The use of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules, also known as solar panels, has increased exponentially over the past decade or so in both residential, commercial buildings as well as ground-mounted solar structures. The majority of solar modules fit into one of four major categories: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, thin-film, and bifacial social panels.
These solar modules mainly differ in terms of their specific composition, performance, appearance, prices, and installation methods and charges. Depending on the nature of the use and type of installation considered, one solar panel option may be more suitable to have as compared to others.
Let’s discuss each solar module type one by one to improve your understanding of them and choose the best option.
MONOCRYSTALLINE SOLAR PANELS
Monocrystalline solar panels are well-known for achieving some of the highest efficiencies and power outputs compared to other types of solar panels. The lower cost alternative has been polycrystalline technology, but advancements in monocrystalline manufacturing methods over the past 5-10 years have lowered prices, reducing the price premium. The life-expectancy of monocrystalline modules has historically been longer than polycrystalline. Visually, monocrystalline are considered more attractive, and also provide higher efficiency options than polycrystalline. This has made monocrystalline the most common choice currently for most rooftop installations.
Higher efficiency solar cells in solar panels helps them to generate more electricity in a smaller area. This means you’ll need fewer panels to fulfill your energy needs, compared to lower efficiency solar panels.
POLYCRYSTALLINE SOLAR PANELS
Polycrystalline solar panel cells are created by melting multiple silicon crystals and pouring it into a mold. Industry experts manufacture these solar cells more cost-effectively by wasting relatively little silicon during the production process. This contributes directly to competitive lower pricing of polycrystalline solar panels.
On the downside, polycrystalline cells are less efficient than monocrystalline cells. For this reason, they don’t generate as much electricity from direct sunlight as higher-efficiency cells.
THIN-FILM SOLAR PANELS
Thin-film solar cells are produced from layers of semiconductor materials. These materials include silicon, copper indium gallium selenide, and cadmium telluride rolled out in the form of a film surface. These solar panel types are usually considered to be less efficient than crystalline silicon types, requiring more roof space to produce the same energy output.
Thin-film solar panels have a shorter lifespan than crystalline silicon solar panels, which is why they come with shorter warranties.
On the upside, thin-film solar modules are more flexible and have higher heat-resistance than their counterparts. The increased flexibility makes thin-film panels a very common choice for mounting solar power systems on curved surfaces, including boat hulls, RVs, and fabrics. Thin-film modules can also be ordered in various shapes and sizes, even in the form of roof shingles.
BIFACIAL SOLAR PANELS
Bifacial solar panels are able to generate power using both their frontside and backside. The backside generation allows higher power output from an array, making additional power production from the backside that can be in the range of 5% to 25%. Regular modules (non-bifacial) only generate power from sunlight contacting the frontside of the module. Bifacial solar modules are generally created from monocrystalline cells, and sometimes from polycrystalline cells. Visually, they’re semi-transparent, which allows a portion of the sunlight to pass through the module and reflect onto the backside of the module to gain additional power generation.
For solar array mounting types that allow plenty of light to reach the backside of the array, bifacial modules are an excellent choice. This often includes commercial and utility-scale ground-mount installations, including solar trackers, as well as wall-mounted awning arrays. Bifacial arrays are also beneficial in areas that have snowfall and sub-zero temperatures. The snowy ground can increase the amount of light reflected toward the backside of the module, and the backside production can help get the PV system generating earlier in the morning when the front side might still be partially shaded from frost. The bifacial array allows power production to occur earlier and later in the day, by taking advantage of the backside cells during low light conditions.
Bifacial solar modules are increasingly durable, with both sides being UV resistant. By generating more power using a smaller array of bifacial modules, the balance of system (BOS) costs can be reduced (e.g. the costs of wiring and racking). Additionally, you can also decrease the potential-induced degradation PID concerns by installing a frameless bifacial module.