Solar panels are a large part of the UK’s solution to expanding renewable energy production and consumption. Over the past decade, production and adoption of solar panels has ramped up, taking advantage of the advancements in the technology to make them more cost-effective and affordable. The innovations that have been made in the field have spawned a variety of different types, which has led to a lot of people asking what the best solar panels are.
The best solar panels are the ones that are most suitable for you, whether that be as a domestic household or a commercial business. Effective Home understands that newcomers considering the technology for the first time may be confused as to which type of solar panel set up is best for them, which is why we’ve put together this guide to help out.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
The “mono” in monocrystalline solar panels refers to the single-crystal silicone material that the solar panel hosts and the entirety of the panel is made up of this one silicon crystal solar cell. Its entire panel is typically black and has a sleek, uniform appearance. They have a power output ranging from 250 to 400 watts per panel.
This makes up the average household solar panel choice, making it the best solar panel for everyday use, being efficient enough to handle standard household energy generation in its entirety.
- High Efficiency – Monocrystalline solar panels are considered to be one of the more highly efficient solar panels out there. This is reflected in their popularity. For every 100 units of sunlight energy (DC) that hits the panel, more than 20 is converted into usable energy (AC).
- Economical Space – These solar panels are a popular choice because of the small amount of space they take up. They can be mounted on the roof of the average household in the UK, making them the go-to choice for most installers.
- Durability – Monocrystalline solar panels are long-term investments. You can expect the lifetime of your solar panels to reach 25+ years. With proper maintenance, it can go beyond 30 years before efficiency drops off enough that the panels likely need to be replaced..
- Shading Sensitivity – The most important job of a solar panel installer, when it comes to monocrystalline solar panels, is to ensure that the solar panels do not experience shading. When a shadow projects onto these types of solar panels, you can expect the solar cell efficiency of those shaded areas to drop.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
The “poly” in polycrystalline solar panels refers to the multiple crystal silicon solar cells melted together and then cut into squares to make up its structure. They look different from monocrystalline solar panels, having a bluish hue and a fragmented pattern. They have a power output ranging from 200 to 350 watts per panel.
- Cost Effective – Polycrystalline solar panels are more affordable to manufacture than monocrystalline panels, and as such, are sold for a lesser price. This is ideal for those on a budget.
- Good efficiency – Despite being seen as a budget option, polycrystalline solar panels offer decent energy for the price.
- Durable – Polycrystalline solar panels are very long-lasting, up to 25 years.
- High Temperatures – At high temperatures, polycrystalline solar panels tend to suffer. This is true for all solar panels, but monocrystalline panels have a higher resistance due to being uniform in structure. With polycrystalline solar panels, their “defence” is fragmented due to being in multiple parts, ensuring they suffer worse performance in high temperatures than mono crystals.
Thin-Film Solar Panels
Thin-film solar panels are made to be sleek, being more flexible than the previous two entries on this list. These types of solar panels are much lighter, and this makes their installation jobs easier, as well as generally making them the go-to options for areas that are not suited to traditional installation means.
- Aesthetic – A lot of buyers consider thin-film solar panels to look beautiful. Their paper-like, sleek and subtle profile makes them very flexible, not just to handle, but also in terms of decor, as many of these solar panels come in different colours.
- Versatile – The installation of these solar panels is made viable for a lot of surfaces – including curved roofs. This is particularly popular in more commercial areas, being one of the best solar panels where a lot of buildings are not made to appear or function like households.
- Lower Initial Costs – Thin-film solar panels have been known to be cheaper than traditional mono panels.
- Short Lifespan – Thin-film solar panels have a lower lifespan than most panels. This is because their material makeup is not as condensed as thin-film solar panels. This makes them less hardy, and they degrade faster over time.
- Lower Efficiency – Their energy conversion rates are lower. This is even when they are replicated to cover the same surface area as other solar panels.
Concentrated PV Cell
CPV systems use (lenses, mirrors etc) to focus sunlight onto a small area, but those areas are made to be a high-efficiency multi-junction solar cell. They are very sophisticated systems that include additional options, such as solar trackers and cooling systems to ensure production remains consistent and efficient at any time and temperature. Their power output often depends on the setup, as they are rarely uniform.
CPV systems are suited for direct sunlight. They are modular and scalable from kilowatts to gigawatts, so you can expect your energy to pay back much sooner than any other solar array.
- Highest Efficiency – CPV cells are the peak of solar panel efficiency inventions to date. They work by taking sunlight and concentrating the intensity hundreds of times. This has allowed them to break efficiency records, with the highest recorded efficiencies of a benchmark reaching over 40%.
- Space-Efficient – Due to the focus on concentration with these solar panels, they take up much less space per watt of energy generated. Provided they can afford the cost, this is one the best solar panels for customers who don’t have a lot of space to spare.
- Energy Bills – The heightened efficiency of CPV systems means that you’ll likely reach the energy generation levels to service your entire home. We have even heard from customers that these systems earn more than needed to suffice for energy bills, allowing them to have a secondary income based on their energy earnings.
- Geographical Limitations – CPV systems reach their maximum efficiency in areas that have high direct sunlight. This means that areas with lowered light conditions, whether through weather or location, may not get the maximum yield out of this device.
- Higher Cost – The manufacturing costs of CPVs are pretty high, which also means their initial costs are higher. There are also additional systems added, such as the tracking systems, that add up in the end.
- Complex Installation/Maintenance – CPV systems are unsuitable for the typical residential rooftop due to being far too big. This doubles the trouble for installation, as on top of needing an area large enough to host the device, they’ve got to install something quite heavy and have a myriad of additional systems. Then there’s the maintenance, which is far more involved than the almost self-regulating traditional solar panels.
Pending Solar Cell Technology
Solar Panels have constantly been evolving over the past decade or so. There is always more to refine, and the sector (as well as the world) will only benefit from manufacturing becoming faster and cheaper. This will make it a realistic option to completely replace traditional means of electricity, which is becoming feasible in the UK, but not so much in other areas of the world.
Nonetheless, here are some mentions of technology that is being developed and may soon debut.
Perovskite Tandem Solar Panels
This new type of solar panel under development can be explained by the following points:
- Hybrid Structure – The structure of this panel consists of the new perovskite materials being layered over the traditional silicone cells. The two materials share a crystalline structure, and together they aid each other’s excellent light absorption and charge transport properties.
- Efficiency – High efficiency is by far the biggest draw for this type of solar panel. The infamous CPV system will retain the benchmarks, it seems, at being able to reach about 40% – but if this solar panel has been observed to hit the high 20s. In lab settings, they hit above 30%. If this panel becomes cost-effective, it may very well be counted amongst the best solar panels for standard purchases.
- Light Absorption Variety – Other solar panels aim for specific wavelengths of light due to the constraints of the current technology level. However, Perovskite can pull in a variety of them, ensuring that no matter the time of day or temperature, there is always a ready supply of energy to pull and generate.
- Cost – Perovskite is manufactured using simpler processes than the traditional silicon cells. Whilst half of the structure still consists of traditional silicon, this essentially means that half of the manufacturing is quite simple. This will be reflected in the cost, which is projected to be lower.
There are some challenges, however. Perovskite is vulnerable to high heat temperatures, as well as moisture. These are weaknesses that are being worked on, but until the resistances have stabilised effectively, then it will not be able to deliver on the promised efficiency, not to mention have a lower lifespan.
Bifacial Solar Panels
Solar Panels in the UK face south, due to the sun travelling horizontally across the sky in that direction. This ensures the optimal yield. That being said, if the solar panel was faced in the other direction, they would still pull in some energy to convert. That’s why bifacial, meaning “two-faced”, solar panels come into play. By facing both directions at once, you don’t necessarily double your yield, but you will get a good amount more.
- Increased Energy Generation – It is said that Bifacial Solar Panels increase efficiency by an average of 11%. With a solar tracking system, these solar panels increase by as high as 27%, making it one of the best solar panels currently available.
- Versatile – Bifacial solar panels can be effective in various installation positions, whether ground-mounted or elevated structures.
- Always performing – Reflections of solar energy hitting the back face of the solar panel counts, ensuring that even if the face isn’t gaining a lot of sunlight due to weather, the solar panel will yield enough combined to suit your purposes.
Quantum Dot Solar Cells
An emerging technology in the Solar Panel industry, these have the potential to absorb and convert light quickly. The quantum dots change in size on command, ensuring that it tunes itself to pull in the most yielding wavelengths.
- Broad Spectrum – As already described, the quantum dots are engineered to pull in a wide range of light wavelengths. This will almost certainly lead to higher energy conversion efficiencies.
- Flexibility – Due to its small size, and the potential to be used with a variety of materials, you can expect to be able to install these solar cells in an endless amount of areas.
- Lower Production Costs – Always a welcome trait of new technology, the production cost of creating these machines is much less expensive than traditional solar panel manufacturing.
- Tunable Bandgaps – The quantum dots allow for the optimisation of solar cells in different environments, temperatures, time zones etc.
Overall, solar panels have come a long way, and it’s although they are only just now becoming a widely accepted product, we believe it will continue to see technological advancements decades into use.
Types of Solar Panels – FAQs
What are the Best Solar Panel mountings for Commercial areas?
Commercial applications of solar panels can be tricky as, unlike domestic solar panels, they often have to contend with differing roofs. This means that the solar panels installed have to be mounted in different ways. The monocrystalline solar panel is used the most in the commercial sector, but what mounting they use is dependent on the type of building:
|Commercial Rooftop Solar Mounting
|Most common option for commercial installations, varies based on roof type.
|Use ballasted or hybrid mount systems, usually requiring minimal to no rooftop penetration. Ideal for non-invasive installations.
|Often need a strong foundation, likely requiring penetrations. Typically achieved using L-foot bolts and clamps for securing solar panels.
|Common in smaller commercial properties. Require flashing beneath shingles for a secure and watertight mount.
|Commercial Solar Canopy Mounting (Solar Carports)
|Installed over car parks using a canopy structure. These mountings can be designed to reflect the company’s branding.
|Ground Mount Solar
|Suitable for companies with ample unused land. Allows for optimal tilting of panels, potentially yielding more energy than rooftop panels. Often used by wealthier companies.