Solar systems might all look the same, but several different technologies are being used in Australia and worldwide. Which is the right option for your home and business? What are the new technologies just around the corner?
Benefits of current solar panels
We explore the different options available and their benefits:
- Monocrystalline: As the name suggests, each cell is made of a single silicon crystal. These are made from cylindrical monocrystalline ingots, which are then thinly sliced into wafers. The wafers are then soldered together into ribbons to make up the final panel. You’ll enjoy plenty of benefits from these options as they don’t take up much space, yield the highest power output and have the longest life span (up to 25 years). Cost is a factor, though, due to wastage in the manufacturing process and the price of high-grade silicon.
- Polycrystalline: This is very similar to monocrystalline options as these solutions also use silicon. The difference is in the manufacturing process. The silicon is melted down and poured into moulds, eliminating a lot of the wastage, but it does mean there is less silicon content, which gives them a darker, almost jet black appearance. You’ll get a better efficiency rate, but the trade-off is that these systems take up more space. The most significant advantage is they are much more cost-effective.
- Thin-film: The new evolution of solar is much thinner and up to 300 times smaller than the before-mentioned options. They can be constructed by using one of four substrates, cadmium telluride (CdTe), amorphous silicon (a-Si), copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) or gallium arsenide (GaAs). The GaAs options are the most efficient at 28.8 per cent, but they come at a high cost and are typically reserved for specialised applications like building spacecraft.
New technologies currently being developed
The wafer-based technologies currently being used are about as efficient as they are likely to get. This is why new technologies are being explored, including:
- Bifacial: These are panels that can capture light on both sides. While this is a mainstream technology, it’s one of the oldest and dates back to the 1960s. Due to their limited ability to be used practically, rooftop PV systems remain the favoured technology.
- Concentrated PV (photovoltaic) cell: Regarded as the future of photovoltaics, this technology uses mirrors and curved surfaces to focus the sunlight onto high-efficiency cells.
- Tiles: Looking like ordinary roof shingles, these tiles can be used in construction and generate electricity while boasting a better aesthetic than traditional rooftop systems.
- Transparent panels: A challenge for high rise buildings is limited roof space and high electricity usage. Transparent models are being developed to use as windows that generate electricity to meet this challenge.
- Perovskites: Metal-halide perovskites have enormous potential to create highly efficient panels, but instability is a significant hurdle.
- Holograms: A low-cost holographic optical element (HOE) and a diffuser are added to existing technologies to increase the efficiency by almost five per cent.