should know about solar panels before you buy.
In the world of solar, not all panels are created equal. While solar technology has made some rapid improvements in efficiency, there are still only four main types of solar panels and of those four, Northeast Solar only offers one type for residential and commercial use.
The main types of solar panels are:
- Monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels
Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels are made of a semiconductive material that converts light from the sun into electricity. The most common material used in solar panels like these is silicon.
The silicon found in mono and polycrystalline panels is sliced wafer-thin, placed in rows and columns to form a rectangle, mounted to a backing sheet, covered with factory tested tempered glass, and finally framed with a rigid material, usually aluminum, that holds everything together.
The two main panel types are very similar, save one distinct difference. The silicon used in monocrystalline panels is made up of one single slice of pure crystal silicon, while polycrystalline panels are made up of pieces of crystal silicon that are melted together before being sliced into wafers. Both panels are great for converting the sun’s rays into electricity, but there are a few pros and cons to consider that we will get to shortly.
Thin-film panels are distinctly different panels designed for non-residential applications. The most common material found in thin-film panels is cadmium telluride. To make this panel, the cadmium is sandwiched between transparent conductive layers and framed with a rigid material. While thin-film panels can have a lower physical profile, they are far less efficient than mono and polycrystalline panels. Thin-film panels are not ideal for home use, so we won’t get into them in this post.
Bifacial panels produce power on both sides of the panel by installing on highly reflective surfaces like white roofs or ground mounts with some sort of reflective feature below the panels. By allowing light to hit both sides of the solar cell, some manufacturers claim to be able to increase efficiency to around 30 percent. Production is based on a variety of factors. Bifacial panels depend on the reflective surface to be as productive as the manufacturers claim. For the money, Northeast Solar suggests a typical single-sided panel. That said, we do not offer bifacial panels because we feel the increased price isn’t worth the questionable increase in production.
Aesthetic differences of mono and polycrystalline panels
One thing to consider when selecting panels for your home or business is the way they will look on your roof. Solar panels will produce electricity for more than 20 years, so choosing something that you can live with for that long is important.
Solar panels with a black appearance tend to be monocrystalline panels. The black color is due to the way light reflects inside the single slice of pure silicon. The crystals in mono panels may be black, but the frame and backing sheets may come in different colors, typically white, black or silver.
Poly panels have a blue appearance due to the way the pieces of silicon interact with the sunlight. Like mono panels, poly panels can come with different color back sheets and frame materials.
Pros and cons of monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels
Mono panels are the most efficient and best energy-producing panels available. A mono panel will typically reach efficiencies of 20 percent or more. Monocrystalline panels are more efficient but also come in at higher wattage outputs for the same 60 cell panel. So while the size of the actual panel does not change, the mono panel will produce more electricity than a polycrystalline panel for the same surface area. That means you can produce the same amount of solar electricity with fewer panels on your roof. This efficiency comes with a little higher cost per panel, so if price is your main concern, you may want to look at a poly panel instead.
Poly panels, like mono panels, are made up of 60 solar cells. As mentioned, these are made of fragments of silicon. As a result, poly panels are less efficient and come in at lower wattages. On the positive side, poly panels are less expensive and will still benefit you for decades. One thing to note is that Northeast Solar does not currently offer any poly panels as prices on monocrystalline panels have come down over the past few years.
What to choose
If you have a small roof and want to offset as much electricity use as you can, then you might want to have a good look at monocrystalline panels. While they come with a higher price tag, they will produce more energy per square foot than poly panels.
On the other hand, if you have a lot of roof space and want to save a little money up front, then you may consider polycrystalline panels. While they will produce a little less energy per panel, you will be able to install more panels to meet your energy needs at a good price.
These are just some of the things to consider when looking at solar panels for your home or business, but it’s important to remember that each rooftop is different and each home is oriented differently, so your solar production will vary.
Northeast Solar is a custom solar design and installation company and we use only the best products available. Our current product line is made up exclusively of monocrystalline panels as they are the highest quality, most productive panels available today. We will consider every aspect of your system, from roof type and orientation to specific energy needs and budget. Our free solar site visits come with no commitment and no strings attached.