Types of Solar Panels

By Stephen Kota | November 1, 2022


Virtually all solar panels available for residential use fall into three categories:  thin film solar panels, monocrystalline solar panels, and polycrystalline solar panels. The solar cell types used to make the panel determine the types of solar panels. Each type of solar panel cells has its own characteristics which make them suited for a variety of situations.

Most Popular Solar Panels:  Monocrystalline

Monocrystalline solar panels are the most widely used solar panels for rooftop installation. The solar pane type is manufactured using crystalline silicon solar cells which are made with the Czochralski method. The method involves placing a small piece of crystal of silicon into molten pure silicon to form a single silicon crystal (called an ingot). It is then sliced into very thin wafers for use in solar modules.

There are several diverse types of monocrystalline solar panels. You’ll find Passivated Emitter and Rear Contact cells (PERC). The popular option undergoes a slightly different manufacturing process which helps increase the amount of electricity that each of the cells can generate.

The efficiency of monocrystalline solar panels runs from 17% to 22%. They are not only the best performing solar panel but also highly efficient. These solar panels are favored by homeowners who have limited roof space because you can generate a great deal of electricity with very few panels. The remarkable efficiency of the monocrystalline solar panels occurs because of the solar selling’s being made from one crystal of silicon which lets the electrons pass through the cell with impressive efficiency.

Monocrystalline solar panels offer not only exceptional efficiency, but they also have outstanding power capacity ratings. Most of the panels have a power output of 320 watts but can easily go up to 375 watts or higher.

Bifacial solar panels are another type of monocrystalline solar panels which can generate electricity via both the back and front of the module. Commercial ground mount applications commonly use bifacial solar panels.

Monocrystalline panels are usually the most expensive solar panel choice because of the manufacturing process used to create them.

The appearance of monocrystalline panels is very sleek and black. The shape of the solar panel type does require a great deal of white space which many consider a drawback when it comes to aesthetics.

Polycrystalline Panels

Often called multi-crystalline panels, polycrystalline panels are an affordable solar panel options for many homeowners. They are comparable to monocrystalline panels but during processing the cooling process is different. With the process, a multitude of crystals are formed. This type of solar panel is used in homes that have 60 solar panels or more.

The polycrystalline solar panel has an efficiency rating of around 17% which is considered low. The reason that this form of solar panel does not score higher is due to the many silicon cells found in the panels which prevent the electrons from moving freely and lowers the efficiency.

The lower efficiency means that the polycrystalline solar panel has a lower power output than other solar panel types. It will create from 240 to 300 watts. On rare occasions, you might find a polycrystalline solar panel with a higher rating but it’s rare.

Polycrystalline panels have the reputation of being the cheapest solar panel variety that offers acceptable performance. The low price of this solar panel type makes it popular for residential use. However, as the price gap has narrowed between polycrystalline or monocrystalline panels more homeowners are picking monocrystalline panels because of the improved efficiency.

Historically, polycrystalline panels have been the cheapest option for homeowners going solar, without sacrificing panel performance. Low prices allowed polycrystalline panels to make up a significant market share in residential solar installations between 2012 and 2016.

But as mentioned earlier, the price gap between monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels is narrowing. Now, more homeowners are willing to pay a slightly higher price to get significantly better efficiency and power ratings from monocrystalline panels.

Polycrystalline panels have a very pronounced appearance with a blue appearance that is almost marbled. Many homeowners don’t like the marbled appearance of polycrystalline panels.

Thin Film Solar Panels

Industrial solar installations rely on thin film solar cells because they have a much lower efficiency rating. The manufacture of thin film solar panels involves a photovoltaic substance that is spread in a thin layer across glass or some other solid surface. Common substances used include cadmium telluride (CdTe), amorphous silicon (a-Si) and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) to create thin film solar cells. The photovoltaic substance creates an exceptionally thin sheet that is both flexible and lightweight. The panes degrade must faster than other solar panel types which means they need to be replaced more frequently.

Thin film solar panels are known for having low efficiency ratings. Nowadays, they hover at around 23% but commercially available thin films often have an efficiency of 10 to 13%. To achieve adequate energy, you would need more thin film panels to create the same amount of electricity as other solar panel types. The substantial number of panels and added space needed makes the use of thin film solar panels rare for residential use where roof space matters.

The design of thin panel solar panels is very flat and black. They lie flat on surfaces so blend well with most roofs. The designs require less wiring, so the panels do not require as much white space.

The low cost might make thin film solar panels somewhat attractive when combined with the fact they are easy to install and require extraordinarily little equipment, but the low efficiency and amount of space needed are a serious game changer for most homeowners.

Conclusion: Which Solar Panel is Best?

What works for one person’s needs might not function as well for another. Typically, the monocrystalline solar panels are considered the best solar panel type for residential use due to their exceptional efficiency and high-power output ratings. They provide a greater savings. However, if you are focused on saving money then polycrystalline panels might provide you with the best option. Most solar panel installers will agree to avoid thin film solar panels for residential installations due to their poor efficiency and space needs.