Solar Panel Types and Purposes

Solar Facts
solar panel types

Solar is an expanding industry. While there is still lots of research going into the types of solar panels on the market today, there is an equal amount of research going into the supply side of the equation on how to make these products even more efficient.

All these types of solar panels have different efficiency levels and uses. Let’s take a look at some of these panels, and explore what makes them different from each other.

Common Factors Used to Determine Solar Panel Quality

Where you live and solar panel use influences what will be the best type of solar panel for your needs. However, there are two main factors that most look at to determine solar panel quality: efficiency and wattage.

Often the efficiency of the solar panel is referred to instead of the wattage. However, both factors play important roles.

Solar panels with higher efficiency gather more energy per cell, which means the solar panel doesn’t need to be as big. For some, this is an important aspect of aesthetics.

Although you may have a panel with the same wattage, the size of the panel will be different if efficiencies aren’t the same.  This may mean that a solar panel with the same wattage, but higher efficiency will fit better on your roof.

Difference Between 3 Typical Residential Solar Panel Types

If you are thinking about installing solar on your home, there are three main solar panel types. These are the most regularly used and well tested solar cell types.

Monocrystalline Vs. Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline panels are made from a pure silicon crystal called an ingot. These are the most widely used type of solar panel because their efficiency and wattage are so high.

Monocrystalline cells have efficiencies as high as 26.7 percent. Their wattage per panel can be as high or higher than 300 watts. This means each panel can produce more in less space. These panels are made with fragmented silicon crystals. The typical efficiency of a monocrystalline panel is about 15 percent.

Polycrystalline is the second most commonly used in the residential market, and are popular among low price point installers from a supply side economics standpoint, because most consumers aren’t educated on the downfalls of these cheaper modules.

Commonly Used Thin Film Solar Panels: Amorphous, CdTe, CIGS, Organic

There are several different thin-film panels out there with different conductor materials. These conductors determine panel efficiency.

Amorphous Solar Panels

Amorphous uses non-crystalline silicon as its conductor. A thin layer is deposited on a substrate. Common substrates include glass, metal, and plastic.

These panels are bendable and less likely to crack. However, the efficiency of the solar panels isn’t as high.

On average an amorphous solar panel has an efficiency of 7 percent. You would need far more space to match the wattage of one traditional crystalline silicon panel.

Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) Solar Panels

To create these thin-film solar panels several layers of cadmium telluride are used. These panels have efficiencies between 10 and 11 percent. The main concern that many have with these panels is the toxicity of this conductive material.

Copper Gallium Indium Diselenide (CIGS) Solar Panels

In this thin-film, copper gallium indium Diselenide is put in between conductive materials, which is then deposited on a substrate. CIGS has efficiencies that can reach as high as 20 percent. The cost to produce these solar panels, however, is more than a traditional crystalline silicon panel, making it unpopular with most solar installers in the Western U.S.

Organic Photovoltaic Cells

Organic photovoltaic cells use conductive organic polymers or small organic molecules as the conductive material. Their efficiency ratings are typically about 11 percent. Organic PV cells also don’t last as long as other solar panel options.

New Types of Solar Panels

Because solar is a relatively new industry, there are new products coming to the market. These products claim to have better efficiencies and aesthetic appeal. However, these products aren’t always ready for the general public.

Graphene Solar Panels

Graphene is a layer of carbon in a repeating hexagon-shaped pattern. This material is highly conductive, flexible and transparent. The problem is that it isn’t very good at collecting the electrical current produced.

Graphene-based solar panels aren’t commercially available. However, the potential is around the corner. Currently graphene is being used to enhance the research and development aspect of solar panel efficiency.

Clear Solar Panels: Perovskite, Infrared-absorbing Cells and Quantum Dots

Large skyscrapers use large amounts of energy.  The heat generated through their countless windows runs the energy bills even higher. This is where clear solar panels come into play.

Perovskite Solar Panels

There are three clear solar panels currently on the market. The first is made with the help of a conductor called perovskite. This is a new thin-film that is almost completely transparent.

Perovskites have efficiencies as high as 22 percent because they can be fine-tuned to absorb specific light frequencies. However, current perovskite windows have recorded efficiencies of 0.5 percent.

Infrared-absorbing Solar Cells

Another option that has been explored is infrared-absorbing cells. These solar windows currently have efficiencies of 5 percent.

Quantum Dot Solar Panels

The third solar window currently on the market is the quantum dot window. These windows have microscopic semiconductor material embedded in the window.

The semiconductor generates a current which is transmitted to solar strips for collection. The efficiency of these windows has reached 3.1 percent.

Invisible solar technology is right on the cusp of reality. Currently, however, you would need a home completely made out of glass for it to be a viable option for residential use.

Taking a Look at Solar Shingles

Solar shingles have received lots of hype over the last couple of years. However, the leading brand, Tesla, still hasn’t reached the market.

Only a select few have received these glass shingles and they came at a premium price. Everyone else has been put on a waiting list several miles long.

Tesla doesn’t have efficiency specs available for its solar shingles. However, most solar shingles have efficiencies between 10 and 20 percent with 13 to 63 watts per shingle.

Non-residential Solar Panels

Not all solar panels are the best option for residential use. Taking a look at these different solar types and how they are best used will help you determine what is best for you.

Handheld Solar Panels: Solar Power Banks

Handheld solar panels are a great addition to camping gear or emergency preparedness. However, they are not the best solution for power your home.

One of the major reasons is that these solar panels only power a couple of devices. Handheld solar panels are made with thin-film technology, but they are also small.

This means they won’t produce as much power. A typical power bank produces between 10,000mAh and 25,000mAh with about 5 volts. This means that the total capacity of the solar power bank is between 50 and 125 watts.

NASA Solar Panels

NASA has created a solar panel that has phenomenal efficiencies. These solar panels have a thin layer of selenium which bonds silicon substrate and thin film multi-junction wafers.

Using these three conductors together has increased panel efficiency to 40 percent. However, these panels are still being tested and so they aren’t available to the public. Even if they were available to the public, 99 percent of consumers would not be able to avoid the technology at this juncture.

Portable Solar Panels

Portable solar panels are a great way to enhance your camping experience. Some portable solar panels are able to fit on a backpack. These are great if you only need them to charge a couple of small devices like a phone, laptop, or tablet. They also work well with Go Solar Group’s 2nd Level of Portable Battery Backup.

Other portable solar panels are slightly smaller than a residential solar panel. These panels are often engineered so they can be more easily transported. However, they are not meant to go on your roof.

These panels typically produce about 100 watts. This is enough to charge a solar generator, which can then produce solar power for several electronic devices. Portable solar panels are also used for RVs.  

Solar Panels for RVs

Because of the structure and space of RVs, typical crystalline solar panels are a bit too large for the roof. However, solar can be permanently installed on the roof of an RV. This is best done by solar professionals that specialize in RV solar installations.

Go Solar Group specializes in residential installations. Those looking for a superior monocrystalline solar array for their home with the option of solar backup need look no further. However, comparing prices is encouraged.

Also, do note that in addition to a variety of different solar panel types, there are numerous kinds of solar installs for residential and commercial use of the aforementioned panels.


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