The use of green energy, and moving towards renewable resources has never been more important. Over the last decade, domestic and business use of renewable energy, and specifically solar panels, has soared.
The UK is currently sitting in 7th place on the world rankings for the use of solar energy and with more people investing in renewable energy each year, that figure looks like it will only continue to rise, which is great news for the planet.
There is also a renewed commitment from the UK government to encourage the use of renewable energy in a domestic and commercial setting, in line with their plan for the country to be producing zero-emissions by 2050. The increase in domestic solar panel systems across the UK will only continue to support this notion.
Solar is one of the most reliable sources of energy, in fact, the world’s energy needs for a year can be covered by the sun generating energy for one minute. Within 24 hours the sun can generate enough energy to cover the population of earth’s energy needs for 27 years!
Solar is not only a reliable source of energy and good for the planet, but it’s also a cost-effective way of heating and powering your home. However, searching for the best type of solar panels for your needs can seem like an impossible task.
There are several factors to consider when purchasing a solar system, such as the cost, aesthetics, and energy efficiency. Making sure you are getting the right type of system for your needs and budget is extremely important.
The types of solar panels that are available to you, whether you are fitting a solar system to a residential home or commercial business, will depend on your specific requirements. In this guide, we’ll cover the best type of solar panels and their benefits to help you make an informed decision ahead of your purchase.
What types of solar panels are there?
On the market currently, the best type of solar panels are considered to be; monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film solar panels. Each type looks slightly different, but the key difference is the way their cells are designed and produce energy.
Monocrystalline are the original, most developed, and widely considered the best type of solar panel. Prior to new advanced technologies and different materials, all solar panels were made from monocrystalline. These solar panels are made up of 40 monocrystalline cells, which are made from pure silicon.
During the manufacturing process, silicon crystal is dropped into molten silicon, then drawn out slowly, allowing for molten silicon to form a shell around it. From here, the shell is sliced very thinly into silicon wafers. The wafers then form the cell and are assembled to create the solar panel.
Monocrystalline solar cells are black to the naked eye because of the way sunlight interacts with pure silicon. While the cells themselves may be black, the backing and frame can be found in a variety of designs, so you aren’t tied to one aesthetic. Monocrystalline cells are square in shape with the corners removed, so there are tiny gaps between the cells.
A more recent introduction to the solar panel market, polycrystalline solar panels are growing in popularity due to their efficiency. Similar to monocrystalline cells, these cells are made from silicon, but the key difference is that they are made from melted fragments of silicon crystals.
During the manufacturing process, the silicon crystal is placed into molten silicon, rather than pulling it out slowly The crystal is then allowed to fragment and cool. Once the crystal has cooled, the fragmented silicon is sliced very thinly to form polycrystalline solar wafters. From here, they are then assembled to form a polycrystalline panel.
The cells of a polycrystalline solar panel are blue, as sunlight reflects on the crystals. Compared to a pure silicon cell, the sunlight reflects off the silicon fragments slightly differently.
A notable difference between monocrystalline solar panels and polycrystalline solar panels is that the back frames are usually silver and the cell is a square shape, but there are no gaps between the corners. This shape is considered to improve efficiency, making them one of the best types of solar panels on the market.
Thin-film solar panels
Thin-film solar panels are an extremely new development in the solar panel industry. The key feature of thin-film panels is that they aren’t always made from silicon, they can be made from a variety of materials.
Thin-film solar cells are created by placing the main material between thin sheets of highly conductive material, with a layer of glass on top for protection.
As expected, these types of panels are easy to identify by their slim appearance. They’re roughly 350 times slimmer than panels that are made with silicon wafers!
In terms of colour, thin-film cells can be black or blue depending on what they are made from. While they are still in the early stages of development, advancing technology means these are likely to be one of the best types of solar panels available in the near future.
What type of solar panel is best for me?
Manufacturing and appearance aside, there are a couple of operational differences between the three types of solar panels. Each has different benefits and uses, depending on your needs. When deciding the best type of solar panel for you, a good way to determine which route to take is to identify the efficiency and costs of each solar system.
Efficiency is defined as how much energy the solar panel produces from the amount of sunlight it receives. Efficiency determines how much power a solar panel can produce.
Currently, the most efficient type of solar panel is monocrystalline, which can reach over 20% efficiency. By means of comparison, polycrystalline panels usually reach up to 17% efficiency. Currently, thin-film solar panels produce roughly 11% efficiency, however, this can vary quite drastically as the fitting isn’t restricted to a size limit on thin-film solar panels. Some may produce significantly higher efficiency ratings than others.
This slight gap in their efficiency is expected to reduce as solar panel technology developments continue to improve.
It’s also important to note that efficiency doesn’t always mean ‘best’. There are also other factors such as manufacturing quality and cost to factor in.
In previous decades, solar panels have had a bit of a negative reputation for being a costly initial investment, however, as the popularity of solar panels has soared, the prices have reduced.
In terms of manufacturing costs, thin-film solar panels are the cheapest option. They are also much lighter than the other options, so installation costs can be slightly lower. In contrast, monocrystalline is the more expensive option on the market currently as manufacturing pure silicon is costly, and the panels and frames are heavy, leading to higher installation costs. Polycrystalline solar panels were developed to reduce the cost of solar panels initially, so can be a more affordable option as a middle ground.
What other products do I need for a successful solar system?
The best type of solar panels are those that are integrated with a solar battery and inverter. When researching how to make your solar system the most efficient and cost-effective for your needs, factoring in the purchase of these additional products will benefit you long-term.
What is an inverter?
In simple terms, a solar energy system can’t send power to your home or the national grid without a little help. That help comes in the form of an inverter. The main purpose of an inverter is to transfer, or ‘invert’ the solar energy generated by your solar system from direct current (DC) to ready to use alternating current (AC).
One of the most advanced options for an inverter is an optimizer, such as the Tigo. This is a huge advancement in solar panel technology as it allows for better energy production across all different types of roofs.
In the past, some roofs have proved more difficult to install solar systems to than others, for example, those with more shade or a less traditional shape for optimal sunlight exposure.
The introduction of the Tigo Optimizer is a cost effective way of improving the amount of energy your solar system produces, meaning you’ll enjoy a higher performance rating for your system.
How does an optimizer work?
Previously, if you wanted to add optimizers to your solar system, they had to be installed on every module, even those with high exposure to the sun that didn’t need optimising. With the Tigo Optimiser, you can attach optimizers only to the modules which require them, for example in a shady or covered area.
By installing an optimiser, you’ll quickly have the best type of solar system, as your panel efficiency can increase by up to 36%.
Do I need solar panel batteries?
This is a question often asked by prospective solar panel owners. Solar batteries have many benefits and can go a long way to improve energy efficiency by utilising solar storage.
Solar batteries work by storing the excess energy solar panels produce to be used at a later date, so you can continue to use solar energy to power your home even at times when the panels aren’t producing electricity.
The best type of solar panels often work with solar batteries to allow less reliance on the national grid and offer cost-saving incentives.
What solar panels will look the best on my roof?
While efficiency and cost are arguably the most important factors when finding the best type of solar panels, how they look aesthetically is also something to take into account.
While solar panels have never been particularly unsightly on a roof, they were historically larger and clunkier in size, mainly to accommodate capturing the most sunlight.
As solar system technology advances over time, so does the look and feel of the fit on the roof. The development of slimmer and more streamlined panels has improved the aesthetics of the installation.
One example of a more modern approach is integrated roof tiles. It can be a concern to many prospective solar owners that the aesthetics of their home will be affected by solar panel installation. The development of these tiles means that the look of your home will not be impacted by the installation. So how do they work?
Integrated solar panels are designed to mimic the appearance of contemporary roof tiles. The modules work very similarly to those in a standard solar panel system, garnering energy from the sun and converting it into usable energy for your home.
Adding these solar tiles can be tricky, so it may be best to wait until you are renovating your home before they are fitted. The finished product will be a mixture of integrated solar panels and mock tiles placed in shadier areas that can’t generate solar power.
For the traditionalist, there are still plenty of options on the market that fit with the standard idea of a solar system. One of the best types of solar panels on the market is SunPower. Renown for their reliability, energy production performance and their aesthetic, without the need for extensive installation costs or inconvenience.
When looking for the best type of solar panels, longevity and reliability should be considered alongside the way they look on your home. SunPower is a particularly good brand to look out for, as the panels are made from corrosion-resistant materials, with a patented solid metal foundation.
The best type of solar panels for you
Starting a journey towards a more sustainable way of producing energy can seem quite daunting at first, but by looking at the best type of solar panels for your needs, your decision should be made a little easier.
If you’re still unsure about which solar panels will be best suited to you, get in touch with our friendly team of advisors today.