Solar power is a seemingly simple concept that involves a great deal of complex science and technology. While understanding that solar power systems convert sunlight into electricity is easy enough, the number of energy conversions and reactions that occur is astounding. At their core, all solar systems utilize these same reactions and conversions. However, there are many different types of systems, and if you're considering switching to solar power, knowing these different types can help you to determine which one is right for you. Keep reading for a breakdown of the different types of solar power systems on the market.


Commercial vs. Residential

The first category you need to consider when comparing solar systems is the size of the system. Size is key in determining whether a system is classified as a commercial or residential solar power system. Of course, you should remember that size, when it comes to solar, isn't solely related to the number of panels or the size of the equipment itself. Rather, "size" in the solar power industry refers to the amount of power that a system or piece of equipment can generate or store. Naturally, when discussing the size of a solar array, a physically larger array (one with more panels) will also be a larger system regarding how much power it can generate.


Deciding between a commercial and residential solar system is as simple as understanding how much power you need to generate and the type of building the system is for. The important thing to bear in mind is that not all solar installers are equipped to handle commercial installations. So, if you need a system for a larger, commercial application, make sure you're finding a supplier and installer that is experienced with designing and building these larger, more demanding systems.


On-Grid vs. Off-Grid vs. Hybrid

Whether you need a commercial or residential system, your options can be further broken down into three more categories: on-grid, off-grid, and hybrid. On-grid solar power systems are connected to the city grid using solar power. This provides your system with a reliable safety net for nights and stretches of cloudy weather when solar production is low. Of course, this doesn't allow you to be fully energy-independent, but most cities allow for net metering, so you can earn credit on your utility bill for the excess solar power you send to the grid.


On the other hand, off-grid solar power is not connected to a city grid. This is most commonly seen in remote applications, where city utilities are often unavailable. While this setup provides you with a great deal more energy independence, it does have its drawbacks—primarily, the fact that you are solely responsible for supplying power to your home. This means that you will need a substantial backup power source (or 2) to get through the nights and any periods of low energy production. Most off-grid systems will rely on a solar battery bank, which stores the excess power you generate during the day for later use. These systems will also often have a backup generator in case the battery bank runs dry or to quickly recharge the batteries to avoid damage from prolonged storage at a low charge.


A hybrid solar power system combines the benefits of both on-grid and off-grid solar. These systems are connected to a city power grid, but they also allow for backup power input, typically in the form of a battery bank. A hybrid system allows you to achieve energy independence while still having the safety net of the city grid should your backup power supply run dry during a period of low solar energy production.


Types of Solar Panels

The type of solar panel you use will significantly impact your system's energy production, so it's important to consider the differences between them as you compare the pros and cons of different system designs. There are three primary categories of solar panels:


  1. Monocrystalline solar panels – These panels are made from a single, pure silicon crystal, which gives the monocrystalline panels their name. ("Monocrystalline" means "one crystal.”) Being made from pure silicon gives these panels an easily identifiable, dark black color, making them the most efficient type of solar panel. However, a lot of silicon goes to waste in producing monocrystalline solar panels, so they're much more expensive.


Under the umbrella of monocrystalline solar panels, you also have PERC solar panels. PERC stands for "passivated emitter and rear cell," and they are a further improvement upon the monocrystalline cell. PERC panels have an added passivation layer on the rear surface of each photovoltaic cell, which enhances the panels' efficiency. This reflective layer helps reflect light back into the cell, increasing the amount of solar radiation being absorbed to increase production.


  1. Polycrystalline solar panels – Meaning "many crystals," polycrystalline panels are made from silicon fragments that are melted down and poured into a square mold. The reduction of waste in creating these gives them a lower price tag, while the production process gives them a distinctive square shape and bluish hue to their cells. However, the reduced purity of the silicon reduces their efficiency and makes them more susceptible to further reduction in high temperatures.
  2. Thin-film solar panels – As the name implies, these panels are made of very thin layers so that they become flexible. These don't require frame backing or mounting racks, which makes them lighter and easier to install. They're ideal for smaller applications, like RVs and boats, where mounting space is limited. However, keep in mind that they're less efficient than your traditional silicon solar panels, like those described above.


It's important to choose the right panel for your needs and budget. However, ensure that you compare the long-term costs of the panels you choose. Lower-efficiency panels might cost less upfront, but their lower production ultimately costs you more per watt than high-efficiency models.


Design Your Ideal Solar Power System

More choices are involved in building a solar system than most people realize. If you're overwhelmed by the options and unsure where to start, contact The PowerStore, Inc., today. We are a leader in the solar industry and have experts available to assist you with all your solar power needs. Contact us now to start designing your system.