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What are the different types of Solar Modules available in the market?



From the discovery of the Photovoltaic effect in 1839 and then the birth of the first solar cell with an efficiency of 4% in 1954 and now with commercially available Panel efficiencies inching closer to 23% in the present day, the solar industry has come a long way.

The average efficiencies of solar panels available in the market range between 17-19%. These solar panels differ in their manufacturing process, appearance, performance, costs.


Most of the solar PV module options currently available fit in one of three types:

1. Monocrystalline

2. Polycrystalline

3. Thin-film (amorphous, microcrystalline, CdTe, or CIS modules).


1. Monocrystalline


Monocrystalline panels, as the name suggests, are created from a single, pure crystal of silicon.


Performance-

They typically have higher efficiencies compared to polycrystalline and Thin-film panels. The efficiency ranges between 18-21%. Some manufacturers have been able to reach efficiencies close to 23%, but these are comparatively expensive to polycrystalline solar panels.


Appearance-

Monocrystalline cells are black. They can be easily distinguished from poly panels with their chamfered edges, as shown in the above image.


Cost-

These panels tend to be more expensive compared to other options. The manufacturing process, known as the Czochralski process, is energy-intensive and results in wasted silicon that increases the overall cost of manufacture.


2. Polycrystalline


Polycrystalline solar cells are composed of fragments of silicon crystals that are melted together, before being cut into wafers.


Appearance-

Polycrystalline cells have a bluish hue.


Performance-

These panels were considered to be inferior to Mono-Crystalline a few years back. Still, with improvements in the manufacturing process, their efficiencies are quite close to Monocrystalline panels ranging between 15-17%.


Cost-

These panels are cheaper than Mono panels. This is because the raw materials for the manufacture are silicon fragments rather than a single, pure crystal. The amount of waste silicon is very less compared to monocrystalline, reducing the overall price.



3. Thin-film solar panels

The technology for thin-film panels is different from mono and polycrystalline panels. They are made from cadmium Telluride (CdTe) and sometimes other materials with semiconductor properties known as CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide solar cells).


Performance-

The efficiencies of commercially available thin-film panels are quite low in the range of 10-13%.


Appearance-

Their uniform appearance makes them look more appealing than poly/monocrystalline panels. They can be made flexible, opening up multiple avenues.


Cost-

Mass-production is simple. This makes them potentially cheaper to manufacture than crystalline-based solar cells. Due to lower efficiencies, a more substantial capacity is required to generate the same amount of power as monocrystalline panels, increasing the structure requirement, thereby increasing the cost.