At Sun Badger Solar, it’s our goal to provide our customers with the best possible solar panels. Solar panels can be manufactured in a number of ways and are constructed of quite a few different material options.
Some materials are better than others and offer different benefits. In this guide, we’re breaking down the best and worst solar panel materials on the market so that you know what’s best for you and your home.
Types of Solar Panels:
There are three types of solar panels that are in production and commonly used throughout the world today.
These panels are called monocrystalline because each individual cell on the solar panels is made of a single crystal. Monocrystalline panels are a bit more efficient at converting solar energy to electricity than other types.
Poly means many and because each individual cell on the solar panel is made up of many crystals layered together, we have the name polycrystalline. Their construction makes it cheaper and easier to make but not quite as good as monocrystalline in terms of efficiency or cost per watt ratio. Polycrystalline has also been known for being less durable, meaning that they don’t last as long when exposed to excessive amounts of heat, such as intense sun rays reflected off water or snow like what happens with monocrystals.
Amorphous Solar Cells (thin-film)
Amorphous solar cells are known as thin-film panels, and they can be made of various materials, including cadmium telluride, amorphous silicon, or copper indium selenide. These solar panels have been shown to convert about 15% of sunlight into electricity. This is less than the other cell types, but these types also cost significantly less, thus making the cost to value ratio around the same as the other cells when it comes to efficiency.
Some benefits of amorphous solar cells or thin-film panels include better low-light performance, higher efficiency, and lower cost. These benefits come at the downside of thin-film panels needing significantly more surface area to produce the same amount of electricity. So, while you might pay less at first, the cost does add up. These panels are also much more fragile and can be damaged more easily. They also degrade significantly faster.
Solar Panel Materials: What Are Solar Panels Made Of?
- Sand or Silicon: sand is one of the most plentiful resources on Earth, and it’s used to produce both the silicon in solar panels and the glass that solar panels are made from.
- Glass: glass is the material that offers protection for the silicon cells that turn sunlight into electricity.
- Ingots: the thousands of silicon pieces that are found in the sand can be used to create ingots or circular molds of silicon.
- Wafers: after the ingots have been formed by the melting down of silicon, wafers are formed by slicing the ingots into small circular chunks.
- Solar Cells: the cells themselves are made by placing the wafers out on a panel and using a metal electricity conductor between each panel. The cells are also coated with phosphorus to serve as a conductive material.
- Solar Panels: the panels themselves are made by connecting the individual cells. The cells themselves are connected and placed inside the panels, where they all lead to one place where the energy can flow out to a converter.
- Metal Casing and Brackets: metal is used on the outside of the panel to serve as both a casing and brackets for the panels. Most of the materials outside the panel are designed to help make the panels more efficient.
Each of these materials come together to make what we see as solar panels. But that’s not all that goes into a solar energy system. There are still a few moving pieces before the panels can be producing electricity for your home. This includes an inverter connecting to your power meter and sometimes a battery bank.
If you want to learn more about how solar works or what happens after the energy is generated by panels, check out this guide.
Solar Panels Can Be Recycled
One concern that comes with purchasing and installing solar panels is whether or not they can be recycled at the end of their life.
Most solar panels can be recycled, which helps in minimizing what goes into landfills and the carbon footprint of these devices. The most common type of recycling that is done for solar cells is melting them down to make new silicon wafers which then become more monocrystalline or polycrystalline, as previously mentioned.
Silicon is the material that makes up the majority of the solar panel, but other materials, including the glass and metal casings for the panels, can also be recycled. The only downside to recycling solar panels is the energy it takes to meltdown and repurpose the different components.
Do Different Solar Materials Last Longer?
More expensive solar panels are usually better quality and will last longer than cheaper ones. Essentially you’re getting what you pay for when it comes to solar panels, just like any other product. Monocrystalline cells can cost twice as much due to their efficiency and cost to produce. But, although you pay a higher price in the beginning, in the end, you’ve got more energy generated over time because of the increased efficiency.
The Three Tiers of Solar Panels
There are three tiers of solar panels on the market today that offer a different level of efficiency. Tier one is the best solar option and tier three being the least expensive and least efficient of the panels. The tiers that offer better efficiency take a bit longer to produce and are more expensive.
Tier-One Solar Panels
Called tier one because these types have been found to be most efficient at converting sunlight into usable electrical energy, with an average conversion rate being 22%. These solar cells can cost between $.77 and $.97 per watt, which is on the higher end of what consumers can expect to pay for solar panels but not by much.
Tier-Two Solar Panels
Called tier two because these types are cheaper than what’s found in tier one, with an average conversion rate being 17%. These cells cost around $0.68 per watt.
Tier-Three Solar Panels
Called tier-three because what’s found in this category are solar panels that have the least conversion rate of all with an average of around 12%. The cells can cost as low as $0.35, which is what makes these types more affordable and what most consumers purchase to save money.
Which Tier of Solar Panels Lasts the Longest?
Tiers one and two last the longest because what makes them better quality is also what allows them to be more efficient, which means they are less likely to break down over time. A higher price, in this case, equals a higher value item.
Tier three solar cells may cost a little bit less but what you’re paying for in this tier is cheaper than what would be found on tiers one or two. Because of that, they are less likely to last as long and can lose most of their efficiency within 10 to 15 years. That’s a huge disadvantage if you’re a homeowner because you’ll be left with an investment that’s lost most of its value.
Understanding Solar Degradation By Tier
Solar panels do undergo a loss of efficiency over time. What happens is that they can no longer convert as much sunlight into usable electrical energy as they do at the beginning of their life.
Cell degradation (degradation of the solar cells) occurs because what makes up these panels, such as silicon, falls apart over time. This is the leading cause of a loss inefficiency. The breaking down of the silicon cells can also cause the panels to produce more heat, thus causing them to break down even further and more rapidly over time.
Tier one and two solar panels and made from higher-grade silicon and thus break down significantly less than tier three. In most cases, tier-one panels will still be producing more than 90% of their efficiency rating after 25 years, while tier-three panels will be producing just 82%.
At Sun Badger Solar, we only install the highest quality tier one solar panels because we believe that these panels are the best investment for our customers. All of the panels that we sell and install come with a 30 year 80% efficiency guarantee from the manufacturer as well as our 10-year installation guarantee. That means your panels are going to keep serving you well for years and years to come.