Different Types of Cell Technologies

Did you know the world’s energy needs for one year can be covered by the sun generating power for only one minute? In fact, within 24 hours the Sun is able to generate more energy than the entire population would consume in 27 years.

Thus, solar energy is not only a truly reliable and lasting energy source but also a very cost-effective and efficient one, if the chosen types of solar panels and the environment are perfectly matched to one another. Such promising prospects have grown in an industry that has put a lot of effort into developing efficient techniques to generate, use, and store the sun’s energy by using different types of solar panels and converting the sunlight into valuable electricity.

Hundreds of solar cells (also called photovoltaic cells) make up a solar photovoltaic (PV) array. Solar cells are the components of solar arrays that convert radiant light from the sun into electricity that is then used to power electrical devices and heat and cool homes and businesses.

Solar cells contain materials with semiconducting properties in which their electrons become excited and turned into electrical current when struck by sunlight. While there are dozens of variations of solar cells, the two most common types are those made of crystalline silicon (both monocrystalline and polycrystalline) and those made with what is called thin-film technology.

Only a few people are aware of the different technologies that exist on the market for solar energy such as solar thermal and solar water heating.

Different Types of Solar Panel Technologies

Different types of solar panels serve different needs and purposes. For a quick and general overview, check out our ultimate solar panel guide, for a detailed description of the different types of solar panels, keep reading.

Given that sunlight can be used differently whether on Earth or in space points to the fact that location, itself, is a significant factor when it comes to choosing one of the types of solar panels over another.

Distinguishing between different types of solar panels often means differentiating between single-junctions and multi-junctions solar panels—or first, second, or third generations. Single-junction and multi-junctions differ in the number of layers on the solar panel that will observe the sunlight, whereas the classification by generation focuses on the materials and efficiency of the different types of solar panels.

Silicon-Based Solar Cells

These are the traditional types of solar panels made of monocrystalline silicon or polysilicon and are most commonly used in conventional surroundings.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

(Mono-SI)Monocrystalline Solar Panels (Mono-SI) This type of solar panels (made of monocrystalline silicon) is the purest one. You can easily recognize them from the uniform dark look and the rounded edges. The silicon’s high purity causes this type of solar panel has one of the highest efficiency rates, with the newest ones reaching above 20%. Monocrystalline panels have a high power output, occupy less space, and last the longest. Of course, that also means they are the most expensive of the bunch. Another advantage to consider is that they tend to be slightly less affected by high temperatures compared to polycrystalline panels.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels.

(Poly-SI)Polycrystalline Solar Panels (p-SI) You can quickly distinguish these panels because this type of solar panels has squares, its angles are not cut, and it has a blue, speckled look. They are made by melting raw silicon, which is a faster and cheaper process than that used for monocrystalline panels. This leads to a lower final price but also lower efficiency (around 15%), lower space efficiency, and a shorter lifespan since they are affected by hot temperatures to a greater degree. However, the differences between mono- and polycrystalline types of solar panels are not so significant and the choice will strongly depend on your specific situation. The first option offers a slightly higher space efficiency at a slightly higher price but power outputs are basically the same.

Thin-Film Solar Cells (TFSC)

If you are looking for a less expensive option, you might want to look into thin-film. Thin-film solar panels are manufactured by placing one or more films of photovoltaic material (such as silicon, cadmium, or copper) onto a substrate. These types of solar panels are the easiest to produce and economies of scale make them cheaper than the alternatives due to less material being needed for its production. They are also flexible—which opens a lot of opportunities for alternative applications—and is less affected by high temperatures. The main issue is that they take up a lot of space, generally making them unsuitable for residential installations. Moreover, they carry the shortest warranties because their lifespan is shorter than the mono- and polycrystalline types of solar panels. However, they can be a good option to choose among the different types of solar panels where a lot of space is available.

Amorphous Silicon Solar Cell (A-Si)

Have you ever used a solar-powered pocket calculator? Yes? Then you have definitely seen these types of solar panels before. The amorphous silicon solar cell is among the different types of solar panels, the one that is used mainly in such pocket calculators. This type of solar panel uses a triple-layered technology, which is the best of the thin film variety. Just to give a brief impression of what “thin” means, in this case, we’re talking about a thickness of 1 micrometer (one-millionth of a meter). With only a 7% efficiency rate, these cells are less effective than crystalline silicon ones—that have an efficiency rate of circa 18%—but the advantage is the fact that the A-Si-Cells are relatively low in cost.

Other Semi-Conductor Compounds

Gallium Arsenide GaAs
Gallium Indium Prosperous GaInP
Copper Zinc Tin Sulphide CZTS
Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide CIGS

Cadmium Telluride Solar Cell (CdTe)

Among the collection of different types of solar panels, this photovoltaic technique uses Cadmium Telluride, which enables the production of solar cells at relatively low cost and thus a shorter payback time (less than a year). Of all solar energy technologies, this is the one requiring the least amount of water for production. Keeping the short energy payback time in mind, CdTe solar cells will keep your carbon footprint as low as possible. The only disadvantage of using Cadmium Telluride is its characteristic of being toxic if ingested or inhaled. In Europe especially, this is one of the greatest barriers to overcome, as many people are very concerned about using the technology behind this type of solar panel.

Emerging TechnologieS

Concentrated PV Cell (CVP and HCVP) 

Concentrated PV cells generate electrical energy just as conventional photovoltaic systems do. Those multi-junction types of solar panels have an efficiency rate up to 41%, which, among all photovoltaic systems, is the highest so far. The name of such CVP cells is related to what makes them so efficient, compared to other types of solar panels: curved mirror surfaces, lenses, and sometimes even cooling systems are used to bundle the sun rays and thus increase their efficiency. By this means, CVP cells have become one of the most efficient solar panels, with a high performance and efficiency rate of up to 41%. What remains is the fact, that such CVP solar panels can only be as efficient if they face the sun in a perfect angle. In order to reach such high-efficiency rates, a solar tracker inside the solar panel is responsible for following the sun.

Electricity can be produced through the interaction of light on many other materials as well. Perovskite solar cells, named after their specific crystal structure, can be produced from organic compounds of lead and elements such as chlorine, bromine, or iodine. They are relatively cheap to produce and can boast efficiencies close to those of commercially available silicon cells but they are currently limited by a short lifespan.

Organic solar cells consist of layers of polymers and can be produced cheaply at high volumes. These cells can be produced as a semi-transparent film, but suffer from relatively low efficiencies. Dye-sensitized solar cells can be produced using semiconducting titanium dioxide and a layer of 'sensitizer' dye only one molecule thick. These cells boast modest efficiencies but cannot withstand bright sunlight without degrading.

Quantum dots utilize nanotechnology to manipulate semiconducting materials at extremely small scales. 'Nanoparticles' consisting of a mere 10,000 atoms can be tuned to different parts of the solar spectrum according to their size, and combined to absorb a wide range of energy. Although theoretical efficiencies are extremely high, laboratory test efficiencies are still very low.

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