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Solar Modules: The Three Major Types

There are three major types of solar modules in the market today: Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline, and Thin Film. When installing a solar system, it is crucial to choose the type that best suits a facility’s financial and energy consumption needs. Although the media usually portrays solar panels as a uniform sea of blue, the three types of modules vary in their appearance and performance.

Monocrystalline

The first type are “monocrystalline” solar modules. These solar panels are composed of “crystalline silicon,” a material that is also used in computer chips.  It is grown as a cylindrical crystal, and is later sliced into round, wafer shaped cells. The cells are often cut into rounded squares to maximize space on solar modules.  These rounded cell corners, and (typically) black uniform color, are what distinguish these modules physically.

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Being composed of very “pure” silicon molecules, Monocrystalline modules have the highest efficiency levels (~15%-25%) in the market today. Module efficiency is an important consideration when energy demand is high, but facility space is limited. Monocrystalline cells also tend to have a long life-span, with warranties of 25 years, and a useful life usually in excess of 35 years. However, due to their work-intensive production process, they can sometimes be the most expensive module option per unit.

Polycrystalline

The second type are “polycrystalline” modules. To create its cells, silicon crystals are melted, and poured into a cast. This process distorts the silicon’s crystal structure, giving polycrystalline its blue, gemstone-like appearance. Unlike monocrystalline cells, polycrystalline cells are perfectly rectangular.

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This casting process makes silicon molecules “less pure,” giving Polycrystalline modules an average efficiency of ~13%-20%. They tend to have a warranty of 25 years as well, and are typically less expensive than monocrystalline modules. When there is plenty of roof or ground space for panels to accommodate energy consumption, it often makes more financial sense to have a larger polycrystalline system, than to purchase expensive monocrystalline modules.

Thin Film

The final type are “thin film” modules. They can be created with amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, copper indium gallium selenide, etc. These modules are usually formed as one unit, allowing for the adjustment of cell sizes. Some varieties are also bendable, which increases installation flexibility.

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Source: Hangzhou Amplesun Solar Technology Co., Ltd.

Thin film modules are much less efficient (6%-13%) than monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules, and take up more space and mounting. Using thin film modules can increase overall system price if a facility has high energy consumption levels. Thin film module life spans tends to be shorter than silicon modules as well, ranging from 10-25 years. Nevertheless, they are often the cheapest type of module due to their simple production method.

Final Module Thoughts

Approximately 90% of solar modules in the market today are made of silicon (either monocrystalline or polycrystalline). Polycrystalline modules tend to be most popular due to their mid-range price and high efficiency. However, the type of modules that will match what your overall project requires should be determined by a professional. EnterSolar’s turnkey operations ensure that each facility’s solar system is designed to meet its financial and spatial requirements.  For more information, email us at info@entersolar.com.

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