So, after weighing the environmental and economic benefits, you’ve decided to go solar. With one decision out of the way, it’s time to make another one – which solar modules (also called solar panels in popular culture) are best suited for your home and energy needs? Below, you will find a quick description of the three most popular types of solar modules for residential use, as well as a list of advantages and disadvantages of each one.
Materials and Cost Factors
There are three types of solar cells we will cover: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film solar panels. Silicon is used to produce approximately 95% of solar panel cells utilized within the residential sector. Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels employ silicon – the main difference between the types is purity of the silicon. Simply, the more pure the silicon molecules, the more efficient the panels will be at converting solar energy into the electricity that will power your home. But don’t let your choice of what type of panel to get rest entirely on purity, because the process to purify silicon is expensive. So be sure to keep in mind overall cost (panels, mounting equipment, warranties, for example) and space efficiency as well as energy efficiency.
Monocrystalline solar cells offer the highest silicon purity. Their efficiency ranges from 15%-20%. Since they are so energy efficient, they are therefore more space efficient as well, needing less surface area to produce enough energy to power the home. The space efficiency can somewhat balance out the high cost of producing high-purity silicon. Also, be aware that if monocrystalline cells and panels are partially blocked by shade, debris, or snow, the entire circuit may break down.
Also made of silicon, polycrystalline solar cells are a bit of an opposite in their advantages and disadvantages compared to monocrystalline. Polycrystalline cells are easier to make, therefore lowering their cost. But, since they are not as pure as monocrystalline, their energy efficiency ranges from approximately 13%-16%, meaning you will need to buy more panels and equipment. If you are deciding between mono and polycrystalline, your best bet will be to compare the cost of the cells themselves, how much space you will need, and the cost of equipment and installation.
Thin-film solar cells consist of creating a solar panel by layering thin strips of photovoltaic (solar) material. Most thin-film panels’ efficiency ranges from 7%-13%. Only 5% of the residential market consists of these types of cells, but that percentage has been steadily growing since 2002. These are the least expensive solar cells, because they can be mass-produced. Some versions are also flexible, allowing creative use of space. This can be helpful, since these are also the least efficient solar cell and require the most space. To compare, monocrystalline cells can produce four times the energy as thin-film cells. You’d need a pretty big roof for those. If, however, space is not an issue for you, these inexpensive cells may be just the thing. Do keep in mind, however, that thin-film cells have the shortest lifespan of the three, and their shorter warranties reflect that.