Types of Solar Panels
There are two conventional types of solar panels: crystalline silicon and thin film. The most common solar cell material is crystalline silicon, but newer materials for making solar cells include thin-film materials such as amorphous silicon and cadmium telluride. More recently, solar companies have begun to use plastic and aluminum foil to produce solar electricity, but it may be several years before these new products become available to consumers.
Silicon Solar Panels
These rigid panels come in two types: crystalline (made from a single large crystal) and polycrystalline (made from blocks of silicon that contain many small crystals). Silicon solar panels are the most efficient on the market, but also the most expensive. They are also the best-performing panels in low-light conditions. Although poly-crystalline solar cells are slightly less efficient than the single-crystal type, silicon solar panel efficiencies average about 33%.
Thin-Film Solar Panels
These flexible solar panels are made by spreading silicon and other solar producing materials in a very thin layer (about the thickness of a human hair) directly onto a large plate that is usually made of glass or ceramics. Less efficient than silicon solar panels, thin-film solar panels are also less expensive to produce. The thin material of these solar panels makes them ideal as building-integrated solar products such as solar shingles and tiles. The most successful thin-film materials are amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium diselenide. Efficiencies range from 10% to 19%.
Future Solar Panels
New solar materials that are emerging include lightweight foil-based panels, plastic collectors, and hybrid solar electric/solar water heating collectors. The new hybrid systems capture hot air from the solar electric panels and use it to heat water. Except for the hybrid systems, most of the new materials are not available to home-owners.
Types of Solar Electric Systems
A solar electric system is typically made up of solar panels, an inverter, a battery, a charge controller, wiring, and support structure. The three most common types of solar electric systems are grid-connected, grid-connected with battery backup, and off-grid (stand-alone). Each has distinct applications and components