All-black solar panels: a better looking choice for your home?
Curb appeal is a big factor in the value of your home. Here are some solar panels that can make your roofline look better.
For many homeowners, their house is their biggest investment, so anything that improves its value is a big win.
Do you ever watch those home renovation shows on TV? If so, you know that the visual appeal of a house can have a big impact on its selling price. According a study by the universities of Alabama and Texas, homes with a high curb appeal sell for an average of 7% more than less attractive homes.
What does this mean if you’ve thinking of adding solar panels to your house? It’s been shown that solar panels add value to your home because of the electricity they generate, but that doesn’t mean that a solar array with poor aesthetics can’t hurt the value of your home.
Some people like the look of solar panels, while other people think they’re an eyesore. There are installation practices you can take to hide some of the unsightly equipment in a solar array, but one of the big choices you can make is to choose all-black solar panels.
What do most solar panels look like?
Standard solar panels are made with silicon. The crystalline structure of the silicon will either be polycrystalline or monocrystalline. Polycrystalline solar cells are bluish in color, and generally have lower efficiency and a lower price. Monocrystalline cells are darker and usually more efficient and pricier.
A typical residential solar panel is made of 60 individual solar cells that are wired together and sandwiched between layers of glass and plastics. One of those layers is known as the backsheet, and it gives the background color of the panel.
In a standard panel the backsheet is white, so the solar cells create a visible grid against that white background. Here’s what that looks like on my house:
These are polycrystalline panels with a white backsheet, so you can see that the panels have a blue tint and a distinct grid pattern. The panels also have an unpainted aluminium frame, which also makes the panels more visible.
I don’t mind how this looks and the roof also faces the backyard, so it doesn’t impact curb appeal. But what if these panels faced the street instead? I’d probably want to do something to make it look sleeker.
All-black solar panels: a better looking alternative (according to most)
From talking to clients and solar installers, the general agreement is that all-black solar panels generally look better. This is especially the case if you have a dark colored roof, but it’s also true if your roofing material is light colored.
For example, here’s an array of all-black panels mounted on a dark roof:
As you can see, the individual cells in these black panels are no longer visible, and the panels also have black frames. The result is a solar array that looks like a solid black field.
While this is hardly invisible, I think most people would agree that this installation with black solar panels looks better than it would with conventional panels. Without a visible grid between the cells, these panels don’t draw as much attention to themselves. That’s especially true because the asphalt shingles are also dark colored.
Even if your roof is made of light colored materials, all-black panels will still look better. Here’s an example:
While this solar array definitely stands out, conventional panels with visible checkboard pattern would look a lot more busy.
Why are all-black solar panels black?
There are several things that a manufacturer might do to make a black version of a solar panel:
- Use monocrystalline silicon
- Use a dark backsheet
- Modify the wires on the front of the panel
- Use a black frame (or even get rid of the frame entirely)
- Cut the solar cells differently
Monocrystalline vs polycrystalline silicon
All-black solar panels always use monocrystalline (mono) silicon because of its darker appearance. Because all-black panels are considered a premium product, the use of higher efficiency mono cells makes sense.
You can read more about mono vs poly panels in our article that covers the topic in depth.
Black solar panels and dark backsheets
The main strategy that manufacturers use to create all-black solar panels is to switch out the standard white backsheet for a dark one.
Most residential solar panels are made of 60 individual solar cells. With a white backsheet the panel will have a checkerboard pattern due to the contrasting colors, but when the manufacturer uses a backsheet that matches the color of the solar cells that pattern disappears, and the panel looks like one solid color.
There is a slight tradeoff, however. White backsheets are the standard choice because they help to keep the panel a little cooler. Because solar cells lose efficiency as they heat up, all-black solar panels are a little less efficient because the black backsheet gets hotter in the sun.
The loss in efficiency is quite small: at most around 10 watts per panel, but sometimes only 5 watts.
Fingers and busbars: the wiring that goes into a solar panel
Solar cells generate electricity, so they need wires to move that electricity around. The conventional approach is to place the wires on the front of the cells.
There are two types of wires: thin fingers and fatter busbars. They look like this:
Manufacturers take different approaches to wiring, such as using different numbers of busbars in different widths. However, fatter busbars can be noticeable from a distance and affect the appearance of the panel.
To hide the wires without sacrificing electrical efficiency, manufacturers have engineered their cells in different ways. SunPower, for example, uses a solid sheet of copper on the rear of the cells. Hanwha, which makes the Q.CELLS series of panels, uses round wires instead of the standard flat ones. This makes the wires thinner without increasing electrical resistance.
Black frames or even no frame at all
Solar panel frames are made from aluminium - a metal that is lightweight, strong, and silver in color.
Painting the frame adds a small cost. On a per-unit basis that cost isn’t very much, but the largest solar farms in the world have millions of panels deployed. At that scale, even small costs add up. That is why the default option is to leave the frame unpainted.
But for a household solar array that has only dozens of panels, that small cost is often worth it. The all-black solar panels shown in this article have black frames, and you can see that it really helps to hide the boundary of the individual panels.
Some solar panels even get rid of the frame entirely. These are called frameless solar modules, and are held together in a sandwich either between glass and a sturdy backsheet, or with glass on both the front and back (known as glass-on-glass).
Glass-on-glass frameless models can even use clear backsheet, which results in a panel that is transparent between the individual cells of the module. This makes for a pretty unique look. This type of panel is usually marketed for special applications, such as awnings, carports, and greenhouses.
Cut solar cells in a different way
To make a solar cell, you start with a solid block of crystalline silicon. A wire saw is used to cut wafers off the block, like slices of American cheese. The individual cells end up in a standard size, typically about 6 inches square.
Those wafers are then placed on a backsheet and spaced apart to form a solar panel.
But that’s not the only way to do it. For example, Solaria has a patented process where the cells are cut into thin ribbons and layered together like roofing shingles. In the resulting panel there are no gaps between the cells, naturally producing an all-black solar panel.
Other companies might have other approaches. For example, LONGi’s Hi-MO panels use half-cut cells that are tiled closely together, eliminating the space between cells.
Aesthetics isn’t the only reason to do this. By eliminating gaps, solar panels “waste” less space and can gather more sunlight in the same size panel.
Widespread industry standardization means that most companies stick with the 6x6 cell, but that may start to change as manufacturers try to find every advantage they can.
Which companies make all-black solar panels?
For the homeowner who wants to go solar and have their photovoltaic system look as good as possible, the good news is that there are a lot of alternatives. Solar shingles are one choice, but going with conventional panels have a lot of advantages.
Below are a list of some companies selling all-black solar panels.
Black solar panels
Here’s a partial list of companies and their models of dark solar panels. In some cases, there are two models listed, such as Hanwha, which offers both the Q.PEAK and Q.PEAK DUO in a black model.
|Manufacturer||Product Name and notes|
Monocrystalline panel up to 20.2% efficiency. Power output: 320-340 W. 15 year product warranty.
|Hanwha Q CELLS||Q.PEAK DUO BLK-G6+|
Hanwha has two all-black products with power efficiency up to 19.6%, and power output ranging from 310-345 W. The G6+ is the newer generation panel. 25 year product warranty.
Uses half-cut mono PERC technology. Up to 19.6% efficiency and power output 310-330 W. 10 year product warranty.
|LG||NeON 2 Black|
Monocrystalline panel up to 20% efficiency. Power output: 335-345 W. 25 year product warranty.
Monocrystalline panel up to 21.8% efficiency. Power output: 325-355 W. 25 year product warranty.
|REC||TwinPeak 3 Mono Black|
Monocrystalline panel up to 20% efficiency. Power output: 315-355 W. 20 year product warranty.
Available in the 300 and 400 series. Monocrystalline panel 20% efficiency. Power output: 360-400 W. 25 year product warranty.
Monocrystalline panel with 21% efficiency. Power output: 335 W. 25 year product warranty.
|Trina Solar||Vertex S TSM-DE09.05|
Monocrystalline panel with half-cut cells. Up to 20.5% efficiency. Power output: 380-395 W. 15 year product warranty.
Bottom line: all-black solar panels are an easy upgrade to improve your home’s appearance
Every homeowner wants their house to look its best, but if you want to go solar it’s not always possible to place your panels in a discreet location on your roof. If that’s your situation, all-black solar panels are an easy upgrade that usually look better than standard solar panels. And while solar shingles undeniably look great, they are also a new product that hasn’t been battle tested for decades like conventional solar panels have.