What Types of Solar Cells Are There?
Solar cells are more complex than many people think, and it is not common knowledge that there are various different types of cell. When we take a closer look at the different types of solar cell available, it makes things simpler, both in terms of understanding them and also choosing the one that suits you best.
We’ll start by listing the available types below. If you want to learn about them in more detail, you can do so here.
- Crystalline silicon cells
- Monocrystalline cells
- Polycrystalline cells
- Thin film solar cells
Presently, around 90% of the world’s photovoltaics are based on some variation of silicon, and around the same percentage of the domestic solar panel, systems use the crystalline silicon cells. Crystalline silicon cells also form the basis for mono and polycrystalline cells.
The silicon that is in solar cells can take many different forms. However, the thing that matters most is the purity of the silicon. This is because it directly affects its efficiency. What purity means, in this case, is the way in which the silicon molecules have been aligned. The better the alignment, the purer the resulting silicon is. This, ultimately, leads to better conversion rates of sunlight into electricity.
As previously mentioned, the levels of efficiency work alongside the purity of the silicon molecules – and purity can be quite a costly aspect to upgrade. However, it may come as a surprise to learn that efficiency is not the driving force for people who want to invest in solar energy. The cost and the amount of space it takes up tend to be the most important aspects to potential buyers.
Monocrystalline solar cells are made from single crystalline silicon. They are very distinctive in their appearance as they are often coloured, and the cells hold a cylindrical shape. In order to keep the costs low and performance at optimal levels, manufacturers cut out the four sides of the monocrystalline cells. This gives them their recognisable appearance.
- Here are some of the advantages of monocrystalline solar cells:
- They have the highest level of efficiency at 15-20%
- They require less space compared to other types due to their high efficiency
- Manufacturers state that this form of solar cell lasts the longest, with most giving them a 25-year warranty
- They perform better in low levels of sunlight, making them ideal for cloudy areas
- Here are some of the disadvantages to monocrystalline solar cells:
- They are the most expensive solar cells on the market, and so not in everyone’s price range
- The performance levels tend to suffer from an increase in temperature. However, it is a small loss when compared to other forms of solar cell
- There is a lot of waste material when the silicon is cut during manufacture
Polycrystalline Solar Cells
The polycrystalline solar panels were first introduced to the public in 1981. Unlike the monocrystalline cells, polycrystalline ones do not require each of the four sides to be cut. Instead, the silicon is melted and poured into square moulds. These then form perfectly shaped square cells.
Here are some of the advantages of polycrystalline solar cells:
- The manufacturing process is cheaper and easier than the monocrystalline cells
- It avoids silicon waste
- High temperatures have less negative effects on efficiency compared with monocrystalline cells. This makes the polycrystalline cells more attractive to people in warmer areas as the price is lower
Here are some of the disadvantages to polycrystalline solar cells:
- Efficiency is only around 13-16% due to low levels of silicon purity. So they are not the most efficient on the market
- They have lower output rates which make them less space efficient. So more roof space is needed for installation
Thin Film Solar Cells
Thin film solar cells are manufactured by placing several thin layers of photovoltaic on top of each other to creates the module. There are actually a few different types of thin film solar cell, and the way in which they differ from each other comes down to the material used for the PV layers. The types are as follows:
- Amorphous silicon
- Cadmium telluride
- Copper indium gallium selenide
- Organic PV cells
Depending on the technology that has been used, the efficiency rates for thin film solar cells tends to vary from 7% to 13%. Since 2002, the knowledge levels and popularity for thin film solar cells has risen dramatically, which also means that research and development have been increased. Due to this, we can expect future models to hold efficiency rates of 10-16%.
Here are some of the advantages of thin film solar cells:
- They can be manufactured to be flexible, making them widely applicable to a range of situations and building types
- Mass production is easy to achieve, making them potentially cheaper to produce than crystalline solar cells
- Shading has a similar effect on their efficiency
Here are some of the disadvantages of thin film solar cells:
- They are not ideal for domestic use as thy take up a lot of space
- Low space efficiency means that they will cause further expenses in the form of enhancers, like cables of support structures
- They have a shorter lifespan and so shorter warranty periods
Finding Your Ideal Solar Cell Type
Having now presented each type of the most commonly found forms of solar cell, including their various strengths and weaknesses, the decision process can be made a lot easier. Of course, you need to take several factors into consideration. Things like the cost, the amount of space required for installation, and the efficiency rates to name a few.
Monocrystalline cells are arguably the best option. This is because they have the highest output rates and require a lot less space. However, it is important to remember that in many cases you may not need monocrystalline cells. The best thing to do, is to get advice from the supplier and talk through the option with them. They can help you and give you the best solution for your situation.
So if you feel ready to take the next step and talk through the options with the experts, simply fill in the no obligation form on this page and our suppliers will be in touch with you as soon as possible.