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What are the different types of solar modules?

July 30, 2015 Kelly Pickerel :


Day after day, we see headlines showing the growth of solar photovoltaic energy across the globe,
from China to India to Germany to the United States. The rising demand for solar power is fueling
advances in research and development of solar PV technology. However, in many ways,
fundamental solar energy generating technology hasnt changed much since the introduction of the
monocrystalline solar panel in the 1950s. Its only gotten better, as improvements in efficiency,
quality and versatility continue to develop.
Solar PV Technology
The monocrystalline panel may be the original solar PV technology, but its being challenged by both
established and emerging new technology on factors like price, efficiency and versatility. Solar PV
modules made from polycrystalline silicon, as well as new generations of thin-film solar PV
technology, are giving residential, commercial, industrial and utility clients a variety of options to fulfill
their solar energy production requirements.
The variety of solar power technologies available run on a scale of efficiency, price, durability and
flexibility, depending upon the need of your project. PV solar technology generates power because
substances like silicon generate an electrical current when they absorb sunlight, in a process known
as the photovoltaic effect. Like semiconductors, solar PV technology needs purified silicon to get the
best efficiency, and the price behind PV solar manufacturing is often driven by the crystalline silicon
purification process.

A monocrystalline panel

Monocrystalline Silicon Solar PV: most efficient


Generally, monocrystalline silicon solar PV is the best technology to deliver efficiency, as measured
by wattage output related to the panels size. But this efficiency can come with costs. The best value
is solar PV technology is polycrystalline silicon, offering efficiency levels close to monocrystalline
panels, but at half the costs in some cases.
Monocrystalline solar is made by growing a single crystal. Because these crystals are usually an
oval shape, monocrystalline panels are cut into the distinctive patterns that give them their
recognizable appearance: the sliced silicon cells expose the missing corners in the grid-like
structure. The crystal framework in a monocrystalline is even, producing a steady blue color and no
grain marks, giving it the best purity and highest efficiency levels.

A polycrystalline panel

Polycrystalline Silicon Solar PV: best value


Polycrystalline solar is made by pouring molten silicon into a cast. However, because of this
construction method, the crystal structure will form imperfectly, creating boundaries where the crystal
formation breaks. This gives the polycrystalline silicon its distinctive, grainy appearance, as the
gemstone type pattern highlights the boundaries in the crystal.
Because of these impurities in the crystal, polycrystalline silicon is less efficient when compared with
monocrystalline. However, this manufacturing process uses less energy and materials, giving it a
significant cost advantage over monocrystalline silicon. (Polycrystalline and multicrystalline are often
synonyms, but multicrystalline is often meant to refer to silicon with crystallites larger than 1 mm.)

A thin-film installation

Thin-Film Solar PV: portable and light weight


The technology with the lowest market share is thin-film, but while it has several disadvantages, it is
a good option for projects with lesser power requirements but needs for light weight and portability.
Thin-film technologies have produced a maximum efficiency of 20.3%, with the most common
material amorphous silicon at 12.5%.
Thin-film panels can be constructed from a variety of materials, with the main options being
amorphous silicon (a-Si), the most prevalent type, cadmium telluride (CdTe) and copper indium
gallium selenide (CIS/CIGS). As a technology thats still emerging, thin-film cells have the potential to
be less expensive. Thin-film could be a driver in the consumer market, where price considerations
could make it more competitive.
Solar PV Efficiency
According to the U.S Department of Energy, polycrystalline silicon is leading the market share with
55% of PV technology shipments in 2013, compared with 36% for monocrystalline. So far, research

has produced polycrystalline cells with a maximum efficiency of 20.4% with monocrystalline
technology pushing the boundaries at 25%.
Whether its the rooftop of a home or a solar farm for a grid-connected utility, space and area are
often a key component of any solar power project, which often makes module efficiency a critical
element for project developers. Most solar panels range in efficiencies of 13 to 16%, though some
high-end model modules can reach percentages as high as 20%.
For most applications, a mono- or polycrystalline solar PV solution is usually the best option, as
these established technologies generally provide the right balance of price, efficiency and reliability.
For most commercial and industrial use, the crystalline silicon is still the standard and stands to be
for years to come. Vasari Energy has found that the polycrystalline product offers our clients with the
desired match of efficiency, durability and price.
This article was written by Sam Lipman, executive vice president of business development at Vasari
Energy
For more information, also see:
The smart module market is gaining momentum
CIGS thin-film: Solars black sheep is finding its feet
Solar Speaks: Trina Solar hits 15 GW shipped worldwide