So Many Types of Solar Panels – Which One to Choose?

Carlos Huerta

Table of Contents

    Solar panels are power-generating components that convert sunlight into electricity. They are made up of photovoltaic cells, which are built using semiconductor materials like silicon. When sunlight hits a photovoltaic cell, it knocks electrons loose from their atoms, then, these electrons flow through the cell, creating an electric current.

    That is the basic working principle of any solar panel, also known as the photoelectric effect. However, as the industry has grown, so has increased the options available to buy a solar panel. Today, there are many different types of PV modules available on the market. To cover the most important ones, we must divide them into two different categories: by their mechanical support and by technology. Let’s take a look at these categories.

    Types of Solar Panels by Mechanical Support

    When considering their mechanical or structural framework, solar panels can be divided into three main types: rigid, flexible, and portable solar panels.

    Rigid Solar Panels

    Rigid solar panels are the most common type of solar panel. Solar cells are sandwiched between two encapsulant EVA layers (transparent material used to bind the solar cells together and protect them) and then they are mounted on a tempered glass and an aluminum frame as can be seen below. PV cells in rigid solar panels can be made of any PV technology and be used in almost all applications of the industry including residential, RVs, boats, cabins, commercial, industrial, and utility-scale projects.

    rigid solar panel
    Figure 1. Rigid Solar Panel Layers. Souce:Ecoprogretti

    Flexible solar panels

    The next type is flexible solar panels. These are made from thin, flexible materials like plastic or metal. They are often used in RVs, boats, and cases where the roof has a curved shape, like a dome. These can often be bent up to 30-degrees and efficiency levels can be similar to rigid ones. Their best advantage is that they are lighter and easier to carry, and easier to install than rigid solar panels.

    Portable solar panels

    Portable solar panels are small, lightweight solar panels that can be easily transported and used to generate electricity in remote locations. They are often used for camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities. Portable solar panels come in a variety of sizes and wattages, so you can choose the right one for your needs. Portable solar panels can often be found in foldable or solar panel briefcase presentations.

    types of solar panels by technology

    On the other hand, solar panels can also be divided by technology. The most common types of solar panel technologies are:

    Monocrystalline silicon solar panels: Made from a single crystal of silicon. This makes them more efficient than polycrystalline solar panels. However, they are also more expensive. This type of technology can often be found in rigid, flexible, and portable solar panel options.

    Polycrystalline silicon solar panels: Made from multiple crystals of silicon. This makes them less expensive than monocrystalline solar panels, but also less efficient. Monocrystalline and polycrystalline technology constitute what is typically known as traditional solar panels and polycrystalline solar cells are often found in rigid options.

    mono vs poly
    Figure 5. Difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar cells. Source: Prostar

    Passive Emitter and Rear Contact (PERC) Technology: This type of solar panel technology uses a special passivation layer on the back of the cell to improve efficiency. This layer reduces the recombination effect, which causes energy losses due to the loss of electrons.  Typically, PERC is a manufacturing technology that is combined with monocrystalline solar panels to achieve higher efficiency than traditional solar panels.

    perc solar
    Figure 6. PERC Solar Cell. Source: Hyde Source

    Heterojunction (HJT) Solar Technology:  Type of solar cell that uses a junction between crystalline silicon cells and thin-film solar cells. They are generally more efficient than traditional solar panels, last longer, and have better temperature coefficients; however, costs are typically higher for this type of product.

    Interdigitated Back Contact (IBC) Technology:  Technology that restructures the components inside the solar cell to increase efficiency levels. In this type of solar cell, the metal contacts are placed on the back of the panel in an interdigitated way, which covers the entire backside of the panel. Under this design, efficiency levels can be higher than other technologies but costs can also be much higher.

    Bifacial solar panels: These solar PV modules can generate electricity from both the front and back of the panel. This is beneficial when the surface where the panels will be mounted is white or has a high reflectivity.

    bifacil solar
    Figure 7. Bifacial Solar Panels. Source: CBC

    Half-cell solar panels: This type of solar panel technology cuts the solar cells in half. This reduces the electric current levels, increases efficiency, and often improves the shading performance of the module.

    Thin-film Solar Panels: These solar panels are made from thin layers of semiconductor materials. This makes thin-film solar panels lighter and more flexible than other technologies, which is why they are typically found in the flexible category. This type of solar panel can often be divided into: Cadmium-Telluride (CdTe), Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS), Amorphous, and Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) technologies. From these categories, GaAs and CIGS technologies are the most efficient ones reaching levels that can compete in some cases with traditional solar panels. The best thing is that they are flexible, meaning that they can be completely rolled in, making them perfect for RVs, boats, and other portable applications such as camping as well.

    Choosing the Right Solar Panel

    The best type of solar panel for you will depend on your needs and budget. In residential applications almost every technology in a rigid format can be used, therefore the only constraint is how much efficiency you need and how much money you want to invest. In the US, the most common is to go with traditional monocrystalline and PERC solar panel types.

    If we are talking about larger commercial projects and if you are not on a budget, then IBC, bifacial and HJT solar panels can be options worth looking at, often found as rigid solar panels.

    On the other hand, if you are looking for camping options, then using portable solar panels is the best choice. Finally, applications such as RVs, cabins, or boats will often benefit from rigid traditional monocrystalline solar PV modules and flexible solar panels.

    It is important to do your research and compare different solar panel options before you make a purchase. You should also consider the amount of sunlight your property receives and your budget when choosing a solar panel.

    The Future of Solar Panels

    becoming more affordable and efficient. This is making solar power a more viable option for homes and businesses.

    In the future, solar panels are likely to become even more efficient and affordable. This means solar power will continue to play a major role in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and fighting climate change.

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