As people become more environmentally aware and electricity charges from the National Grid seem to only go in an upward direction, there is a growing interest in Solar Panels for both domestic and commercial use. But all solar panels are not created equally so unless you take time to do some research and learn about differences you might find it is costing you more than you save.
If your knowledge of solar panels is limited to: “they use the sun to make electricity” then this article will, hopefully, give you a better idea what to look for when you shop for PV energy systems.
Solar panels used to power homes and offices are part of the PV [photovoltaic] effect which is a phenomenon where an electric current is produced when light strikes a silicon coated object. By linking hundred of these silicon objects together we create panels capable of generating substantial amounts of electricity. Most simple desk top calculators are solar panels in miniature and have been with us for a long time, but now it is no longer strange or uncommon to see banks of black panels mounted on roofs of dwellings or offices.
Although as we said, solar PV systems are created using silicon, there are around 3 more popular manufacturing processes. Let's look at them.
1/ Mono Crystalline
Mono crystalline panels are probably the top of the line. They are made from a single silicon chip and cooled slowly. This slow cooling process creates bigger, more uniform crystals, but it is an expensive process. Subsequently these chips cost more, resulting in more expensive panels, However mono crystalline panels are also more efficient.
Where MONO [above] meant 1, poly equals many, so these panels are constructed from smaller crystals together. As these crystals have cooled more quickly, they are smaller, cheaper to produce which in turn results in a cheaper panel, but slightly less efficient than a mono panel.
3/ Amorphous or Thin Film
This style of PV system does not use crystallised silicon but instead places the silicon on to plastic or metal surfaces. Spraying the surface is one method. It is more cost effect, there is not the cost of producing crystals, so the resulting panels are cheaper, but generally, less efficient.
So I should spring for the more expensive mono crystalline panels, yes?
Well, not necessarily. True, these panels are more efficient and are supposed to stand up to high temperatures better than the others but there are other factors to consider.
Firstly of course, your budget and needs. Maybe a poly crystal panel will provide the service and output you require at a reasonable cost. Also, bear in mind that different manufacturers have different standards, it may well be that a high quality poly panel out performs a poor quality mono panel. Even so, in the long run, and we are talking 30+ years life expectancy here, the difference tends to balance out when you take the output and cost into consideration.
Another factor to consider is available space For example, thin film are the cheapest on the market, but as they are relatively less efficient, you will need more of them than say, a poly or mono panel. It may work out you are only saving a small amount for more panels, which as we said, over 30+ years is peanuts. So if your mounting area is limited then perhaps fewer of the more efficient panels is the answer. Different sized panels produce differing amounts of current, so two identical looking panels may not be equal in wattage generation. Again, different manufacturers produce different quality panels, so look for trusted brand that have been around for a while. Measure the warranty as well, installation costs, all these “hidden” costs can quickly add up.
Once you have thought about your needs and what you hope to achieve with a PV system, sit down and calculate the cost per watt of energy generated. It may well be that if space is not an issue then the thin film panels are the most cost effective option.
At the end of the day, the question isn't so simple as to which is the best panel, you need to know your requirements, space, and location and then calculate which of the options, brands and installers offers you the best value for money.
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