If you’ve been looking into purchasing solar power for your home, you’ve probably noticed that solar panels have two distinct colors: blue and black. However, most manufacturer websites don’t really specify the difference between the two.
In fact, many consumers may assume that there isn’t a difference between blue and black solar panels. After all, a blue car and a black car have no differences except for the paint job. However, the colors of solar panels do not come from paint; rather, they come from different manufacturing processes that produce slightly different materials with different functioning. Let’s take a look at the difference between these two types of solar panels.
What Makes Solar Panels Blue or Black?
As you may know, solar panels are made of silicon. The color of solar panels comes from the type of silicon used in their design. Blue panels are made from polycrystalline silicon while black solar panels are made from monocrystalline silicon. These two types of silicon can be understood by simply looking at the words. Polycrystalline silicon (poly meaning many) has many crystals while monocrystalline (mono meaning one) has one solid crystal.
Whether a solar panel is blue or black depends on the manufacturing process as there are two primary processes through which solar panels are made. Let’s begin by looking at the manufacturing process for black solar panels. These are made from a process known as the Czochralski Process, which was named by the Polish scientist Jan Czochralski who created it.
During the Czochralski Process, silicon that is high in purity is melted. A seed crystal mounted to a rod is then dipped into the silicon. The rod is slowly pulled upwards while rotating. The temperature, speed of rotation, and speed up upward movement are all critical for creating the resulting silicon. However, the process ultimately creates a large cylinder that is a single crystal of silicon (monocrystalline). This is then sliced into thin pieces and used to make solar panels.
The process for creating polycrystalline silicon (blue panels) is relatively similar; however, there is a critical step that is missing. There is no seed that is inserted and pulled up. Instead, the silicon is simply allowed to cool inside the vat. It is then removed from the vat and sliced into thin pieces. This process does not perfectly align the silicon, leading to the creation of many different crystals (polycrystalline).
So what about these two processes causes the color? Light interacts with the monocrystalline version more uniformly, resulting in black color. Meanwhile, the polycrystalline version has lots of unique grains and edges (the many crystals within) that reflect light, leading to a blue color. Polycrystalline solar panels are also treated with an anti-reflective coating that provides more of a glimmer to the blue color.
What are the Benefits of Blue or Black Solar Panels?
One major difference comes from the cost of production. As you might assume, blue solar panels are more efficient to produce. Since all of the silicon cools and the resulting compound is used in its entirety, there is little to no waste. The process is also simpler in nature. Both of these factors have an effect on cost. Blue solar panels are cheaper, which makes them a good option for the budget-conscious consumer. A blue panel costs between $0.90 and $1 per watt while a black panel costs between $3.90 and $4 per watt. Thus, the price savings is significant.
However, most of the differences between black and blue solar panels come from the fact that as different substances, they have different properties. One of these properties is the ability to absorb light. Black solar panels are capable of absorbing more of the sun’s rays. To understand this, think about how sitting in a black car in the summer is often hotter than sitting in another car. Black absorbs heat better. This means black solar panels generate more solar power.
Efficiency is another factor to consider. Black panels are also more efficient (because they absorb more light). Thus, a consumer that uses black panels can generate the same amount of power with fewer panels, requiring a lower surface area to be covered in panels to power a home. This leads to their reputation as a space-saver.
Black panels also perform better in warm weather. All solar panels decrease in efficiency when the temperature is hot; however, this decrease is observed to be less in black panels than blue ones. This is another aspect that leads to black panels outperforming blue ones when it comes to efficiency.
When looking at durability, both black and blue panels have unique benefits. Black panels typically last longer. In fact, many black solar panels have 25-year warranties. However, blue panels are significantly less expensive to repair. If your solar panels need repairs, fixing blue panels is relatively quick and inexpensive.
Blue panels also have the benefit of being more environmentally friendly. This is because the polycrystalline production process has less waste. With black solar panels, a significant amount of silicon is chopped off and discarded. However, blue solar panels do not require any shaping, preventing the creation of waste.
Ultimately, the decision between blue or black solar panels comes down to price versus performance. Blue panels are much more inexpensive while black panels perform much better.
Which Color Panels are More Popular?
If you live in an area where many people have solar panels on their homes, you may feel like blue panels are the most popular, and you would be correct. There are two major reasons for this: production cost and demand. Ninety percent of solar panels on the market are blue due to the cheaper cost of production and higher demand for the more inexpensive product.
Thus, most consumers tend to choose blue solar panels. The reality is that both types of panels will provide significant cost savings. Although they are less efficient than black panels, blue solar panels still do a great job of generating power.
However, you should not necessarily make your decision based on what is more popular but rather your individual needs and budget. Customers that choose black solar panels often do so due to the ability to save space, their sleek look, and their strong performance.
Whether to choose black or blue solar panels ultimately depends on your personal preference, budget, and situation. Below is a summary of the benefits of each type:
Black Solar Panels
Blue Solar Panels
If you are having difficulty determining the best type of solar panel for your home, consult your local solar distributor and installer to discuss which type may perform better for your climate and budget. They are well informed and can help give you a sense of the specific cost and performance of each type for your home.