What are the major types of solar PV modules?

There are three major types of solar PV modules.

  1. Mono-crystalline
  2. Poly-crystalline (also known as multi-crystalline)
  3. Thin-film

Each solar PV module type has its own unique features. These PV modules also vary based on how they’re manufactured, their appearance, performance, costs each are best suited for.

Mono-crystalline and Poly-crystalline solar PV modules

Both mono-crystalline and poly-crystalline solar PV modules have cells made of silicon wafers. To build a mono-crystalline or poly-crystalline module, wafers are assembled into rows and columns covered with a glass sheet, and framed together. Poly-crystalline cells are square-shaped whereas mono-crystalline cells are square with missing corners.

While both of these types of solar PV modules have cells made from silicon, mono-crystalline and poly-crystalline modules vary in the composition of the silicon itself. Mono-crystalline solar cells are cut from a single, pure crystal of silicon. Alternatively, poly-crystalline solar cells are composed of fragments of silicon crystals that are melted together in a mold before being cut into wafers. Mono-crystalline modules typically have the highest efficiencies and power capacity.

Thin-film solar PV modules

Unlike mono-crystalline and poly-crystalline solar PV modules, thin-film modules are made from a variety of materials. The most prevalent type of thin-film solar module is made from cadmium telluride (CdTe).

To make this type of thin-film module, manufacturers place a layer of CdTe between transparent conducting layers that help capture sunlight. This type of thin-film technology also has a glass layer on the top for protection.

Other materials used to manufacture a thin-film PV module are amorphous silicon (a-Si) and Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS). Thin-film solar modules are thin and often slimmer than other solar PV module types. Thin-film solar modules also tend to have lower efficiencies and power capacities than mono-crystalline or poly-crystalline modules.

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