Solar Panels – Glass Or Plastic?

Whether you are choosing solar for clean energy production or for the ability to survive without relying on electric companies, the material used for your solar panels can make a difference in the end result. 

To answer this question, let’s address the qualities of each material and the primary considerations for their use:

  • Strengths of glass solar panels
  • Benefits of plastic solar panels
  • Four key aspects to consider when choosing your solar panel material 

Solar power is no longer something only wealthy people can afford. It was estimated that enough solar panels have been installed to power 18.9 million American homes.

Flexible plastic solar panel

Are glass solar panels worth the cost?

While glass solar panels are pricey at the forefront, that cost ultimately pays off through the product’s higher energy output and longer lifetime.

Longevity

Glass solar panels provide multiple benefits that competitive materials like plastic cannot. 

Unlike other materials used to make solar panels, glass solar panels, specifically tempered glass, are strong and can withstand natural elements more efficiently. 

Tempered glass is up to six times stronger than typical plate glass, so make sure to research the type of glass and its durability. 

Cost to generate energy

They hold a higher price tag because tempered glass solar panels are durable and more likely to withstand natural elements such as heavy rains, high winds, and even fire. 

However, an all-glass solar panel does not take as much effort to generate energy as a plastic solar panel, and because the glass absorbs the sun’s rays and stores the heat better than other materials, the cost to generate power is lower than plastic.

Structure

A standard construction method of glass panels is glass on glass which also benefits from a structurally sound design. 

Using glass throughout the product also means you get a tight seal. This provides a leak-proof product that obtains a smooth surface, making it difficult for debris such as leaves and sticks to sit on the panel. 

The smooth surface also discourages the growth of moss and other algae as the bacteria do not have a rough surface to grab.

Are plastic solar panels easy to work with?

Plastic solar panels are lightweight, cost-effective, and ideal for those new to solar energy because of their low initial costs and easy installation.

Weight

Plastic solar panels weigh approximately 1.1 lb per square foot which is under half the weight of its glass counterpart that can weigh up to 2.8 lbs per square foot. 

Thanks to the significant weight decrease, plastic solar panels allow for easy transportation and maneuverability on steep roofs.

Installation Process

Due to plastic’s lightweight qualities, the installation process of plastic solar panels is much easier than with a heavier material.

It doesn’t take as much effort to lift the panels into their respective positions or hold them to the surface. For first-time installers, this lightweight aspect of plastic solar panels may be enough to sway the decision from glass to plastic.

Cost

The overwhelming benefit to plastic solar panels is the cost. 

New manufacturing technology has made solar panels more accessible and cost-effective for the everyday consumer and the overall solar energy market.

Plastic in and of itself is a significantly less expensive material than glass or crystalline silicon, both of which are more well-known materials used in solar panels. 

As plastic solar panels are so affordable, more and more families and businesses can partake in sustainable energy, and the more people who do, the more the cost could decrease. 

Which solar panel material is right for me?

Both glass and plastic have pros and cons that can make deciding on one difficult. 

To choose the best solar panel material, consider which aspect is the most important:

  • Cost
  • Energy needs
  • Installation location
  • The conditions it will need to endure

The benefits associated with glass solar panels vs. plastic solar panels align with different scenarios. 

Choosing a solar panel material that aligns with your needs now will ensure good energy production in the future. 

Cost

One of the most important considerations when purchasing solar panels is cost and cost-effectiveness. Plastic tends to be the most cost-effective initially but may need replacing in the future more often than glass. 

It is tough to justify a solar panel purchase if it simply isn’t in the budget, and the budget should include both the initial price for the panels and additional costs for installation. 

If you are only planning on using solar panels for a short period, utilizing plastic solar panels will allow you to get the most bang for your buck. 

However, if you want to use solar panels for an extensive period, consider glass for its longevity and overall cost-saving energy. 

Energy Needs

The material used in solar panels directly affects energy production. Glass solar panels are more energy-efficient when generating and distributing electricity. 

If reselling solar energy is one reason for installing solar panels, then choose glass panels as the overall cost to produce electricity with glass is less than that of plastic solar panels.

Location of Installation 

The installation process for solar panels can be time-consuming and different types of installs may require plastic or glass solar panels. 

Plastic panels may be a better option for first-time installers, especially on a steep roof, due to their lightness and overall maneuverability. 

Conditions

Those in sunny and hot climates may need the durability of glass panels as extremely hot conditions can warp and even melt the plastic. 

Similarly, severe weather that produces strong winds and even hail can crack both glass and plastic if not protected. Therefore, the geographical and product placement locations play a vital role in your solar panels’ longevity and overall success.

Should the solar panels be glass or plastic?

Choosing glass or plastic solar panels can be boiled down to two different scenarios. 

Glass solar panels are typically more expensive but are long-lasting, remaining durable for years. Choose glass if your budget allows it, and extreme weather isn’t an issue.

On the other hand, plastic solar panels are more affordable, have a more straightforward installation but may not generate as much energy as glass. Choose plastic on a budget or for an easier installation.

Sources

General Solar Panel FAQ

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