Choosing the right solar panel type
We outline the differences between the 3 main types of solar panels to help you make the appropriate choice.
The good news about purchasing solar panels is that the panels now available in Australia are all likely to have been manufactured recently with up-to-date technology.
Any reputable solar retailer on the Clean Energy Council list should recommend panels based on your needs and budget, but if you want to do your own research, here are the 3 main types of panels to look out for.
The solar “wafers” that comprise monocrystalline panels are made from large cylindrical silicon crystals that are thinly sliced like salami. The wafers then have their sides cut square and are affixed to panels. Thin wires are laid across the wafers to collect the electricity generated.
Monocrystalline is one of the oldest forms of solar technology yet it remains highly efficient compared with other forms, converting 15-20 per cent of the sunlight that hits the wafers into energy. The panels are also slightly more resistant to heat, making them hard-wearing. As a result, monocrystalline panels are often more expensive.
Recent manufacturer innovations have created new “hybrid” types which convert more than 20 per cent of the sunlight that hits them into energy – an unprecedented rate.
Polycrystalline wafers are made by melting raw silicon, casting it into rectangular blocks then slicing it. This process creates silicon wafers that contain lots of smaller silicon crystals rather than 1 uninterrupted crystal.
Polycrystalline technology is less efficient than monocrystalline and the wafers are less sturdy. But the rectangular wafers can be laid out on panels with no blank space (unlike monocrystalline wafers) which means they perform equally for the same area as their monocrystalline counterparts. If purchasing polycrystalline panels, look for a robust, long-term warranty of 20-plus years.
These panels are created by spraying a thin film containing silicon onto the panel surface. The panel-manufacturing process is much more efficient than crystalline processes but the panels themselves only operate at 8 to 10 per cent efficiency and are heavier than crystalline panels.
While the thin-film technology itself is not brand new, the manufacturing variations currently being used are relatively untested, making it hard to judge how today’s thin-film panels will perform over decades.
Just as when you’re buying a car or appliances, it is often possible to secure substantial discounts on last year’s panels. Panel technology is moving quickly, but if last year’s model has a 25-year warranty, fits your needs and has a better payback period because it will probably be cheaper, there’s no reason not to consider this option. Older technology will also more likely have had its technical glitches and/or bugs resolved. Talking with an accredited solar retailer will help make your decision easier.