The Evolution Of Roof Solar Panels

Solar PanelsLooking a few years back, when one thought of roof solar panels, one imagined big, expensive, bulky panels jutting out from rooftops, being almost an eye-saw to the public.  However, roof solar panels have come a long way in recent years. Not only have they become thinner and more flexible, but also affordable enough for the average household.

Let us look at the 3 main types of roof solar panels and how they differ from one another:

Monocrystalline Solar Panels:

For many years monocrystalline solar panels have dominated the solar market.  These were the typical iridescent blue faced panels fixed on rooftops that people are most familiar with. They have well-defined rounded cells stacked in equal rows and visible from every angle.

Monocrystalline solar panels are produced from a single silicon crystal or ingot, involving a very complicated growth process. This results in the manufacturing process being very costly, which ultimately is passed onto the consumer as highly priced panels. However, they are the most space efficient, making them a popular choice for households with limited space.

These solar cells tend to have a life expectancy of 25 to 50 years, however, they are very fragile so they have to be fitted in a solid, sturdy frame.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels:

Sometimes referred to as Multi-crystalline solar cells, these modules are slightly less efficient and cheaper than Monocrystalline panels since the cells are not grown from a single crystal.  Instead they are manufactured from a large block of many silicon crystals, giving them a shattered glass or mosaic appearance.

Like Monocrystalline cells, they are then cut into wafers to make up the separate solar cells.  The great thing about them is they cost less for the consumer, but have a similar lifespan to Monocrystalline solar cells.

Thin Film Solar Panels:

The most recent development in roof solar panels is the Amorphous silicon PV or thin film technology. These panels are are extremely thin, making them flexible, and if only more research could be put into them, they could completely replace their more rigid counterparts.

Initially thin film solar panels were made by applying silicon material on stainless steel or glass, making them solid or rigid.  However it has become more popular to apply the silicon between flexible laminate material.  This allows the panels to be fixed to almost any surface or even used as roofing material.

Thanks to their flexibility and ability to blend seamlessly into rooftops, the majority of customers prefer thin film solar panels.  It also saves them the cost on getting normal shingles or steel roofing.

The drawback of these panels is that they are over 50% less efficient at converting sunlight into electricity as compared to mono- or polycrystalline cells, so they require more than twice the surface area to generate the same wattage. However, since they are thinner, they require less material and a simpler process to be manufactured, making them the cheapest option per watt of output.

Since thin film solar is a relatively new technology, there is still a debate on the lifespan of the solar panels, and some have argued that they lose efficiency after only a few short years.  But for now they are the best option on the market today and only time will tell how the cells perform in the long-term.

As you can see, solar photovoltaic technology has come a long way since its inception.  From bulky, expensive Monocrystalline to the mosaic-like Polycrystalline cells, to the thin-film roof solar panels that can replace traditional roofing.  It’s very intriguing what the future will bring.

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Originally posted 2008-11-12 10:18:34.

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