Types Of Residential Solar Panels – Forbes Advisor

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If you’ve considered adding solar panels to your home, you’ve probably also considered the amount of money and energy you could save by doing so. The potential savings is important, of course, but it isn’t the only thing to keep in mind when it comes to making the switch—you also need to decide what type of solar panels are right for you.

Because there are several types to choose from, it isn’t as easy as simply scheduling an installation appointment.

How Do I Decide What Type of Solar Panels to Get?

The first thing to do when figuring out which type of solar panel is right for your home is to acquaint yourself with the choices at hand.

According to Energy Sage, a U.S. Department of Energy-endorsed online resource that allows consumers to comparison shop for solar energy, there are three main types of solar panels available for residential use. They are: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film.

A fourth option, solar roofing shingles, is a newer and more expensive technology—but certainly a suitable (and enticing) choice for those with the budget to cover the initial costs.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

When you picture rooftop solar panels, you probably picture monocrystallines simply because they are very commonly used. And while all solar panels offer some level of energy efficiency, monocrystallines are considered the most efficient of the bunch. How efficient? Up to 20%, Energy Sage reports, meaning that 20% of the sunshine that hits a monocrystalline panel is converted into usable energy. Monocrystalline panels are also:

  • Made of an individual pure silicon crystal (in other words, the silicon comes from one source)
  • Cylinder-shaped
  • Uniform in color
  • Durable and long-lasting (some come with warranties up to 30 years)
  • Able to generate between 300 and 400 (sometimes even more) watts of power each

The downside? Monocrystalline often requires a larger upfront investment than some other types of solar panels. This is because they are more expensive to make—a cost that, naturally, gets passed on to the consumer.

And if 20% isn’t quite efficient enough for you? No worries—under the monocrystalline umbrella falls an additional type of solar panel called the PERC (passivated emitter and rear cell). While use of this technology is still ramping up, experts say it offers even more efficiency than traditional monocrystalline panels (thanks to an added layer of silicon material on the panel’s back side) and isn’t particularly cost prohibitive to manufacture.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline panels, on the other hand, are less expensive to make and therefore less expensive for the customer. The cost difference is attributed to the manufacturing process—rather than the individual silicon crystals used to make monocrystalline, polycrystalline panels are made from many different pieces of silicon that are separated into fragments and melted together.

Polycrystallines are also somewhat less efficient than the monocrystallines, producing around 250 watts of power each rather than 300-plus. Physically, though, they look similar to their monocrystalline counterparts, and last almost as long (warranties are in the 25-year range, but vary by brand).

Thin-Film Amorphous Solar Panels

Amorphous (or thin-film) solar panels have a few advantages over monocrystalline and polycrystalline ones. First of all, they are comparatively lightweight. They are also malleable (the others are rigid), making them easier to install than the thicker, heavier varieties. Amorphous solar panels are silicon-based, like the others, but in this case the silicone portion is just the first of three very thin layers (the second layer is heat-conductive; the top layer is protective).

Amorphous panels also do well in warmer climates because they are able to withstand intense heat, and are more adept at generating energy on darker days (meaning the sun doesn’t have to be shining bright in a clear blue sky for them to do their job).

Unfortunately, amorphous panels don’t last as long as other types of solar panels—according to the American Solar Energy Society, you’ll only get between 10 and 20 years out of them. Furthermore, they are only around 7% efficient.

In terms of the pros, they are more affordable to manufacture than other types of solar panels and also more affordable to install.

Other Types of Thin Film Solar Panels

Amorphous solar panels are just one type of thin film solar panel, however. Other options in this category include cadmium telluride solar panels (CdTe) and copper gallium indium diselenide (CIGS) solar panels.

The names are mouthfuls, but the main thing consumers should know about them is that they are both produced with cadmium, which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration considers a toxic heavy metal. Plus, CdTes aren’t the best in terms of efficiency, and CIGS, while above-average in efficiency, are very expensive.

Solar Roofing Shingles

Efficiency and price aside, some homeowners are hesitant to go solar for purely aesthetic reasons. In other words, they just don’t like the look of solar panels. If this is you, consider solar shingles.

Solar shingles allow you to get many of the benefits of solar panels without disrupting the look and feel of your roof. They are manufactured using the same technology as solar panels, and they are available at a variety of price points (depending on the brand).

Sadly, the cons are not insignificant. First and foremost, price is a huge concern—shingles are almost always more costly (especially if you go with a brand like Tesla, which launched a line of solar roofing shingles in 2019). Not only that, solar shingles are in short supply. So, even if you have the budget and the desire to add them to your roof, you might not be able to track them down.

Efficiency-wise, solar shingles are also only between 14% and 18% efficient, which isn’t bad compared to the less efficient amorphous panels but, on the lower end, doesn’t really seem all that great next to the monocrystalline ones.

Furthermore, solar shingles won’t necessarily work on every type of roof. Most are made to replace asphalt roofing tiles only (with some exceptions). The most cost-effective route? Coordinating overall roof replacement with the addition of solar shingles, which has a higher upfront cost, but is more likely to even out in the long run.

Should I Get Solar Panels?

You are now familiar with your solar panel choices, but is it even a good investment? That depends. Before getting your hopes up, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I have the right roof for solar panels? Roofs on older homes are often incompatible with solar panels, and things like skylights can also be problematic. Consult with a roofer and solar panel installer to find out for sure.
  • Does My HOA allow it? If you live in a neighborhood with an HOA, the rules may or may not allow you to install solar panels.
  • Do I have the money to cover the costs? Solar panels should save you money over time, but there is still an upfront investment. If you can’t afford it, the future savings might not be worth it.
  • How long am I going to live in this house? If you are planning to sell your house anytime in the foreseeable future, it might be better to let the future homeowners decide for themselves whether or not to get solar panels. Otherwise, you might find yourself investing a lot of money for a benefit you don’t get a chance to enjoy (it can take years to recoup your investment).
  • How much do I spend each month on electricity? Households with low energy costs aren’t going to benefit as much from solar panels as a household with large electrical bills, so be sure to run the numbers before making a decision.

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