What is needed for a solar power system? Common components of solar power

Choosing the right parts and components for your solar power setup is vital to getting the best performance for your investment but will differ depending upon the type of system that you intend to install.

The most common components for all types of solar power installations are the solar panels themselves. Most solar panels can be used for grid tied or off grid installs and choosing between the different types of panels will be the main factor in deciding which ones to buy.

Solar Panels

The cheapest type of solar panels that you can buy are amorphous solar panels which in some areas are also called thin film solar panels.

In the past these types of panels were unreliable and suffered from poor build quality which led to reduced lifespan, however in recent years production of these panels has improved and they are now considered as reliable with some benefits to their use.

Manufacturers such as Sharp and Sanyo now make these panels and many have long warranties on their products.

Amorphous panels are less efficient than the other available solar panel types which means that if you choose this option then you will need more panels and more space for them. However, this type of panel is more capable of power production when light levels are low or in areas of extreme weather.

Unlike the other types of panels, amorphous solar panels offer excellent performance even when in the shade and they can also be moulded into shapes or mounted on curved surfaces without ill effect.  Some solar panel manufacturers have begun to use these panels in roof tile construction so that they can be mounted directly into the fabric of house roofing.

Amorphous panels are used heavily in small electrical chargers such as for mobile phones and laptops, you’ll often find them as solar chargers for cars and other vehicles, such as roof panels for RVs or caravans.

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Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit
Renogy 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel,Compact Design 63.8×25.9×1.4 in, High Efficiency Module PV Power for Camper, Vehicle Caravan and Any Other Off Grid Applications, 200W
WEIZE 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel, 2 Pack of 12V 100W High-Efficiency Monocrystalline PV Module for Home, Camping, Boat, Caravan, RV, and Other Off-Grid Applications
Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel, Compact Design 42.4 X 20.0 X 1.38 in, High Efficiency Module PV Power for Battery Charging Boat, Caravan, RV and Any Other Off Grid Applications
RICH SOLAR 100 Watt 12 Volt Polycrystalline Solar Panel High Efficiency Solar Module Charge Battery for RV Trailer Camper Marine Off Grid
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Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit
Renogy 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel,Compact Design 63.8×25.9×1.4 in, High Efficiency Module PV Power for Camper, Vehicle Caravan and Any Other Off Grid Applications, 200W
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Price not available
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WEIZE 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel, 2 Pack of 12V 100W High-Efficiency Monocrystalline PV Module for Home, Camping, Boat, Caravan, RV, and Other Off-Grid Applications
WEIZE 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel, 2 Pack of 12V 100W High-Efficiency Monocrystalline PV Module for Home, Camping, Boat, Caravan, RV, and Other Off-Grid Applications
$196.64
Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel, Compact Design 42.4 X 20.0 X 1.38 in, High Efficiency Module PV Power for Battery Charging Boat, Caravan, RV and Any Other Off Grid Applications
Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel, Compact Design 42.4 X 20.0 X 1.38 in, High Efficiency Module PV Power for Battery Charging Boat, Caravan, RV and Any Other Off Grid Applications
$100.96
RICH SOLAR 100 Watt 12 Volt Polycrystalline Solar Panel High Efficiency Solar Module Charge Battery for RV Trailer Camper Marine Off Grid
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RICH SOLAR 200 Watt 12 Volt Moncrystalline Solar Panel High Efficiency Solar Module for RV Trailer Camper Marine Off Grid
RICH SOLAR 200 Watt 12 Volt Moncrystalline Solar Panel High Efficiency Solar Module for RV Trailer Camper Marine Off Grid
Price not available
Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit
Renogy 100 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit
$158.16
Renogy 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel,Compact Design 63.8×25.9×1.4 in, High Efficiency Module PV Power for Camper, Vehicle Caravan and Any Other Off Grid Applications, 200W
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$600.99

Polycrystalline solar panels are made from multiple solar cells, each of which is made from thin wafers of silicone. The cells are then connected together to increase the levels of generated power and are encased securely in a rigid frame for protection and ease of use.

These types of panels are more efficient than amorphous panels in direct sunlight and high light levels and, as such are smaller making them easier to fit in areas where space is restricted or at a premium.

The polycrystalline types of panels have a good lifespan with most lasting at least 25 years and often this is exceeded as technology and production standards increase to enhance longevity.

Cost wise these panels tend to be expensive as production is costly and complicated and they are often more than 25% more expensive than amorphous solar panels.

As this type of panel becomes more popular prices are decreasing and the average cost of a polycrystalline panel hovers around $1 per watt, and is frequently less than this.

Monocrystalline solar panels are made from lots of smaller solar cells which are produced from a single wafer of silicon. Like polycrstalline the cells are connected together to make a large solar panel.

As these types of panels are efficient, they are often the smallest types of panels that are available and are more compact than the other options.

They are also the most expensive solar panels to make and therefore to buy. Monocrystalline solar panels are often 30 to 40% more expensive than polycrystalline panels.

Which solar panel technology is best?

For most people the polycrystalline solar panels make the best choice, they offer reasonable value for money and a compact, easy to accommodate size. They are suitable for all types of solar power systems and are widely available in various power outputs.

There is a large selection of polycrystalline solar panels on Amazon and you can see a wide selection with latest prices here.

What to look for when choosing a solar panel

Like most things solar panels can vary in terms of quality and reliability and it is always worth looking for and buying a recognised, branded product over one that is unknown.

If you are buying online then often you can see reviews from previous buyers which will give you a good idea of the quality of the panels that you are looking at, and this should help you to make a good choice.

Large systems that incur significant investments are always worth buying from professional installers who will fit your system for you.Taking this route with a large, costly solar power installation will provide you with some warrantly and service protections should any faults occur.

Buying cheap solar panels

If you are looking for a cost effective solar power system for your shed or caravan then buying a cheap solar generation kit or system may be the ideal route.

Many of these systems are simple to install and come complete with everything that you need for easy installation, which can often be completed within a day if the weather is kind.

We’ve used DIY Kits in the past that we’ve found on Amazon and most are simple to fit and offer reliable and cheap ways to get solar power into your home.  Our current 700W system has been running trouble free for 3 years and cranks out power daily to reduce our household bill.

You can see some great DIY solar kits here on Amazon.

Buy more solar panels than you think you may need. If you do this then it will provide you with backup in case the light levels are low or the panels degrade. Having more solar panels means that you will have access to more power for longer.

Ideally you should aim to get at least 20% more than you think you will need as this will provide the extra bit of flexibility that you will need.

Second hand solar panels

Sometimes you may see second hand solar panels for sale on places such as eBay or in second hand salvage yards.

Often there is little wrong with second hand panels, as long as they are from a recognised brand they can still have many years life left in them and can be a good money saving choice, although you can never be sure just how long they will last.

There are a few things to consider if you are thinking of buying second hand solar panels  and these points should help you to avoid making mistakes:

  • Never buy second hand solar panels unseen, You should always see them before committing to buying qand should test their power outputs with a multimeter to make sure that they are producing reasonable voltages.
  • Don’t buy any panels that have chipped or broken glass, as well as the obvious damage you don’t know if the interior of the panel or if any of the cells have been broken. Also if you see any signs of cell damage or condensation then reject that panel.
  • Older solar panels are not as efficient as more modern panels. Technology moves on and simply the newer panels are better. Take this into consideration.
  • Following on from the above an older 100w panel is likely to be a lot bigger than a modern version.
  • Bear in mind that older, second hand panels will not have any safety ratings or warranty. If this is going to be an issue for you then you should just get new panels. 

Conclusion

Polycrystalline solar panels offer the best value for money for almost all solar power installations. They are widely available and come in a range of sizes and power ratings and are reliable and easy to install.

Other panel types are available for use but in our personal experience the polycrystalline option is the choice that we recommend for home users or campers.