Are you a South African who’s ready to change over to solar power? Different kinds of solar panels have different looks, efficiencies and costs. If you want to make an educated decision on which is the best for you, here’s some info on the most popular ones currently available.
When it comes to picking the right kinds of solar panels for your home or business, three questions must be asked:
- How much electricity do I want to generate monthly?
- What is my budget?
- Do I have any aesthetic preferences?
A quick word on terms regarding kinds of solar panls
Something to take note of before reading further is that efficiency of solar panels is often depicted in percentages. If you hear that a solar panel puts out 12% efficiency, this means that out of the solar radiation that hits the panels, 12% of it is harvested and converted into electricity. To put this another way: out of the amount of potential solar energy hitting the solar panel, only 12% is actually utilized for the purpose at hand.
New kinds of solar panels in development
We’ll get to those three kinds of solar panels shortly. But it should also be mentioned that we will look at three of the most popular kinds of solar panel on the market. There are however many other technologies not mentioned here. Further developments are always being made in renewable energy. But if you want to understand the main solar panel varieties in South Africa, read on.
Polycrystalline Solar panels
Don’t let that big word scare you. All you need to remember is that polycrystalline is a type of silicone used to produce solar cells. What’s great about these cells is that they are the cheapest to manufacture.
But this factor is not the only one that has added to their popularity. Polycrystalline solar panels were the first major panels to be produced in many countries. This is why they remain quite popular in less-developed countries.
Another interesting fact about polycrystalline panels is that their cells are not uniformed like other types of panels. The cells are laid out in a way that resembles shards of glass stuck together. It’s because of this layout that these solar panels are among the less efficient ones in South Africa (about 13.5%).
But despite this slightly lower efficiency, these kinds of solar panels are purchased by the thousands in South Africa. That’s because they are affordable, flexible and sturdy. Home owners may not opt for this type of solar panel simply because it isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as other types. However, businesses and factories are less likely to worry about looks, and more about price.
Monocrystalline solar panels
Here’s another big word. But again, this is just another variant of silicone. But in this case, Monocrystalline makes up one of the slightly more efficient kinds of solar panels. Not just because of the material itself, but because of the layout of the cells within the panel.
Unlike polycrystalline solar cells, these cells are laid out neatly in rows within the solar panel. Manufacturers have recognized that this enhances the efficiency to about 20%. While this may not seem much higher than polycrystalline cells, it is a big difference in solar cell terms.
If you think about a solar panel sitting in the sun atop your roof, you realize that every minute it’s exposed to the sun, it’s creating energy. That small percentage multiplied over a period of days, months and years makes a huge difference.
These panels are the most popular for home owners at the moment. They look good, work well and are quite sturdy. Some may see a slight drawback in the flexibility of installation. Because monocrystalline panels are thicker than others, they sometimes pose installation challenges for oddly-shaped roofs.
Amorphous solar panels (thin film panels)
In first world countries, amorphous solar panels are the hottest variety for home owners. Out of the three discussed here, this is by far the most developed. Despite its new arrival on the market, it has been received with enthusiasm—albeit a slight sense of mistrust.
As with all things new, people are skeptical to spend their money on kinds of solar panels that don’t yet have a reputation. But testing various kinds of solar panels has shown that amorphous solar panels put out an efficiency of approximately 26%. That’s a lot more than the other two we’ve looked at!
Unfortunately, amorphous solar panels aren’t popular enough in SA yet. You’d be hard-pressed to find these kinds of solar panels in the country unless they are directly imported. However, it won’t be long before this technology reaches us as there is currently a manufacturing plant being set up near Cape Town.
YouTube video about the 3 main types of solar panels