What are the 3 main types of solar systems?

Author: Ingrid

Feb. 04, 2024



Tags: Energy

With electricity rates rising as much as 40% over the past decade, many people are now realizing the benefits of going solar: clean, renewable energy, at a fraction of the price that utility companies charge to use power from the grid. 

If you’re considering the many benefits of solar, it’s important to understand the types of solar systems that are currently available, so you can choose the one best suited for your home. The three types of solar power systems are grid tied, off grid, and hybrid. Each system offers a unique power generation and power storage experience.

Grid-tied Solar System

Grid-tied solar systems are connected to the local utility company’s power grid. Grid-tied solar owners enjoy the benefits of a solar system with the security of their utility company, since owners can tap into the grid if solar energy production is low. 

This system is ideal for balancing power production. Solar energy fluctuates based on weather conditions, time of day, and seasonality. If solar energy is low, homeowners can use the energy grid to power their home with no concern as to whether they’ll have enough power for prolonged periods of low energy production. If solar produces excess energy, homeowners can send this energy back to the grid for a credit on their electric bill. Giving excess energy back to the grid is known as net metering, and it’s a proven way to lower energy costs. Unfortunately, not every municipal utility offers a net metering program, meaning some PV system owners can’t enjoy this benefit (in this case, a hybrid solar system might be the right option for you). 

Grid-tied solar power systems are by far the most common type installed on homes and small to medium-sized businesses. This is in part because they can utilize the grid to help regulate the delivery of power from the panels into the home or business, thus reducing the amount of equipment needed, and the overall cost of the system.

This interplay between home solar and the power grid is a great way to balance power production, and avoid outages should solar power supply be limited. 

Off-Grid Solar System

Off-grid solar systems are not connected to an electric grid, and utilize battery storage systems to balance energy demands.

Houses with off-grid systems rely entirely on solar energy. Batteries are necessary with such systems—a home or business without a battery storage system wouldn’t be able to use electricity at night. The battery system stores excess electricity produced during the day, which can then be used at night to keep the lights on.

Off-grid systems offer complete energy independence. However, there are a lot of limitations when compared to grid-tied systems. Off-grid systems and the batteries where they store electricity must be much larger compared to grid-tied systems, as they serve as the sole source of power. Houses using such setups must be smaller and more conservatively designed because battery storage systems have limited capacity. Even massive battery systems don’t have the capacity to power an entire home for more than a few hours. 

Off-grid systems are also more costly, as they can’t utilize grid-based equipment to regulate power flow. Instead, this equipment must be installed as part of the system, increasing the overall cost.

Hybrid Solar System 

A hybrid solar system is a combination of grid tied and off grid. These systems are connected to the power grid and come equipped with their own battery storage system. Hybrid systems are the most flexible option available, offering the ability to draw energy from the grid or draw energy from the battery when energy demands outpace energy production.

As with grid-tied systems, hybrid owners can benefit from net metering, a program that allows PV owners to send the excess power generated by their system to the municipal power grid for a bill credit. But in places where net metering is unavailable and grid-tied owners are limited, hybrid owners can still source energy from their battery storage system. Storage-plus-solar is a great way to compensate for a lack of net metering benefits. And unlike off-grid systems, if you draw your battery down to zero, you can simply use energy from the grid to power your home. 

The best solar system for your home or business largely depends on your location. 

Now that you understand the differences between the systems, it’s time to consider which solar solution is the right choice for your home—where you live plays a big role in this decision.

There are very few limitations when it comes to residential and commercial solar system installation. As solar technology advances, location really has no impact on the feasibility of installation. While you can enjoy the benefits of solar from anywhere, there are some key things to consider when you are thinking about which system is best for your home.

Rural residents can take advantage of off-grid systems, while urban and city residents should seriously consider grid tied or hybrid systems.

Rural residents with plenty of acreage can get the most out of their land by installing a ground-mounted solar system. With enough solar panels, it’s possible to install a system with more than enough potential to power your entire home or business. This is ideal for rural areas that do not have access to a utility power grid. In such areas, building the infrastructure required to connect to the local grid is costly. Off-grid solar systems allow for total energy independence, and do away with the worry of costly electricity bills. If your area does have access to the power grid, a grid-tied or hybrid system still allows for energy independence, but provides an extra level of security when demand exceeds production.

Meanwhile, for homes or businesses in or near the city, an off grid system doesn’t make nearly as much sense. Your best option is a grid-tied or hybrid system since you can take advantage of already being connected to the power grid. City dwellers most likely will not have the land to build ground-mounted solar panels, meaning you will be confined to the space available on your roof. With limited space, you won’t be able to generate as much electricity as rural, ground-mounted systems. Being able to tap into the power grid is essential when your solar system doesn’t make enough power, so if you live in the city, you’ll want to go with a grid-tied or hybrid solar system.

If you aren’t certain as to what the best choice is for your specific scenario, this isn’t a decision you have to make on your own! The experts at Ilum Solar are always available to help you identify the best possible solar power system for your home or business.

In order to achieve a better tomorrow, we all need to start making sustainable choices today. One consideration is a conversion to solar power, but this decision can be mind-boggling. “What types of solar panels will be best for me? Should I use monocrystalline solar panels or polycrystalline panels? Will amorphous solar panels work for me?”

While the science of solar may be perplexing, your choice of solar panels does not have to be. This information should shed light on the subject and help you make an informed decision.

What Are the 3 Types of Solar Panels?

Ninety percent of the photovoltaic solar cells used in the world are made of silicon, and 95% of those installed in residential settings are silicon-based.

There are 3 types of solar panels primarily used in the solar industry:

  • Monocrystalline solar panels
  • Polycrystalline solar panels
  • Thin film (amorphous) solar panels

These 3 types of panels are used for 4 main types of solar energy:

  • Electric Systems
  • Water Heating
  • Pool Heating
  • Concentrated Power

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline solar panels might best be remembered and described by their sometimes-used alternate name, single crystalline panels. Mono panels, as they are commonly referred to in the solar industry, are the most efficient because they are the purest, made of a single silicon ingot using the Czochralski method.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Once again, the alternate name for polycrystalline solar panels, multicrystalline, helps to describe its composition. Poly panels, as these solar panels are referred to in the alternative energy business, are multiple pieces of silicon that are melted, treated, and molded into uniform rectangles.

Monocrystalline vs. Polycrystalline Solar Panels

There are certainly differences between monocrystalline solar panels and polycrystalline panels, but the wonderful thing is that the reasons for choosing one over another are relatively straightforward. Here’s the thing to keep in mind: a 250W mono panel should give you the same results as a 250W poly panel. So what are the differences?

  • Because a monocrystalline solar panel is the most pure, it is the most efficient, so you need less space for your solar power system.
  • Because a monocrystalline solar panel is the purest and the most efficient, it is also the most expensive.
  • Polycrystalline panels do not have the solid black coloring of mono panels, are blue in color, and have a uniform rectangular shape as opposed to the shaved rounded corners of mono panels.
  • The shaved corners of the monocrystalline panels result in more silicon waste in production.
  • The single crystal silicon of monocrystalline panels makes them more tolerant of higher temperatures and low light.
  • Because polycrystalline panels are not as resistant to light and heat, they may have a shorter lifespan than monocrystalline solar panels.

Amorphous (Thin Film) Solar Panels

The least expensive, and also the least efficient, solar panel option is thin film. Thin film solar panels are made from a photovoltaic substance that is applied to a substrate like glass.

The TFPV (Thin Film Photovoltaic) substances used are:

  • Amorphous silicon (a-Si)
  • Cadmium telluride (CdTe)
  • Copper indium gallium selenide (CIS/CIGS)
  • Organic photovoltaic cells (OPC)

The uniform look of thin film is pleasing, and thanks to its flexibility, there are some new possibilities for harnessing solar energy. The problems with thin film solar are that it is still a relative infant in the alternative energy industry, so it is still developing and changing. Also, its lower efficiency means it needs a great deal of space, so at this point is typically only practical in commercial or industrial settings.

What You Should Consider When Choosing Types of Solar Panels

Now that you have a little more information about the 3 types of solar panels, how do you decide? Here are some things you should consider:

  • Space available for installation
  • Environmental conditions
  • Amount of shade
  • Cost per watt
  • Storage requirements
  • Possibly, country of origin, if that is an issue on your radar

Keep In Mind

  • The efficiency rate of a single solar cell is higher than the efficiency rate of the full panel.
  • The higher the ambient temperature, the less efficient the panel will be.

How We Can Help

Still not sure about your energy needs. Kiwi Energy service Ohio and New York to help create a sustainable energy future. Contact Kiwi Energy today.

What are the 3 main types of solar systems?

Know Your Solar Panels: 3 Types of Solar Panels


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