Most people may not be familiar with the term “solar panels” but have probably seen them in use. After all, they’re the components found in solar power plants that collect and convert solar energy into usable electricity which can be supplied to homes and businesses.
What are solar panels made of and how do they work? Essentially, solar panels use photovoltaic principles to generate electricity when exposed to sunlight. The electricity generated is then delivered to a nearby power grid for supplying electricity to homes and businesses.
The most basic solar panel has two parts: a collector and a battery. The collector focuses on gathering and concentrating the sun’s rays while the battery provides an electrical outlet that can be connected to a home or business’ electrical system. Typically, the collector is made of silicon while the battery is formed of cells called “alkaline” or “lithium”.
The more “layers” there are in a solar panel, the more surface area it has for converting solar energy into electricity. A solar panel with six or more layers is considered “multi-junction”, which means it can capture more solar energy than a simpler version. In some instances, solar panels with several layers are more efficient at converting sunlight into electricity than a single layer due to the additional photon “trapping” caused by multiple intersections of sunlight. It’s important to note here that the more layers, the more expensive the solar panel.
Types Of Solar Panels
When speaking of solar power and the ability to generate electricity, most people think about photovoltaic (PV) solar panels first. The most basic form of PV solar panel has two parts: a “photovoltaic cell” and “collector”.
A photovoltaic cell is a device that can convert light energy, or photons, into electrical energy, or voltage. A single cell can only produce a small amount of electricity, but when arrayed in groups of ten or more, these individual cells contribute toward greater photoelectric conversion.
There are four types of photovoltaic cells which are commonly used in solar panels:
This is the most basic type of PV cell which is often found in residential and small-scale commercial applications. It consists of a single, large crystal which functions as both the “collector” and “absorber”. The downside to this type of cell is that it’s expensive and relatively transparent to heat. Additionally, monocrystalline cells require a lot of space in which to operate. On the other hand, they’re very efficient at converting light energy into electricity. For instance, a monocrystalline cell manufactured by Sanyoen is said to be 100% efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. If you have the space, go for it.
This type of cell is made up of many small crystals which are typically square in shape and arranged in parallel lines. Polycrystalline cells are more common than monocrystalline cells in solar energy applications because they’re less expensive and require less space to manufacture. Additionally, they’re more “weather-resistant” as they’re made from “glass” or “crystalline silicon”. However, they’re also less efficient at converting sunlight into electricity than monocrystalline cells. For example, a 10 polycrystalline cell produced by Sanyoen is only 80% efficient at converting light energy into electricity.
This type of cell is made up of at least three layers of materials, the middle layer being “silicon”. In the multijunction cell, the “silicon” layer serves as the “absorber” while the other layers work together as the “collector” (concentrator). Just like polycrystalline cells, multijunction cells are more cost-effective than monocrystalline and transparent to heat. Additionally, they’re more efficient at converting light energy into electricity and have a longer life span. For example, the Sanyoen 10 multijunction cells are capable of producing 30% more electricity than a traditional 10 monocrystalline cell. That’s significant!
4. Silicon Carbide (SiC)
This cell is made of a single layer of silicon which is fused to a carbide layer. The carbide layer serves as a catalyst which helps the silicon layer accelerate the process of converting light energy into electricity. The downside to this type of cell is that it’s expensive and the lifespan is shorter than that of its counterpart, the silicon cell. Additionally, it’s not as “weather-resistant” as the other variants due to its one-layer construction. On the other hand, it’s very efficient at converting light energy into electricity and is more stable than other types of cells.
Now that you know the difference between the various types of solar panels and what they are made of, you may be wondering which one you should own.
If you’re on the fence, it’s advisable to go with the most basic type of cell and stick with it for as long as you can. This will not only be the cheapest option but will also be the most reliable. It’s also a good idea to look into the warranty provided by the company you purchase the cell from. Does the company offer any money-back guarantees if you follow the proper maintenance instructions? These are all important questions to ask yourself before deciding which type of solar panel to purchase.