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So, you have decided to change your primary power source from traditional to renewable energy. The first step in transitioning is determining which photovoltaic panel is the best for your intended use.

Solar panels come in various sizes and capacities, which might seem overwhelming when you know nothing about them. Nonetheless, having multiple options is advantageous when you know exactly what you want. This article will cover the different types of photovoltaic panels, their essential characteristics, and other relevant aspects that will ease your way into the solar energy lifestyle.

What Type Of Solar Panel Is the Best?

We always want to get the best when we acquire a new product. Defining which solar panel is the best will depend on various factors, for example, the intended use, the climate where it will be installed, the amount of power desired from it, and the amount of sunlight exposure, among other key points. The type of solar panel best for you will be the one that adapts to your specific requirements and expectations. So, to say a particular solar panel type is the ultimate one will be different for each case scenario.

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Where Can Solar Panels Be Used?

As mentioned before, photovoltaic panels are available in various sizes and capacities, and come with multiple functionalities that adjust to you and wherever you want to use them. However, solar panels can be used anywhere, with sunlight exposure or with systems that optimize their absorbance, which we will discuss further on.

There are three types of solar panels when it comes to functionality:

Portable Solar Panels

Portable solar panels are ideal for on-the-go applications, such as camping, trekking, sailing on a boat, and many more scenarios where you need energy on the spot. They’re lightweight and compact, and since they are most commonly used in off-grid terrains, they’re designed to be practical and resistant to water and small dust particles.

Rigid Solar Panels

A more sturdy alternative to portable solar panels is rigid solar panels, which can be used for both on-the-go or permanent applications. They’re not as lightweight as portable solar panels due to the material with which their frames are made, mostly aluminum. They can also resist small dust particles and water since they’re meant to be exposed to the outside environment 24/7. These solar panels are usually installed on roofs of houses or recreational vehicles, gardens, and balconies.

Flexible Solar Panels

Flexible solar panels are meant for those with a more dynamic and versatile lifestyle. Flexible solar panels are incredibly lightweight and adapt to uneven or curved surfaces like boats or campers, thanks to their bendability. Most flexible solar panels have convenient holes in the corners to be drilled and stay in place, secure for off-road terrains or at sea.

Bifacial Solar Panels: Do They Absorb Double the Energy?

There exist two types of solar panels, monofacial and bifacial. You would think that bifacial means double the efficiency. Nevertheless, this is not the case. Bifacial PV panels absorb about 25-30% more energy than monofacial solar panels. Moreover, bifacial solar panels are more expensive and heavier. More efficiency in one system entails more materials and manufacturing time.

Bifacial panels function just like regular solar panels, the only difference is that they can absorb from their opposite side. These solar panels are ideal when you want to make the most of short stops along a road trip or when there is sun exposure for a short time.

Bifacial solar panels can be both permanent and portable. Using solar trackers for bifacial solar panels is possible; however, it isn’t ideal. Solar trackers are systems that follow the sun’s movement throughout the day to optimize the solar panel’s energy absorption, where efficiency can increase by up to 30%.

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Which Type of Solar Panel Is More Efficient?

Like their functionality, solar panels also differ in the type of cells they’re made from.

Monocrystalline

Known as the pioneers of solar panels, monocrystalline PV panels are made from single-crystal silicon solar cells. Silicon is a semiconducting material, the main character in PV panels, and they are cut from the edges and rounded to make their energy production more efficient. Pure silicon solar panels can offer optimal efficiency, up to 24%, promising a longer lifespan. 

Their pure silicon composition gives them a black color, which provides them with a sophisticated appearance. Due to their elegant finish and color, exceptional efficiency, and life expectancy, they are the most expensive type of PV panels. Nonetheless, their design entails much more economical investment, produces excessive waste, and dramatically increases manufacturing time.

Polycrystalline

Also known as multi-crystalline, these PV panels come second regarding efficiency rating. Also made from silicon, polycrystalline PV panels contain many fragments of silicon crystal melted together. Which in turn means less efficiency, around 16%, and a shorter lifespan.

Since their composition isn’t as pure, they will generate less energy than their monocrystalline rivals. They don’t necessarily have to be cut at the edges like monocrystalline PV panels, which means less waste and a cheaper and faster manufacturing process. Unlike monocrystalline solar panels, polycrystalline PV panels have a blueish color, giving them a not-so-elegant aspect. These factors make polycrystalline solar panels less expensive than monocrystalline PV panels.

Thin-Film

Thin-film PV panels are the thinnest of the three types, hence the name. Different from polycrystalline and monocrystalline solar panels, thin-film PV panels are made up of various layers of semiconducting materials. Amongst them is non-crystalline silicon, different from the one used in the other PV panels. At the very top is a primary glass layer that captures the sunlight.

This type of solar panel has the lowest efficiency percentage, 11% on average. Due to its low efficiency, it requires large installations to absorb more light, which means that more solar panels are needed and, overall, it is more expensive. Due to their “not-so-pure” composition, they degrade more quickly than their rivals. Despite their low efficiency and cheap materials, they are more flexible and conveniently adapt to uneven surfaces like those found on roofs.

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Are Solar Panels Waterproof?

Solar panels are waterproof, yet not all can endure the same water exposure. Most solar panels will have an ingress protection rating of at least IP65, where the first number refers to the protection against solids, and the second refers to the protection against water. The higher the number, the more waterproof and dust resistant they are. For a long-lasting solar panel, we recommend acquiring a solar panel with an IP68.

Ready to Choose the Best Type of Solar Panel for You?

Photovoltaic panels are a prime energy source to depend on when you are far away from the grid, giving you power and independence you need. On the road or at home, take advantage of a natural resource so readily accessible. You don’t have to be an expert in renewable energy to take that first step. Solar panels do all the work, so you only have to worry about which one best accommodates your power demands and lifestyle. So, now that you know the basics of PV panels and know more about how they function, the different kinds, and their characteristics, you are ready to choose the type of solar panel best for you.

Mireya Cervantes

Mireya Cervantes

Writer

Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering, I am also passionate about renewable energy applications and innovations. Full-time writer for Solar Home Stead, where I review and share my opinion on energy products and trends.

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