Due to the increased use of solar energy, solar panel manufacturers have come up with better photovoltaic panels. These new innovations are either introducing new products into the market or making the existing products better for increased efficiency.
Of course, the most improved panels will be offered at a relatively higher cost but it will produce solar power more efficiently.
Today, there are a horde of substances used as transmitters of solar energy including:
For consumer applications, monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels are the most common. There are several other substances used for transmitting solar energy though, and new ones under development. Each of these transmitter substances (photovoltaic materials) has its own advantages and disadvantages. Read on to learn more.
Silicon is the most used photovoltaic material with up to 90 percent of all panels produced in the world being made of silicon or its variant. In the US, for instance, 95 percent of all panels produced have crystalline silicon as the transmitter substance.
The cells of crystalline silicon are arranged in a crystal structure making it an excellent transmitter substance. When the crystal structure is perfectly aligned, silicon transmits solar energy better.
To enhance the transmission of energy, other substances might be added to crystalline silicon. For instance, crystalline silicon is coated with some substance to reduce the rate of reflection and enhance absorption of light. These added material makes crystalline silicon more expensive. However, crystalline silicon is able to produce up to 22 percent more energy compared to other photovoltaic materials.
Monocrystalline solar cells are made of pure silicon which is first purified into ingots and then cut into panel pieces. These way, the panels are made of a single continuous silicon structure. They end up having the same look. Due to the pure nature of the silicon and the continuity of the silicon structure, monocrstaylline silicon cells are the most efficient for consumer applications.
These panels last relatively longer and perform better in areas with low light intensity and higher temperatures. Due to their high efficiency, these solar panels are able to produce more energy in small spaces. For instance, small panels used on outdoor solar lights are mostly monocrystalline to increase energy output.
Their efficiency comes with a higher price tag since they are more expensive to produce. During production of these cells, the cells are produced in form of a cylinder and then trimmed into squares. In that process, a lot of panel goes to waste.
Even worse, the continuous crystalline nature of the panels make them susceptible to breaking when they are covered by shade, dirt of snow. Granted, consumers have to take great care of the panels for them to last long without breaking.
Polycrystalline solar panels are made of raw silicon molded into small squares. Since the cells do not go through the purification process, these panels are less expensive to produce and therefore less expensive compared to monocrystalline cells.
When the raw silicon is molded into squares, the crystal structure of silicon is broken and this makes polycrystalline cells less efficient. Compared to monocrystalline cells, polycrystalline cells are 16 percent efficient while monocrystalline cells are 20 percent efficient.
To produce as much energy as monocrystalline silicon photovoltaic cells, these panels need to be larger. The panels are also susceptible to high heat conditions and they do not last as long as monocrystalline panels.
These solar panels are made of amorphous silicon. They are commonly referred to as thin film solar cells. Because amorphous silicon does not have a crystalline structure, it is only 7 percent efficient in producing solar energy.
Besides the fact that they are relatively less efficient, thin film cells are light in weight and flexible enough to be used in small applications such as power calculators. The panels are inexpensive and can survive in high temperatures and shaded regions.
The fact that thin film solar cells are flexible makes them more useful in recent innovations such as calculators and tarps. Nevertheless, because they are less efficient in producing solar power, they have to be extremely large to produce the same energy as other photovoltaic materials.
New photovoltaic materials are coming up. One of these materials is gallium arsenide. It is a highly efficient material with an efficiency of up to 12 percent. However, gallium is a rare material making it very expensive and arsenic is a hazardous material. Though it is an efficient material, its use in residential applications is not practical.
There are many more photovoltaic materials most of which are still under research. From the list of transmitter substances above, there is no one single substance that can be labeled as the ‘best’. Each of the units has its advantages and disadvantages; choose based on your needs and budget.