Exploring the 4 types of solar panels

Most solar panel systems are designed according to the same principles. Layers of silicon within the photovoltaic (PV) panels store electrons and charge them positively and negatively. Photons from the sun's light hit the silicon layers and move the electrons toward each other. This sets off a process that collects the charged electrons and converts them into electricity. But, there are several different types of PV panels. There are pros and cons inherent in each of them. The most common types of panels use either crystalline or amorphous silicon. Below, we'll provide a brief overview of the 4 main types of PV solar panels.

Main types of PV solar panels

Monocrystalline panels

Most experts consider monocrystalline to be the most efficient type of solar panel. It employs crystalline-based silicon that can be incorporated into the panel as one sheet. To conduct the electrons, metal strips are laid across the entire expanse of the panel. Compared to other crystalline-based panels, monocrystalline units are the most expensive. However, their efficiency also yields the greatest savings in energy costs.

Polycrystalline panels

While monocrystalline panels use one sheet of silicon to cover the PV cell, polycrystalline panels use several. This type of crystalline panel is usually the least expensive to purchase. But, they're far less efficient in converting electrons to electricity. As a result, these panels tend to yield fewer savings in energy costs than monocrystalline panels.

Amorphous panels

This type of panel doesn't use crystalline silicon. Crystalline-based panels are typically created from a process that includes molding and slicing the silicon. By contrast, amorphous panels use silicon without a crystalline composition. Instead, this silicon can be applied as a thin layer of film on a variety of different surfaces (such as glass or metal).

The benefit of using amorphous panels is the low investment required. However, though they are significantly cheaper than crystalline panels, they're also far less efficient. To yield the same amount of electricity as monocrystalline or polycrystalline silicon, a greater number of amorphous panels is required.

Multijunction devices

Solar panels are now being designed to take advantage of a broader spectrum of the sun's rays. The panels are built with multiple layers of cells. Solar energy is stored in each layer. To maximize efficiency, each layer of cells is constructed of a different substance. Each substance is particularly receptive to the type of solar energy that the layer stores. Referred to as multijunction devices, these solar panels use amorphous silicon combined with gallium arsenide.

The solar energy that is found in the shorter wavelengths has the greatest levels of natural energy. These are absorbed in the top layers. There, an electrical charge is created. When solar energy from different wavelengths in the spectrum reaches the top layer, they pass through to the lower layers in the panel. It is in these lower layers that they're absorbed and an electrical charge is produced. While the theory behind these multijunction devices seems sound, research is still being conducted.

Choosing the right type of solar panel

Each type of panel, whether it uses crystalline or amorphous silicon, has inherent benefits and drawbacks. Monocrystalline panels are incredibly efficient but costly. Polycrystalline panels are less expensive but less efficient. Amorphous panels are very inexpensive to purchase and install, but yield much less energy efficiency and thus, lower long-term savings. To select the right type of solar panels for your home, you'll need to consider your budget and energy requirements. In the end, you'll need to think of the long-term savings balanced by your upfront investment.