Saturday, April 16, 2016

All About Solar Panels

Panel Comparison

Solar Panels

Crystalline Silicon (c-Si)

Almost 90% of the World’s photovoltaics today are based on some variation of silicon.  In 2011, about 95% of all shipments by U.S. manufacturers to the residential sector were crystalline silicon solar panels.

The silicon used in PV takes many forms. The main difference is the purity of the silicon.

But what does silicon purity really mean? The more perfectly aligned the silicon molecules are, the better the solar cell will be at converting solar energy (sunlight) into electricity (the photoelectric effect).

The efficiency of solar panels goes hand in hand with purity, but the processes used to enhance the purity of silicon are expensive. Efficiency should not be your primary concern. As you will later discover, cost-and space-efficiency are the determining factors for most people.

Crystalline silicon forms the basis of mono- and polycrystalline silicon solar cells:

Monocrystalline Silicon Solar Cells

Solar cells made of monocrystalline silicon (mono-Si), also called single-crystalline silicon (single-crystal-Si), are quite easily recognizable by an external even coloring and uniform look, indicating high-purity silicon, as you can see on the picture below:

Monocrystalline solar cells are made out of silicon ingots, which are cylindrical in shape. To optimize performance and lower costs of a single monocrystalline solar cell, four sides are cut out of the cylindrical ingots to make silicon wafers, which is what gives monocrystalline solar panels their characteristic look.
A good way to separate mono- and polycrystalline solar panels is that polycrystalline solar cells look perfectly rectangular with no rounded edges.


  • Monocrystalline solar panels have the highest efficiency rates since they are made out of the highest-grade silicon. The efficiency rates of monocrystalline solar panels are typically 15-20%. SunPower produces the highest efficiency solar panels on the U.S. market today. Their E20 series provide panel conversion efficiencies of up to 21.5%.
  • Monocrystalline silicon solar panels are space-efficient. Since these solar panels yield the highest power outputs, they also require the least amount of space compared to any other types. Monocrystalline solar panels produce up to four times the amount of electricity as thin-film solar panels.
  • Monocrystalline solar panels live the longest. Most solar panel manufacturers put a 25-year warranty on their monocrystalline solar panels.
  • Tend to perform better than similarly rated polycrystalline solar panels at low-light conditions.


  • Monocrystalline solar panels are the most expensive. From a financial standpoint, a solar panel that is made of polycrystalline silicon (and in some cases thin-film) can be a better choice for some homeowners.
  • If the solar panel is partially covered with shade, dirt or snow, the entire circuit can break down. Consider getting micro-inverters instead of central string inverters if you think coverage will be a problem. Micro-inverters will make sure that not the entire solar array is affected by shading issues with only one of the solar panels.
  • The Czochralski process is used to produce monocrystalline silicon. It results in large cylindrical ingots. Four sides are cut out of the ingots to make silicon wafers. A significant amount of the original silicon ends up as waste.
  • Monocrystalline solar panels tend to be more efficient in warm weather. Performance suffers as temperature goes up, but less so than polycrystalline solar panels. For most homeowners temperature is not a concern.

Polycrystalline Silicon Solar Cells

The first solar panels based on polycrystalline silicon, which also is known as polysilicon (p-Si) and multi-crystalline silicon (mc-Si), were introduced to the market in 1981. Unlike monocrystalline-based solar panels, polycrystalline solar panels do not require the Czochralski process. Raw silicon is melted and poured into a square mold, which is cooled and cut into perfectly square wafers.
Polycrystalline solar panels


  • The process used to make polycrystalline silicon is simpler and cost less. The amount of waste silicon is less compared to monocrystalline.
  • Polycrystalline solar panels tend to have slightly lower heat tolerance than monocrystalline solar panels. This technically means that they perform slightly worse than monocrystalline solar panels in high temperatures. Heat can affect the performance of solar panels and shorten their lifespans. However, this effect is minor, and most homeowners do not need to take it into account.


  • The efficiency of polycrystalline-based solar panels is typically 13-16%. Because of lower silicon purity, polycrystalline solar panels are not quite as efficient as monocrystalline solar panels.
  • Lower space-efficiency. You generally need to cover a larger surface to output the same electrical power as you would with a solar panel made of monocrystalline silicon. However, this does not mean every monocrystalline solar panel perform better than those based on polycrystalline silicon.
  • Monocrystalline and thin-film solar panels tend to be more aesthetically pleasing since they have a more uniform look compared to the speckled blue color of polycrystalline silicon.

Amorphous Silicon (a-Si) Solar Cells (Harbor Freight)

Because the output of electrical power is low, solar cells based on amorphous silicon have traditionally only been used for small-scale applications such as in pocket calculators. However, recent innovations have made them more attractive for some large-scale applications too.
With a manufacturing technique called “stacking”, several layers of amorphous silicon solar cells can be combined, which results in higher efficiency rates (typically around 6-8%).
Only 1% of the silicon used in crystalline silicon solar cells is required in amorphous silicon solar cells. On the other hand, stacking is expensive.

1 comment :

  1. One issue you may want to take into consideration is the effect of the energy concentrators and power transmission lines used in residential solar installations. Depending on which type of concentrator (switching, etc.) and the cabling route(s) used, you may be setting yourself up for a bad case of EMI / QRM due to your system. This does not mean that the problems are insurmountable or that solar is 'evil' by any means - just something to be aware of.

    There was a very good article in a recent QST issue that you might refer to. If you aren't an ARRL member and would like to see the article, let me know at and I will get the information to you.
    73's & out.