Living off-grid is a noble goal. Choosing technologies and equipment to achieve this can feel a little bit like jumping off a cliff with no rope or safety net below. This article will assist you in making informed choices regarding the most efficient and affordable solar panels.
Efficiency, cost, appearance & durability are used to evaluate the viability of different types of solar panels for homesteading. There are 5 types of solar panel technology currently used. Recommended solar panel brands are:
- Canadian Solar
- Q Cells
Solar offers many economic and environmental advantages, but are all solar panels created equally? Do you know the different technologies available? How do you know which panels to choose?
Factors Used To Evaluate Solar Panels For Homesteading
Four factors are used to evaluate the suitability of solar panels for homesteading:
Solar panel efficiency refers to the conversion rate of pure solar energy to useable electrical energy for your home. Solar panel manufacturers reference the efficiency of a solar panel as the power output compared to a given size of solar panel.
The cost of solar panels is continually decreasing.
In 1956, solar panels cost about $300 per watt (present-day values). By contrast, in 1975, that figure had dropped to $100 a watt.
Today, a solar panel can cost as little as $0.50 a watt.
The better a panel looks, the more it enhances your family home. The size and age of the solar system installed on the property will affect the house’s resale value.
The latest solar panels are designed to last 40 – 50 years. These target lifetime estimates can be affected by the regions of the world where they are installed.
Regions prone to wildfires, hail, hurricanes, and tornadoes are exposed to heightened risk. Climate change and extreme weather events have made these risks a global phenomenon and will impact the durability of your panels.
Installation in desert regions can degrade panels by up to 1% a year, unlike moderate climates where the degradation is 0.2% per year. Reputable solar panel companies should offer 10- to 25-year warranties on their solar panels.
Types Of Solar Technology Currently Available
There are five main types (technologies) of solar panels. These are:
- Monocrystalline (Mono-SI)
- Passive emitter and rear cell (PERC) panels
- Polycrystalline (p-Si)
- Thin-film (Amorphous silicon) solar panels (A-SI)
- Concentrated PV Cells (CVP)
These are efficient cells due to the use of pure silicon. A result is that these panels are also the most space-efficient and longest-lasting among all solar panel types.
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Passivated Emitter And Rear Cell (PERC) Panels
These are a development of Mono-SI panels. The improvement is achieved by adding another (passivity) layer to the back of the panel. Which allows light to be reflected into the panel, which increases the amount of solar radiation absorbed.
The improved reflection qualities mean that the back sheet doesn’t heat up as much, which improves the panel’s efficiency.
The silicon fragments used in Polycrystalline panels are melted and poured into a square mold; thus, Polycrystalline panels are cheaper as there is less wastage in the manufacturing process.
The downside is that they are less efficient energy converters as the silicon purity is less. They also have a lower tolerance to heat.
Thin-Film (Amorphous Silicon) Solar Panels (A-SI)
The main advantage of Thin-film (amorphous silicon) solar panels is their low cost.
As the name implies, these panels are made up of very thin film, making these solar panels the most flexible panels currently available. These panels come in a variation of sizes enabling creative installation.
The downside is that they are not as efficient as other types and take up a lot of space.
Concentrated PV Cell (CVP)
Concentrated PV cells generate electrical energy similarly to conventional photovoltaic systems. Efficiency rates of up to 41% are achieved using curved mirror surfaces and cooling systems to concentrate the sun’s energy.
The Benefits And Disadvantages Of Different Solar Technology
Each type of technology used to harness the sun’s energy will have drawbacks and advantages that need to be considered.
Solar Panel Technology Rated By Efficiency
|Monocrystalline (Mono-SI)||20% – 23%|
|PERC Panels||25% – 38%|
|Polycrystalline (p-Si)||15% – 17%|
|Thin-Film: Amorphous Silicon Solar Panels||13% – 15%|
|Concentrated PV Cell (CPV)||46%|
Solar Panel Technology Rated By Cost
|Technology||Cost per kilowatt (US$ cost in 2020)|
|Monocrystalline (Mono-SI)||$1 – $1.50|
|Polycrystalline (p-Si)||$0.70 – $1|
|Thin-Film: Amorphous Silicon Solar Panels||$0.60 – $0.70|
|Concentrated PV Cell (CVP)||$4.75|
The CPV cell requires a solar tracker and cooling system to reach a high-efficiency rate, which significantly adds to the cost; the high price makes it impractical for homesteads.
Solar Panel Technology By Rated Power
The more powerful the solar panels, the fewer the panels needed to supply the home. Achieving a balance between cost and power (Watts) is the best means of distinguishing between a wise economy and foolish savings.
Thanks to their construction, Monocrystalline (Mono-SI) is the most and highest rated panel installed. This technology produces up to 400w of power per panel.
(Source: Comprehensive Renewable Energy)
PERC panels are the upgraded cousin of the Monocrystalline panels; PERC panels can be purchased, producing up to 540w of power.
The lower efficiency of polycrystalline panels results in a smaller power rating output than monocrystalline panels; however, modern polycrystalline panels are becoming more efficient. These usually range between 240 watts and 300 watts. Some polycrystalline panels have power ratings above 300 watts.
(Source: Solar Reviews)
Thin-Film: Amorphous Silicon Solar Panels
Despite having the best temperature coefficient (i.e., the colder it gets, the lower the solar panel’s power) with low energy ratings of under 13%, film panels generally do not make sense for private home use.
Why Is The Solar Panel’s Appearance Important?
Polycrystalline Panels have the worst appearance. They tend to be very noticeable; the solar panel cells sport a distinctive blue, marbled look. Each Polycrystalline Panel looks different from its neighbor, resulting in a chaotic patchwork effect.
Unlike the homely Polycrystalline Panels, Thin-Film (Amorphous Silicon) Solar Panels consistently take home the prize of the most beautiful solar panel. However, these panels are all about their looks and less about practical performance.
Thin-film (amorphous silicon) solar panels have the lowest power and efficiency rating and offer the least resistance against harsh weather climates such as high winds, hail, or stormy conditions.
So, while thin-film panels might look nice at first, one bad storm could cause significant damage.
Both Monocrystalline (Mono-SI) and PERC panels feature a modern and streamlined aesthetic. They have a solid black appearance, and if your roof is painted black, they tend to be relatively unnoticeable.
Overall, Monocrystalline (Mono-SI) and PERC panels offer the best balance between efficiency, price, durability, and aesthetics.
Which Solar Panel Should You Buy And Install?
Monocrystalline or PERC solar panels are the best solar panels for homesteaders when considering the efficiency, cost, durability, and appearance.
Monocrystalline and PERC solar panels are a little more expensive; however, for that price, you will get a product that offers the best balance of these above-mentioned factors.
Considering the greater efficiency of Monocrystalline and PERC solar panels and their excellent lifespan, the actual long-term investment will be lower than the other solutions.
Suppose your budget does not stretch to Monocrystalline (Mono-SI) or PERC panels. In that case, polycrystalline panels are a viable alternative and are the best fit for homesteaders working with a tight budget.
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Thin-Film (Amorphous Silicon) Solar Panels are not recommended for residential projects. They do not provide sufficient efficiencies and can be easily damaged by extreme weather conditions; something global warming has ensured will continue more frequently.
Which Brands Should You Buy?
Based on market reviews and the criteria already discussed, the following manufacturers are “recommended” suppliers.
|LG||The best balance of factors|
|Panasonic||Best Temperature Coefficient|
|Canadian Solar||Most Affordable|
|Q Cells||Consumer Favorite|
|Renewsys||Best balanced product|
LG (Best Overall)
LG is a multinational electronics company, and its solar panels are built with excellent quality and durability in mind. They work well work with almost any home solar configuration.
The efficiency of LG solar panels is rarely surpassed (They are rated as 21.7% efficient; the only brand I’ve found that can beat that is SunPower.) The competitive price of LG solar panels makes the deal so much better.
A robust 25-year warranty that the sheer size of the LG group can back up makes it an easy decision to recommend this multinational company.
SunPower (Most Efficient)
If efficiency is your most important consideration, these are the solar panels for you; at 22.7%, SunPower’s panels have the highest efficiency of any major solar panel brand.
The SunPower panels are reasonably priced and come with a comprehensive product warranty.
Panasonic (Best Performer In Extreme Climates)
Panasonic solar panels have an excellent temperature coefficient, i.e., they will continue to perform at a high output even when the external temperature rises.
Homesteaders living in warm or arid geographic reasons should consider the Panasonic solar panels; when it gets uncomfortably hot outside, and most panels start to underperform, the Panasonic panel continues to function efficiently.
Panasonic solar panels are a well-made product designed and sold by a big established company with a long history of supplying the public with reliable electrical products.
Canadian Solar (Most Affordable)
Canadian Solar is renowned for high-quality, cost-effective panels. In a sense, they have become the industry benchmark for the most balanced product.
The technical specs of the Canadian Solar panels are very close to the leaders, i.e., LG and SunPower; their competitive costing makes them a strong contender as a homesteading solar panel.
While the affordability of Canadian Solar panels is excellent, their warranty is not; they only offer a 12-year warranty which is significantly shorter than many of the other established solar panel brands.
Silflab (Best Warranty)
Not only do Silflab’s solar panels come supported by a great warranty, but they routinely win accolades for longevity and overall customer satisfaction.
Homesteaders living in rugged environments should consider the Silflab; a comprehensive warranty is invaluable when living in a high-risk area.
QLab (Preferred By Consumers)
This company beats the rest in the sheer number of consumer satisfaction results. QLab is the company you guys voted for due to its outstanding customer service and support!
Renewsys (The Most Consistent)
Renewsys offers high efficiency (up to 23.5%) along with an excellent 25-year warranty. All this tied to a competitive price earns Renewsys a place in our top seven winner list.
The Future Solar Panel Technology
When deciding on your manufacturer and supplier of solar panels, remember that this technology is developing very fast.
In 2020, 200w to 300w solar panels were commonly advertised. At the end of 2021, Panels producing up to 550 watts are now widely publicized.
Be prepared to do your research and try to be aware of developments that are taking place. Third-generation solar panels are being developed and tested. These potentially offer a massive increase in capacity and efficiency.
Third-generation solar panel technology includes a variety of thin-film technologies; however, most of them are still in the research or development phase. Some solar panels generate electricity using organic materials, while others use inorganic substances.
Biohybrid Solar Cell
A team at Vanderbilt University has been working on a biohybrid solar cell. They aim to create a solar panel that functions similarly to how plants utilize the sun’s energy during photosynthesis.
Plants are one of the few organisms on the planet capable of harvesting the sun’s energy and converting it into chemical energy. The biohybrid solar panel will first convert the sun’s solar energy into chemical energy before transforming it into a valuable form of electrical power.
This technology is expected to be 1000 times more efficient than first-generation solar panel technology!
(Source: American Journal of Optics and Photonics)
Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)
Integrated Photovoltaics is a building material manufactured from transparent photovoltaic cells. These are constructed (i.e., built into) into a building as windows that let light in; while simultaneously producing electricity.
Imaginatively incorporating solar power into architecture has many advantages. There is an unlimited energy source, decreased maintenance costs, improved sound insulation, and thermal optimization. It’s a significant step towards a zero-carbon footprint.
(Source: Metropolitan Sustainability)
Floating Photovoltaic Solar Panels
Floating Photovoltaic Solar Panels are installed on water surfaces, as opposed to traditional systems built on the land. Floating Photovoltaic Solar Panels produce higher amounts of power and better efficiency ratings than conventional methods.
Floating Photovoltaic Solar Panels were first commercially used in Japan in 2007
Floating Photovoltaic Solar Panels off many advantages over land-based systems. Along with reducing evaporation and algae growth in water masses. It also offers lower PV operating temperatures and potentially reduces the costs of solar energy generation.
(Source: ACS Publications)
The sun is an incredible energy source. Not only is it an environmentally neutral energy resource, but it also has tremendous potential – every minute, the sun generates enough energy to power the world for one year!
The potential to prevent damage to the environment, reduce or eliminate reliance on traditional energy sources while also reducing the control of government and related energies makes a compelling argument for homesteaders to switch from conventional electrical sources to solar energy.
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