Our Take on Solar Panel Types, Ranked by Aesthetics
Images can tell us a lot about the evolution of solar technology. On the left, you’ll see an image of the first solar rooftop installation in 1884, and on the right, a Weymouth, MA installation showing what’s possible with SolarSkin by Sistine Solar. How far we have come in terms of aesthetics!
I wrote a detailed post on the four elements to consider when it comes to the aesthetics of the full solar system. In this post, I’m going to take a deep dive into the aesthetics of the most important part of the system: the solar panels. There are a few elements that determine the beauty of solar panels: the color of the cells (the small squares within a panel that do the hard work of converting sunlight to electricity), the arrangement of the wiring between the cells, the color of the backsheet (the back covering on the underside of the panel), and the color of the frames. Below is an assessment of the various options available to homeowners, ranked from least to most beautiful.
#4: Polycrystalline - Too Conspicuous for Its Own Good
Polycrystalline solar panels are typically blue, consisting of fragmented silicon. They employ silver frames, silver wires which are visible on the front of the cells, and the backsheet is either silver or white, all of which creates a visual “waffle” effect. If the backing were black, more light would be absorbed into those empty spaces, creating heat, and decreasing the overall efficiency of the panels. From the image below, you can see these panels are not very homogeneous. The way the cells are manufactured during the polycrystalline process results in many variations that can result in a non-uniform visual appearance.
These panels tend to be the stereotypical image most homeowners imagine when thinking of solar. Juxtaposing the blue color against the earth tones of roofing shingles creates a jarring visual, especially if the mounting system is raised up significantly from your roof (see below). On the whole, these panels do not allow a seamless design for homeowners and are often seen as an eyesore. For this reason, they are lowest rated on our list of solar aesthetics.
#3: Monocrystalline with White Backsheet: More function than aesthetics
Monocrystalline panels are also made of silicon, but in a more pure form that creates a unified appearance. Monocrystalline panels reach efficiencies of up to 20%, which is beneficial in considering the overall impact their required volume and layout will have on aesthetics. They are considered “space-efficient”, as their optimal performance requires fewer modules to be installed for the same power output as their polycrystalline counterparts.
However, the highest efficiency panels employ a white backsheet and silver frame, which leads to a “checkerboard” appearance. This is further amplified by the shape of the solar cells, which has a diagonal cut in each of the four corners (this is a result of how the cells are manufactured in the monocrystalline process). The end result is that the visual atop a roof creates an unwanted industrial-looking, grid-like pattern. Not to mention that the color does not blend well with the typical earth tones of roofing shingles.
A step above the harsh blue appearance of polycrystalline panels, but still leaves much to be desired when it comes to beauty.
#2: Monocrystalline with Black Backsheet: “All-black panels”
Over the past 3-5 years, panel manufacturers have been offering the so-called “all-black” or “triple black” panels for homeowners. These employ the same monocrystalline technology, but use a black backsheet instead of white, and black frames instead of silver. This solves the “checkerboard” issue by giving the panels a uniform black appearance: the dark backing eliminates much of the attention that would’ve been brought to each solar cell’s individual structure. They offer a much cleaner, more unified look.
Even if the panels themselves appear continuous, the deep black coloring blends in only if you have black roof shingles. Most roof tones in the US are varying shades of grey, brown, or red, and there are many that use green, metallic, and blue hues as well. The all-black panels fall woefully short of working with these colors. Hence the middle of the road ranking. Below, you will see a residential installation of black monocrystalline.
#1: SolarSkin - Pick Your Module and We Take Care of Aesthetics
As far as aesthetic solar technology goes, SolarSkin by Sistine Solar is at the top of the list. It can be any color, match any roof style or pattern, making it the most suitable option for someone who wants a solar look specific to their home. SolarSkin is compatible with all other panel technologies mentioned previously. Adding SolarSkin to a standard 6 kW residential system costs less than a MacBook Pro, making it extremely affordable for any homeowner.
Regardless of what you are prioritizing when going solar, installing SolarSkin guarantees maintaining aesthetics in a cost-effective manner. What do I mean by cost-effective? There are three ways SolarSkin adds value to your solar installation.
Curb appeal is the most obvious. Making solar seamlessly fit into the design of your home is a huge advantage, and considering solar increases your home’s value by 4.1%, it shouldn’t be overlooked the benefits of maintaining aesthetics.
SolarSkin is also a high efficiency aesthetic technology. Depending on the underlying panel components, SolarSkin is typically 18-20% efficient, the highest of its kind and comparable to common silicon technologies, mentioned earlier.
As an overlay to your current solar system, SolarSkin adds a protective barrier against temperature, UV impact, and other environmentally-driven damage. Adding SolarSkin boosts the longevity of your product, and the savings later will show for it.
Those are your options for going solar. In short, finding your perfect solar module is a balance between performance, efficiency, cost, and aesthetics. With SolarSkin, you can guarantee the preservation of aesthetics with whichever panels are best for you. You can also check out the table below to refresh:
Sistine Solar is a start-up born out of MIT, and envisions a world in which solar technology does as much for your home’s appeal as it does for the environment. Get a quote at www.sistinesolar.com.