A solar panel system consists of a number of different parts, but by far the most important are the panels themselves. This is because they have the largest impact on the amount of usable energy that you will be able to create. They are also generally the most expensive part of your set-up, so in order to future-proof your system, it makes sense to go for the best panel technology that is currently available, as it will be the most expensive to replace.

‘Solar panels’ are the arrays of photovoltaic (PV) cells that make up the large frames that are fitted to a roof, or set out at ground level. All panels do the same thing: convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity. Most panels will either be 2m x 1m (comprising 72 cells) or 1.6m x 1m (comprising 60 cells).

In additional to different panel types, most manufacturers also have their own technologies that they use in systems; in this article we’ll take a look at all of these options.

The main types of solar panels

There are four main types of solar panel cells:

  1. Polycrystalline (Poly-Si)
  2. Monocrystalline (Mono-Si)
  3. Thin-film (TFSC)
  4. Passivated Emitter Rear Contact (PERC)
  1. Polycrystalline (Poly-Si)

Poly-Si panels are classed as first generation panels; they have been around for the longest time. This means that they tend to be reliable, as the technology has been honed over the years.

However, since they are first generation, they aren’t the latest technology, and therefore have some associated disadvantages such as their size and sensitivity. They are also less efficient than their Mono-Si cousins.

Polycrystalline panels are also known as multi-crystalline as they are made from multiple silicon crystals which are melted and poured into moulds. Their appearance is a distinct mid to dark blue.

  1. Monocrystalline (Mono-Si)

Monocrystalline solar panels, also known as Mono-Si or single crystal panels are also first generation, albeit a more progressive technology.

Due to their properties, they are highly efficient, producing more energy (kW/hour) than Poly-Si panels. They are also extremely heat-resistant and therefore longer lasting. However, due to the complexity of the manufacturing process, they can be more expensive.

Monocrystalline solar panels are also known as ‘single crystal panels’ as they are made from pure silicon crystal. The use of single crystal gives these panels a discrete and sophisticated dark blue-black hue.

  1. Thin-film (TFSC)

Thin-film solar panel technology differs from Polycrystalline and Monocrystalline due to the materials used in the manufacturing process.

TFSC’s are based around a composite of materials rather than just silicon. These materials, which include types of selenide and telluride, are engineered onto a flat surface, ready for installation.

Thin-film panels tend to be lightweight and relatively cheap to produce. However, they are known to be less efficient than the alternatives, and may not last as long.

The visual appearance of TFSC panels will depend on the combination of materials used.

  1. Passivated Emitter Rear Contact (PERC)

‘Passivated Emitter Rear Contact’ panels are a relatively new technology. Their use of silicon will be traditional, usually being based on Mono-Si technology. However, the PERC design also includes an additional back panel to absorb any light that might usually pass straight through the back of solar cells. This makes them incredibly efficient, as less light is wasted. Indeed, the addition of this back panel can add around 5% efficiency to a monocrystalline array.

Since they make use of Monocrystalline technology, they are imbued with the same dark blue/black colour as Mono-Si panels.

The table below provides a quick comparison guide to the four main types of solar panel technology.

Solar Panel TypeAdvantagesDisadvantages
PolycrystallineLess expensiveTend to take up more space Shorter life-spanCan be sensitive to high temperaturesNot as efficient as Mono-Si
MonocrystallineHigh efficiencyLong-lastingExpensive
Thin-filmLess expensiveLightweightTend to take up more spaceShorter life-span and warrantyLess efficient
PERCHighly efficientEven more expensive than Monocrystalline

Simply considering efficiency, then the four technologies are ordered as follows:

PERC Highest efficiency

Mono-Si Next to highest efficiency

Poly-Si Next to lowest efficiency

TFSC Lowest efficiency

Emerging technologies

Solar panel technology is now a fully established technology, meaning that the pre-eminent technologies mentioned in this article are relatively reliable and inexpensive.

As with all types of tech though, new variants are always emerging.

Since new technologies tend to be more efficient, there is always a temptation to wait and see what is ‘around the corner’. However, new tech also tends to be relatively untested and more expensive until it enters true mass-production.

Some examples of emerging technologies are rollable and printable cells, made using the material ‘Perovskite’. There are also tests being carried out on transparent solar panels, and ‘pyramidal’ cells which increase the cell’s surface area and therefore yield.

Solar Panels vs Solar Tiles

A more recent development has been the introduction of solar tiles as an alternative to the more traditional panels.

As the name implies, solar tiles consist of silicon arrays that are manufactured into small roof tiles rather than large panels. They are built onto your roof support, rather than being laid on top of an existing roof. Consequently, they make perfect sense for new builds, where their cost can be mitigated against the savings made by not needing traditional roof tiles. Solar tiles are also a credible option if roof tiles are due to be replaced.

There’s also an aesthetic advantage to having solar tiles, too, since their design makes them a more discrete option than a large set of panels.

However, the question most frequently asked is ‘are solar tiles as good as solar panels?’. The answer simply is ‘no’. Solar tiles tend to have an average efficiency of 10%-20%, as compared with panels that would tend towards an efficiency rating of between 16% and 22%.

Meyer Berger solar panels

Cobolt Blue Energy are your one-stop partners for the entirety of your domestic or commercial solar panel project. We are strategic partners with ‘Meyer Berger’, a Swiss and German-based solar panel manufacturer that has been making panels for decades.

The types of panels made by Myer Berger are currently built around Mono-crystalline technology, hence they are some of the most efficient panels on the market.

Meyer Berger build their panels with three options – Black, Glass and White.

Since Meyer Berger are an established market leader, they have also introduced a number of new technologies into their designs.

One of these is Heterojunction technology (HJT), which increases the yield available from solar cells.

Another is Smart Wire Connection Technology (SWCT), which increases a solar panel’s efficiencies whilst also reducing or even eliminating the need for silver paste to be used in the manufacturing process.

For further information about Meyer Berger, please click here

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