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Solar PV: how to tell the difference between panel types

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 25 September 2009 at 9:50 am

Solar PV (photovoltaic) panels come in lots of different types - mostly with long and complicated names - so it's not easy to know what the difference is.

Last night I went to an excellent evening organised by the Sid Valley Energy Action Group - a group of enthusiastic volunteers who promote energy efficiency in Sidmouth and the surrounding area. We had a short talk to help us understand more about solar power and how it works, and two local residents told us about the return they get from their solar hot water and solar electricity. That was followed by an opportunity to meet and chat to local installers.

The speaker, Andy Honey of Microgeneration Ltd, came up with the best analogy I've heard yet for sorting between the types of PV. He compared them to wood.

So, thin film PV is the equivalent of a veneer; polycrystalline is the MDF of photovoltaics; monocrystalline can be equated to solid soft wood, and hybrid technology to hard wood. And the prices differ accordingly.

Ultimately, which you choose will depend both on how much money you have to spend and how much roof (or other) space you have to put it on. If you've got lots of room, thin film may be the best solution, but with limited space, you may want to invest in something that generates more per square meter.

PV installers are currently reporting a buzz of interest, thanks to the window of opportunity offered by the feed-in tariff. People who install solar panels at their home before the end of March 2010 will qualify for full feed-in tariff rates of up to 36.5p for every kWh they generate. They will also be able to apply for a grant of up to £2,500.

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1 comments - read them below or add one


ePower-SolarComment left on: 16 November 2009 at 4:28 pm

I agree that the names being used are sometimes confusing and their is a need for simplifications. 

Thinfilm modules are usually used in larger projects >30kWp

Advantages are that they offer great value for money and recent test also have shown that they can be highly efficient. 

Disadvantages are that they require expertise in terms of mounting, they are more difficult to implement in terms of the power inverters available and they contain CdTe which is not environmental friendly at all and is really dangerous in case the whole system catches fire.

There is not much difference after all between polychrystallin and monochrytalline pannels. Monochrystalline pannels are usually cheaper than monchrystalline pannels, while monochrystalline pannels usually have a better output in terms of energy generated by square meter. Though this should by no means be a generalisation. Some of the finest and most advanced manufacturers produce polychrystalline pannels which are superior to monochrystalline pannels. I would say that for home owners who are planning to install a system on their roof these types of solarmodules are the most suitable (for Europe and comparable climates).

Hybrid Modules are less efficient in terms of energy generated by surface area and more costly (in general) though their advantage is that they have a very good temperature coefficiency, meaning that that they energy output does not decrease as rapidly at high temperatures, that is why they are more common in regions with extreme heat (e.g. Australia), but for our climate I would never recommend such a system.

If you are interested in solar energy I would advice you to take some time before making an investment and to do some research. Else wise you might end up with a bad deal. Why not starting by buying a small 12V Solarmodul for your camper or garden first and learning a little bit from it by attaching a water pump or a 12V fridge, lights, radio or anything that suits you. 

I hope that I could give you some information on the different pannel types. 

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