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Shingled vs. Half-Cut Panels: Similarities & Differences

Shingled and half-cut solar panels are two innovations in solar panel technology, offering enhanced performance and efficiency.

When sourcing premium panels, these products will likely be competitive options on your list.

The content below will walk you through the similarities and differences between shingled panels and half-cut panels. Then you will be able to make a more informed decision about which technology best aligns with your specific needs.

Composition & Structure

For an in-depth understanding of panel technology, it is essential to start from the fundamentals, namely their composition and structure.

Neither shingled or half-cut panels employ standard solar cells.

Shingled solar panels cut standard cells into several pieces of small strips and overlap them together like shingles (as shown in Figure #1 below) on a roof. These cell strips are connected using electrically conductive adhesive (ECA). This configuration results in minimized gaps between cells and reduced visible metal contacts, allowing more photovoltaic materials to be exposed to sunlight.

The Overlapping Design of Shingled Solar Panel
Figure #1 | Overlapping design of shingled panels. | Oh, W., Jee, H., Bae, J., & Lee, J. (2022). Busbar-free electrode patterns of crystalline silicon solar cells for high density shingled photovoltaic module. Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells, 243, 111802.

In contrast, as the name implies, half-cut solar panels cut standard cells in half, resulting in twice the number of cells per panel, being 120, 144 or more. Similar to standard panels, these cells are also connected together with metal contacts via soldering.

Performance

The small cells in shingled and half-cut panels lay the foundation for enhanced performance. By cutting the cells into smaller pieces, the current generated is reduced and in turn reduces resistive losses caused by Joule's Law, which contributes to a higher cell-to-module (CTM) power and increased efficiency.

Though efficiencies can vary between specific models and manufacturers, the latest industry data indicate that quality shingled and half-cut panels can hit efficiency of around 20% or slightly higher. Therein, half-cut panels can even be manufactured with PERC and/or bifacial technologies to achieve even higher energy yield. However, these types of combinations may not be easily done in shingled products due to their overlapping design.

On the other hand, shingled solar panels employ both series and parallel approaches to connect cells. This allows these panels to maintain operation even when part of the panel is shaded. Similarly, half-cut panels have a unique wiring arrangement comprising multiple substrings to ensure the panels provide ongoing power supply under shading conditions. 

Both of these two technologies demonstrate improved shade tolerance and are ideal solutions for sites where shading is a big concern.

Durability

Both types of innovative panels are designed to be more durable and reliable than traditional standard full-size cell panels.

The smaller units lead to better mechanical resilience (Figure #2), which makes these panels less prone to micro-cracking and damage from external factors such as strong winds, heavy snow and hail. This improved durability theoretically leads to a longer lifespan and lower maintenance costs.

Electrical Luminescence Images of Load Tests on Half-Cut Panels With Different Improvements
Figure #2 | Electrical luminescence images of mechanical load test on half-cut panels manufactured with optimized laser recipe (a) and thick encapsulant materials (b). | Sourece: ScienceDirect

Plus, the property of smaller cells in both panel types results in lower current generation per cell, which can help mitigate the formation of hot spots, further slowing the degradation of the panels.

Appearance

Like traditional full-size cell panels, half-cut panels still use visible busbars and other contacts to connect the cells. Because the number of cells doubles, half-cut panels boast a denser grid pattern, showing a professional, conventional appearance with a segmented finish.

Thanks to the overlapping arrangement of cell strips and the absence of visible busbars, the design of shingled panels provides a more uniform and sleek appearance, making the panel look more like a single contiguous piece of material rather than a collection of individual cells.

Applications

While both panel technologies have enhanced efficiency and reliability compared to traditional panels, their specific characteristics make them more suitable for certain projects.

Shingled panels excel in contexts where aesthetics and high efficiency in limited spaces are crucial. They are a good choice for residential and high-end commercial projects.

Half-cut panels, with their balance of cost and performance, are suitable for a wider range of projects, including residential and C&I applications. These scenarios typically place a high value on cost-effectiveness and durability besides efficiency.

Maintenance

Both panel types may have slightly higher repair complexity compared to traditional panels, but half-cut panels are generally easier to handle.

The overlapping design of shingled panels can potentially trap moisture or dirt if the cell layer is not well encapsulated, which might easily lead to degradation if not maintained promptly and properly.

Beyond these, the maintenance requirements for shingled and half-cut solar panels are quite similar. Regular cleaning, damage inspection, shading management and performance monitoring are essential for both to ensure optimal performance and longevity.

Cost

The two panel technologies predominantly employ crystalline silicon as their photovoltaic material choice. Their cost difference mainly stems from their distinct manufacturing processes.

During shingled solar panel manufacturing, cutting standard cells into strips is a more intricate process, as it yields multiple pieces, unlike half-cut panels, which are divided into just two.

In addition, using ECA to connect cell strips together is also a complex and costly process. All these factors boil down to higher manufacturing costs, making shingled panels more expensive than traditional and half-cut panels.

Although half-cut solar panel manufacturing also requires additional steps such as laser cutting and extra soldering, their manufacturing process is generally less complex and costly compared to shingled panels. However, they are still more expensive than traditional panels.

Market Supply

Half-cut solar panels debuted on the market around two decades ago. Since then this technology has undergone significant advancements and widespread adoption. Now, they come with broader availability and a variety of options.

By comparison, shingled panels are relatively newer and less commonly available.

Final Words

The efficiencies that both types of panels provide are impressive. 

When sourcing between the two, consider factors such as your budget, project requirements and local supply. If efficiency is your primary concern, you can also weigh them against other advanced panel technologies, such as PERC, bifacial and HJT panels.

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