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Are There Different Types Of Solar Panels?

In a word, yes.

Of the different types of solar panel available, your choice is likely to depend on what you what kind of power you wish to generate. In other words, will you be using your solar panel for hot water - or for domestic electricity?

For water heating, you'll have a choice between 'flat plate collectors' and 'evacuated tubes'. If you're generating electricity, you'll need to fit photo-voltaic panels (sometimes referred to as PV panels).

Here are the key differences between these different types of solar installations:

Flate Plate Collectors

Flat plate collectors are, as the name suggests, simply flat metal plates that absorb the sun's energy. They are usually sited on rooftops, and are the most common of all types of solar panel.

As the collector absorbs energy from the sun, water runs through the panel via attached copper pipe work. This water draws the heat from the solar panel before flowing into an insulated water tank, from which it can then be used.

In colder climates such as the UK, the panel's surrounding pipe work often requires anti-freeze in order to function correctly - but even in lower temperatures a flat plate collector should last for around 25 years.

Evacuated Tubes

Looking a little like a sheet of corrugated iron, solar evacuated tubes are in fact a collection of thin glass tubes connected to form one large plate.

Each tube is hollowed (evacuated) inside to create a vacuum, with a copper heat pipe running through its centre.

The pipe, which contains anti-freeze, heats up and transfers heat energy to another connecting pipe - this one subsequently heating the water in your hot water tank.

The system is up to 90% efficient and works well even in winter months - one of its main selling points over flat plate collectors.

Each system has pro's and con's though, ask your installer for advice if you're not sure which best suits your needs.

Photovoltaic Solar Panels

PV solar panels are the type you may have seen on your calculator or digital watch - and now you can use them on a larger scale to generate domestic electricity.

More complex in their design than flat plate collectors, PV panels are made up of many tiny solar cells. These cells have a negative and positive layer, creating an electric field which effectively turns the sun's photons into useable electrons.

There are three different kinds of PV solar panel - monocrystalline, polycrystalline and amorphous.

Monocrystalline panels are cut from one single piece (or crystal) of silicon. They are the most expensive of solar panels, but also the most efficient.

Polycrystalline panels are made up of a number of crystals, giving them a mottled, less smooth appearance. They are slightly less efficient, but more affordable.

Amorphous solar panels - the newest commercially available type - are made from thin, amorphous silicon. They are the least efficient, but are less rigid, making them ideal for curved rooftops and other undulating surfaces.