Which Type Of Solar Panel Is Best For Me?
What are the main types of solar panels?
There are a few different types of solar panel. The traditional image that solar panels bring to mind is that of a monocrystalline or polycrystalline system. Crystalline panels are the most common form of solar panels. These are the black or blue panels, with a thick layer of glass over them, mounted on an aluminium frame a few centimeters from the surface of a roof. Whilst these are currently the most widely used solar panels, they are not the only option.
Thin film solar panels are becoming more popular due to their sleek look and lower costs, they can be placed directly onto many surfaces. Some people are also investing in solar tiles. Solar tiles do not go over the roof, instead they are matched with the roof’s style and replace a section of the existing roof.
All these different types of solar panel serve the same purpose, to produce electricity from the light of the sun. This is called photovoltaic solar or PV. There is another type of solar panel with a different purpose, solar thermal. These panels use the sun’s light to heat water for your house. They do not produce electricity. Recently a hybrid solar panel has arrived on the market which aims to produce electricity like a PV panel and use the excess heat from the panel to heat water in the style of solar thermal.
PV solar panels all work using a very similar method. The difference between the various types usually involves the material inside the panels that absorbs the sunlight. Solar panels need a semiconductor material to take in the light from the sun. This material is usually silicon based, the type of silicon used creates the main differences between monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin film solar panels.
Monocrystalline solar panels use thin wafers from single silicon crystals, which have been grown for this exact purpose, as their semiconductor. The fact that they do not mix the silicon gives them a uniform look. It also makes them the most efficient style of solar panel. As a buyer this means that monocrystalline solar panels may be the most expensive, but they will also produce the most electricity.
Polycrystalline panels use off cuts of different silicon crystals, melted down into a mould, to form their semiconductor. This disjointed nature makes them slightly less efficient than monocrystalline panels. However, the difference in the efficiency of mono/polycrystalline panels used to be more noticeable than it is now. Developments in crystalline technology have lead to monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar systems having a very similar price and output. One of the only real differences left is their look. Polycrystalline panels seem to have a bluer look due to the various crystal pieces reflecting the light.
”Thin film" / amorphous silicon
Thin film solar panels are a newer technology than crystalline panels. Thin film panels use an incredibly thin layer of amorphous silicon as their semiconductor. This method makes the panels overall thinner and more aesthetically pleasing. Thin film panels can be more flexible and more easily mounted onto a variety of surfaces. They can also work more efficiently in low light and cloudy conditions. Thin film panels are a cheaper than crystalline panels to make and install.
However, thin film panels are not yet as efficient as crystalline panels. Crystalline panels are still up to 4 times more efficient than thin film, meaning that you will get a lot less electricity per square meter from thin film panels.
There is a new type of hybrid solar panel making it’s way slowly onto the mainstream market. Hybrid panels are essentially PV panels with heat exchangers underneath which syphon off any excess heat created by the panels. Solar panels do not need heat to work, they only need light. However, panels can become hot over the course of the day and too much heat can actually reduce their efficiency. With this in mind, engineers have created a way to use that excess heat to create hot water for the household to use.
This technology could be a great addition to any home in the future. The solar panels will produce more electricity because they will not overheat and the house will benefit from free hot water too. However, the technology is still very new, this means that it is still very expensive! Hybrid panels have not yet been tested over the long term to determine their return on investment.
Currently the government runs two seperate incentives for those who install solar panels, the Feed-in Tariff for solar PV and the Renewable Heat incentive for solar thermal. With hybrid panels you will pay a lot more for installation but you will still only receive the Feed-in payments, the same as you would with a normal PV system.
Which type of panel is best for you?
For most UK households it is generally beneficial to go for a monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panel system. They are the most widely used, widely tested and efficient. In some cases, where roof space is not an issue and you live in an area of particularly low light, then thin film panels could also be a smart investment. It is recommended that when you install solar panels you get quotes from three reputable, MCS accredited installers. These teams will be able to recommend which system they believe is best for your property and your energy needs.
To find and compare prices from MCS approved solar panel installers in your local area, simply fill in the form at the top of the page.
What style would best suit my property?
One of the main concerns many people express when considering solar panels is how they will affect the aesthetic of their home. Solar panels are often seen as an eyesore. This may simply be because they are different to the traditional look of most UK homes. However, with 650,000 installations in 2014 and traditional energy prices set to continue rising, they could soon be an accepted part of the British landscape.
There are some styles of solar panel that are seen as more aesthetically pleasing than their traditional counterparts. Bear in mind that these more attractive systems are often much less efficient. If you are more concerned about cost and look than output, you could consider thin film panels as they are cheaper and often considered better looking due to their sleek, black, uniform look.
If you are most concerned about look and cost is not an issue then you could opt for solar tiles. These black tiles are made to fit in with your existing roof and are the arguably the best looking solar option. However, they do come with a considerable price tag and, due to their smaller surface area, are less efficient than other solar power methods. Solar tiles could be a potential solution if you would like to harness solar power but live in a listed building, as solar tiles have previously been installed on grade 1 listed buildings.