Different types of solar panels: what’s the best choice?
Many people are motivated by sustainability when they decide to have solar panels installed. But, of course, they want their investment to be as energy efficient and cost effective as possible. One thing that affects this is the type of solar panels used.
In this post, we’ll look at the solar panel types commonly used in the UK, as well as explore some of the newer technologies in development.
Types of solar panels in the UK
There are many types of solar panels, with more emerging as the technology develops and manufacturers find new ways of doing things.
In the UK, there are two main solar panel types: monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Which one you choose will depend on your budget and the amount of energy your household consumes.
Monocrystalline solar panels
Monocrystalline panels are the ones most of us will think of when solar panels are mentioned. Their round edges and dark colour are easy to spot when installed on a roof.
Monocrystalline solar panels are made from a silicon crystal which is cut into wafers. They have a high power output, as they can produce energy from small amounts of sunlight, and take up less space on the roof than their polycrystalline counterparts, as fewer are needed for an equivalent output.
They’re also very efficient (between 15-24%), are less affected by higher temperatures than polycrystalline panels, but have a more complex manufacturing process. Because of these factors, they cost more.
Polycrystalline solar panels
Polycrystalline panels are made by melting multiple raw silicon crystals and pouring them into a square mould. They cost less to produce than monocrystalline panels, so the customer pays less.
However, they’re less energy efficient (around 13-20%), more affected by hotter temperatures, and take up more space, so you may need more panels to generate the amount of energy you need. Their larger size means they’re often seen in industrial settings, such as farms.
|Cost (per watt)||£1-£1.50||£0.90-£1|
|Appearance||Black finish, more sleek design, fewer required for equivalent output||Blue hue, more panels required for equivalent output|
|Lifespan (est.)||30 years +||20 years|
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Other types of solar panels
Biohybrid solar cells
Biohybrid solar cells were first created by researchers from Vanderbilt University in the US. The cells are made by combining organic matter (known as photosystem I) and inorganic matter in order to mimic photosynthesis. This can result in higher efficiency than other types of solar panels, but the technology is still being researched.
Passivated emitter and rear contact solar cells
Often abbreviated to ‘PERC’, these are a newer version of monocrystalline panels. A passivation layer is added to the back sheet of the cell, which reflects light back into the cell so more is absorbed. It also stops the extra light from heating up the back sheet, thus improving efficiency.
PERC solar panels take up less space than others because fewer panels are needed for equivalent output. They’re a little more expensive than traditional crystalline panels, but also have a lower cost per watt.
Thin-film solar cells
Thin-film solar cells are made by placing at least one film of photovoltaic material onto the last layer of the panel. They’re easier to produce than other types of solar panel and also cost less to buy, as they require fewer materials. And they don’t come in standardised sizes, which means they can be fitted according to the needs of the buyer, providing more flexibility.
However, thin-film solar cells have a shorter lifespan than monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. They’re also less efficient.
Thin-film solar panels can be made from different materials: Amorphous silicon; cadmium telluride; and copper indium gallium selenide. They are often found on commercial buildings.
Amorphous silicon is most commonly used for smaller items like solar-powered calculators. It’s incredibly thin, measuring around one micrometre, which is one millionth of a metre. It’s less efficient than crystalline cells, but costs less because less silicon is needed to make it.
Cadmium telluride, also known as CdTe, is a combination of cadmium and tellurium. It has a low carbon footprint because it doesn’t need as much water during the production process, and is also relatively low in cost as it can be manufactured quickly. However, it’s toxic if ingested or inhaled, which makes it more dangerous for humans and more difficult to recycle.
Copper indium gallium selenide
A thin layer of these four materials combined is placed on glass or plastic backing. They have high energy efficiency, but not as high as crystalline panels.
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Which type of solar panel is best for me?
- If efficiency is most important to you: Monocrystalline panels have a higher level of efficiency, between 15% and 24%.
- If you want to keep costs down: While solar panels are an investment no matter which ones you choose, polycrystalline panels cost less per watt.
- If you have limited roof space: You’ll get more for your money if you invest in monocrystalline panels, as they’ll be able to generate more energy within a small area.
- If you have a large property: Polycrystalline panels will cost less upfront, so they can be a more realistic option if you have a large roof. The fact they cover more space can make up for the difference in energy efficiency too.
Frequently asked questions
How many solar panels will I need for my property?
The number of solar panels you need will depend on your average energy use, the number of people living in your property, and the amount of roof space available.
Which manufacturer makes the best solar panels?
The best solar panels for your property depend on many factors, including roof size and budget.
Can Otovo help me choose the right type of solar panels?
Yes. We use our proprietary technology to analyse the potential of any home and advise you on the ideal solar panel installation. Our approved and certified installers will be able to assist you, too, and we only select the highest quality products for installation.
Different types of solar panels suit different requirements and properties, so it’s difficult to generalise about which one is best, but we hope our guide has helped. Always do your research when considering whether to get a solar panel system installed.
At Otovo, we understand that making such decisions can be tricky. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions.