As solar energy becomes a staple commodity in California, it's easy to forget that there are different types of solar panels that use different technologies and materials to generate electricity.
Generally, you can split solar panel technology into 3 subgroups:
Traditional solar panels are what you’ll most likely see on residential roofs. These solar panels consist of monocrystalline or polycrystalline silicon solar cells.
Monocrystalline panels (Mono-SI) are made up of the purest type of silicon solar cell. Monocrystalline panels are usually darker in color and look more uniform than other traditional solar panels. The purity of the silicon used in monocrystalline solar panels makes them one of the most efficient solar panels on the market today.
Polycrystalline solar panels are easily identified by their speckled blue-ish tones. These panels are made by melting down raw silicon which is a much faster and cheaper process than the process used for manufacturing monocrystalline solar panels. Don’t be mislead however, although these polycrystalline silicon solar panels are a more economical option than monocrystalline panels, they are still highly efficient and can be a great choice for certain situations.
Thin film solar panels are self explanatory. They consist of thin layers of photovoltaic materials laid out on glass, plastic or metal backings. These thin film solar cells range in thickness from a few nanometers to tens of micrometers (yeah, that’s small). In comparison, traditional silicon solar panels can be as thick as 200 micrometers. The difference may seem miniscule, but thin film solar cells are much more flexible and much lighter in weight. Here are a few types of thin film solar cells.
Thin film solar cells (TFSC) can actually be a more affordable option than monocrystalline solar cells because thin film is very easy to produce. Less material is needed to make a thin film solar panel than a traditional panel and thin films can also be produced in greater quantities. Although thin film solar cells are flexible, they also tend to be very large and may not be the most suitable option for residential solar installations.
Solar panel technology is always reaching new milestones. Some of the most recent breakthroughs are biohybrid solar cells and new solar panel manufacturers.
Biohybrid cells are still in the research phase but they’re a fascinating new development. The idea behind biohybrid cells it to mimic the natural photosynthesis process of plants. These cells are similar to traditional silicon solar cells but the addition of chemical reactions can potentially make these biohybrid cells up to 1000x more efficient than traditional cells. Again, these cells are still in development and are not currently in use in residential solar installations.
As solar panels become more popular, new manufacturers are entering the industry everyday, designing and developing more competitive and efficient solar panels. For instance, Panasonic, a household name in consumer electronics has been very successfully in developing its own line of solar panels.
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