Types Of Solar Panels
There are a large and ever increasing number of brands and types of solar panels appearing on the Australian solar market, the last few years in particular have seen a massive increase in both locally made and imported solar PV products.
Solar panels are becoming more and more visible on the rooftops of Australian homes and businesses as Australians realize the benefits of generating low cost, low carbon electricity.
Photo-voltaic solar panels "solar PV" aka "solar electricity" panels are the type of solar panels that this website is all about. These types of electricity generating panels can sometimes be confused with solar hot water system panels, so before getting into the finer details of all things PV, lets first explain the difference between the two panel types.
Below are 3 images, the first image is of a solar electricity panel capable of converting sunlight into DC electricity using the photo-voltaic effect, the second image is of a solar hot water flat style panel that uses the suns heat to raise the temperature of the water flowing through it, as you can see they look very similar to solar PV panels. The third image is of an evacuated tube type solar hot water heater.
Solar panels are the most important component of a solar power system, good quality panels properly installed at the correct angle and position will make the system perform to its maximum output, getting it wrong at the panel side of the system will effect everything down the power chain.
The same can be said for the quality and brand of the solar panels you choose, cheap low rated solar modules are simply a total waste of time and money and in the end the false economy of cheap solar panels will end up costing more in the long run with low overall system output.
Choosing The Best Solar Panels
There are many different brands and types of solar panels available on the Australian solar market, different solar panel installers may use and recommend different brands, below are a few points to consider when making your choice:
Solar Panel Efficiency Rating
The efficiency rating of a solar panels is the measure of how much electricity a panel can produce relative to its surface area, therefore the higher the efficiency rating the better with less surface area needed and so a smaller panel and less roof space is required. If a solar panel could convert all of the sunlight it received into electricity then it would be rated at 100%, maybe your grand children will see this technology but today most panels are rated around 11% to 22%. The higher the efficiency the more the panel will cost, the good news is that as technology gets better the price continues to fall and who can say what lies just around the corner in the ever changing world of hi-tech solar cell development.
The best factor to consider when evaluating solar panel costs is how much electricity or kilowatts the system will generate per dollar?.
The bottom line here is cheap is not always better and what seems cheap now may end up costing more, remember a solar power system is expected to run day in day out for years to come, spending a little extra at the start should pay off with years of trouble free efficient electricity generation.
It can pay to shop around as there are sometimes good system specials to be had, use the power of the Internet to search for a bargain or at least get to know average prices so you have a starting point to haggle with.
Build Quality And Product Warranty
If you don't have a solar quote for your proposed system then it may be a good idea to get one, the information on the quote relating to the brand names of components like inverters and solar panels can be useful in helping you find the best quality parts. There are many solar panel reviews posted around the web, armed with the brand names it should be easy to find a genuine review with a little Googleing.
Visit the solar panel manufacturers website and check out their warranty statements to see what kind of guarantee or warranty they offer, also take note of how these warranties are executed, for example who pays for shipping costs of returns and are you required to carry out a maintenance contract for solar panel cleaning to qualify. In other words make sure you read the fine print.
Country Of Manufacture
When most of us think of things made in Germany we think of high quality brands like BMW or Mercedes, when we think of made in China its seems to be the opposite. This false attitude is so last century and simply untrue. Solar panels are what they are regardless of their country of origin, poor design and manufacturing techniques can happen anywhere. Both China and Germany have produced some of the worlds top rated high efficiency solar modules.
The specifications of solar panels are an important guide to the quality and possible output performance, some main points to look at are:
- Solar panel power tolerance levels, this is usually rated in Watts for example is the rating 150W +/-10% or just 150W.
- Voltage rating and coefficient of temperature, solar panels need to be rated at 100V DC to meet min safety standards. A high coefficient of temperature will mean the can perform better when its hot.
- What company has produced the modules? many panels can be assembled and re branded and sold under another name.
What are your solar panels going to look like when mounted on the roof of your home? to a farmer living out in the bush this question would probably sound ridiculous, and business owners are probably more interested in how much power the system will make, but for many home owners living in the suburbs looks are a factor.
Modern solar panels come in a range of shapes and sizes from the bulky chunky looking panels to sleek shiny thin modern looking panels, integrated solar roof tiles are also available. Generally the more integrated panels will be more expensive, the choice is yours.
Solar PV Panel Technology
There are 3 main basic types of solar photovoltaic panels to choose from on the Australian solar market. Monocrystalline Polycrystalline, & Thin Film.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Monocrystalline type solar panels are top of the range when it comes to consumer available solar PV technology, they are the most expensive type and have some of the highest efficiency ratings from 15-20%. Made from nuggets of ultra pure silicon sliced into wafers which are then assembled into a solar cell, the thin silver lines running through the cells and panels is the conduit that carries the electrical current.
Some Monocrystalline panel builders have used hi-tech methods to further increase their efficiency such as laser grooving & back surface fields, bringing efficiencies up to +20%, however this has pushed the price up by at least 29% when compared to standard Monocrystalline units.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline PV cells are made from silicon that is not as pure as the Monocrystalline cells, the silicon is cast into square blocks then the wafers are sliced from those blocks, they have a distinct mottled appearance. when mounted on a frame to form a solar panel there is more surface area to catch the sun due to the square shape.
Thin Film Solar Panels
Thin film solar panels are manufactured in a way that is very different from its mono and polycrystalline cousins, the silicon used is sprayed to create a thin film on a framework that will make the solar panel.
The manufacture of thin film solar panels is a much more efficient technique requiring less energy to fully complete the process, with production methods constantly being improved and upgraded helping to bring the end retail price down.
Rated at around 8-10% efficiency thin film panels can be quite larger than mono or polycrystalline panels, weighing more also requires a bit more effort and time with the installation process as well as having a good strong roof or mounting point.
Thin film panels are easily identifiable by their plain dark look with no visible patterns or markings on the surface.
Solar Panel Comparison Videos
Below are a couple of very reliable and informative YouTube videos about solar panels form two of the biggest names in the Australian solar business.
How To Choose A Good Solar Panel by Finn Peacock at www.SolarQuotes.com.au
Not All Solar Panels Are Equal by www.EnergyMatters.com.auIn conclusion:
There is not that much difference between mono-crystalline and poly-crystalline solar panels with the exception of appearance and maybe subtle differences in price. Any differences in performance or efficiency are negligible.
Thin film panels are a little less expensive for each kW of electricity produced however the longevity of this type of panel is unknown as the test of time is difficult to accurately simulate.
As for the future of solar panels there are new technologies being developed that will probably make today's panels look very old fashioned, in time all will be revealed.