Solar Panel Types: Which One Do You Need?

Solar Panel Types: Which One Do You Need?

Considering the installation of solar panels on your roof? Price, aesthetics, and energy efficiency are key factors.

However, one element intertwines all three: the types of solar panels you choose. 

Solar panel types: roof installation

The variety of solar panel types on the market today will affect both your installation and manufacturing costs, as well as the aesthetic appeal of your roof once outfitted with these systems.

This factor is critical when buying solar panels.

Solar panels come in three unique types, each offering its own pros and cons.

Your personal situation and your goals for the solar panels will dictate the best types for you.

In this article, we will delve into the various solar panel types, discussing their strengths and weaknesses and guiding you to select the best fit for your specific requirements.

What are the three different types of solar panels?

There are three types of solar panels that you’ll find in the market today.

Each has its benefits and drawbacks, but one type will ultimately suit your needs more than the others.

They are:

  1. Monocrystalline Solar Panels
  2. Polycrystalline Solar Panels
  3. Thin Film Solar Panels

Let’s take a closer look at each design so you can determine which type makes the most sense for your home or business:

Monocrystalline solar panels

The original technology, monocrystalline cells are typically made from a continuous cast of silicon.

This results in an ultra-pure material with minimal gaps, allowing virtually all photons to be converted into solar energy using this design. 

Solar panel types: monocrystalline

Like all other types of solar cells, monocrystalline solar cells are composed of positive and negative sides. The difference is that both the top and bottom of the cell are coated with silicon, doubling the amount of surface area in contact with the sun’s energy. This design allows for a superior conversion rate and, ultimately, more efficiency than polycrystalline and thin-film panels.

Monocrystalline solar panels have been used in space since the 1970s and continue to be used today on satellites and other spacecraft due to their sturdy manufacturing process. For this reason, it is also one of the most expensive types of solar panels available in today’s market. 

Furthermore, they typically range from 18-20 percent efficiency, which doesn’t seem like much compared to recent advancements in polycrystalline and thin-film technologies. 

However, the difference is that monocrystalline cells can achieve such high efficiencies even at relatively small sizes. This results in a smaller overall system, which will save you money on installation and materials costs.

Monocrystalline solar panels, also known as single crystal, feature a uniform look due to their 100 percent silicon composition and dark blue/black appearance when installed. 

The best applications for this type of panel are those where the price isn’t as much of an issue, as well as installations where space is limited. They’re also great as accent pieces around the home (on gates, mailboxes, fencing) or in office buildings with low ceilings.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels 

Polycrystalline solar panels, one of the three main types of solar panels, offer commendable performance with efficiencies typically ranging between 15-17 percent.

They present a uniform blue/black appearance, adding an aesthetic appeal to their functional benefits.

Solar panel types: polycrystalline

The distinct feature of polycrystalline solar panels is that they are composed of multiple silicon crystals rather than a single large piece.

This construction leads to some gaps where light can escape, reducing the overall efficiency of the design.

While this might not be a significant concern in areas with high direct sunlight, it’s a factor worth considering if you’re thinking about installing a polycrystalline system for your home or business.

One notable advantage of polycrystalline panels is their cost-effectiveness.

They come with a lower upfront price tag compared to monocrystalline cells, making them a viable option for budget-conscious consumers.

These panels also perform well in space-constrained areas.

Whether you have a smaller home or a business with limited roof space, polycrystalline solar panels could be an excellent fit.

Their suitability extends to commercial applications as well, further broadening their usage scope.

In essence, polycrystalline solar panels strike a balance between performance, aesthetics, and affordability, making them a popular choice in both residential and commercial sectors.

Thin Film Solar Panels

This type of solar panel uses ultra-thin film solar cells to convert sunlight into energy.

Years ago, they were used primarily in calculators and watches due to their lightweight nature (less than one gram). 

Solar panel types: thin film

Moreover, thin-film solar panels have carved out a niche in residential installations.

Their efficiency rates, ranging from 9% to 17%, make them competitive with polycrystalline solar cells.

The primary advantage of these panels lies in their ease of installation and cost-effectiveness.

They’re usually up to 30% cheaper compared to other solar panel types, making them an attractive option for residential use.

Additionally, thin-film solar panels offer aesthetic flexibility.

The material used in their construction varies between manufacturers, but they generally maintain a thin and flexible profile.

This means homeowners can integrate solar energy into their homes without drastically altering the exterior appearance.

Though thin-film solar panels may generate less power than other types, they still hold significant value for homeowners looking to reduce their dependence on traditional energy sources such as coal, natural gas, and oil.

The shift to solar energy doesn’t mean compromising the overall aesthetic of your home.

The beauty of thin-film solar panels lies in their ability to blend seamlessly into the design of your home while providing a sustainable energy solution.

This balance between aesthetics, performance, and cost makes them a popular choice among homeowners seeking an eco-friendly alternative to conventional power sources.

Why do you have to know the types of solar panels?

It is important to know the different types of solar panel systems in order to find out what is best for your energy needs. For example, if you are looking for low maintenance and aesthetics are not a factor, then Monocrystalline may be the right choice for you. 

On the other hand, if you live in an area where space is limited or there is a high risk of theft, thin-film solar cell units might work better since they are lighter and easier to install.

However, when it comes down to performance (efficiency), Monocrystalline panels tend to be more efficient than polycrystalline and thin-film due to their design which allows them to operate at higher temperatures with lower rates of efficiency loss over time. 

If money is no object and you want the highest levels of efficiency, then monocrystalline solar panels may be a better choice for you.

What are solar panels made of?

Solar panels are primarily made up of one or more solar cells, typically crafted from a semiconducting material like silicon.

Each solar cell, usually no bigger than a tightly clenched fist, often presents as a long, dark glass rectangle supported by multiple legs.

They spring into action, generating electricity when bathed in sunlight.

Many of these panels incorporate bypass diodes.

These components protect the cells from potential damage by stopping the current from reversing its flow when the panel is partially shaded.

Solar arrays employ either monocrystalline or polycrystalline cells, indicating the shape of the silicon before being sliced into individual cells. These are two of the main solar panel types.

How do you choose solar panels?

Embarking on your solar energy journey begins with thorough research on the available solar panel types.

If budget constraints don’t limit you and you seek the highest efficiency levels, monocrystalline solar panels could be your top choice.

Known for their superior performance, these panels often outshine their polycrystalline and thin-film counterparts.

Their design enables them to function efficiently at elevated temperatures and maintain a lower rate of efficiency loss over time.

However, if space considerations and aesthetics hold equal importance in your decision-making process, polycrystalline solar panels or thin-film panels may be more suitable.

Polycrystalline panels offer a balance between cost and efficiency, making them a popular choice for many homeowners.

On the other hand, thin-film panels, with their sleek appearance and flexibility, can blend seamlessly into various architectural designs.

Regardless of the type you lean towards, consulting with a professional installer is a crucial step.

These experts can provide valuable advice on the best type of solar panels and brands that align with your specific needs.

They consider factors such as your geographic location, roof orientation, energy consumption, and budget to recommend the most suitable solar solution for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which type of solar panel is best?

Currently, the solar panels available in the market stand as the best choice for homeowners interested in clean energy. They offer efficiency and cost-effectiveness that are hard to match.

Solar power holds a unique advantage over other forms of power generation.

It operates without fuel costs, exhaust emissions, or moving parts needing maintenance. This makes it a sustainable and low-maintenance option.

Furthermore, solar panels are user-friendly.

Their installation and maintenance are straightforward.

Therefore, if you seek flexibility in your home’s electrical system, choose a solar panel model that can adapt to your evolving needs over time.

In essence, investing in solar panels is a step towards a greener, more sustainable future while ensuring practicality and adaptability in your home’s energy system.

How can I determine if my solar panel is original?

There are several steps you can take to determine if your solar panel units were made by one of the legitimate manufacturers:

  1. Compare your monocrystalline and polycrystalline make and model numbers to the ones on their website.

    Most reputable solar panel companies keep an up-to-date list of all products they manufacture for easy reference. If your solar panels don’t have a matching model number, it is possible that you have purchased a counterfeit. 
  1. Contact the original manufacturer & see if they’re still in business (and if they’re willing to honor any existing warranties).

    Most solar companies provide warranties on their solar-related products. It is best to know how much of the warranty they are willing to honor when you need a replacement. 
  1. Check with industry associations like The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or InterSolar North America (ISNA). These groups will be able to point you in the right direction as well as provide information about other brands and models that may not appear on a company’s official list but might work just as well for your application.
  1. Ask for references (and contact them directly) to see if anyone has had any experience with your solar panel provider and the quality of their products.
  1. Look for branding that includes specific phrases like UL, ETL, or FCC which indicate that your panels were manufactured by one of the big-name brands currently in operation.   

Keep in mind that if you ever decide to sell your house, these solar panels will need to be removed.  Therefore, it might be worth asking the current owners whether they would be interested in purchasing your roof-mounted solar array system as part of their sale package before taking out an expensive loan to cover installation costs.

Is there a major difference between black and blue solar panels?

Polycrystalline solar panels, due to the specific type of silicon used in their construction, exhibit a distinctive blue hue.

This coloration isn’t merely for aesthetics; it serves a functional purpose.

The blue tint is largely attributed to an anti-reflective coating applied to the solar cells. This coating enhances the cells’ ability to absorb sunlight, thereby boosting their overall efficiency.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have monocrystalline solar panels, which are typically black.

The choice of color here is also more than just a design preference.

Black surfaces naturally absorb light more efficiently, making black monocrystalline solar panels a highly efficient option.

In essence, the colors of these solar panels are not merely aesthetic choices but are integral to their performance.

Whether blue polycrystalline or black monocrystalline, each color serves a specific function, contributing to the efficiency and effectiveness of these renewable energy solutions.

How long does a solar panel last?

Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, the two prominent types in the solar industry, boast an impressive average lifespan of 25 years.

This figure is a testament to their durability and reliability as long-term renewable energy solutions.

However, this lifespan doesn’t signify that your rooftop solar panels will cease producing solar energy after approximately two and a half decades.

Instead, it implies a gradual decline in their energy generation capacity.

Over time, due to various factors like weather conditions and wear and tear, the panels’ efficiency may start to decrease.

This reduction does not mean that the panels become useless after 25 years.

They will continue to harness solar energy and convert it into usable electricity, albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

The 25-year mark simply indicates that their energy production might fall below the manufacturers’ stated maximum output.

In essence, even as your solar panels age, they remain a viable source of energy.

Their longevity, combined with their continued functionality post the 25-year mark, makes them a worthy investment for those seeking sustainable and cost-effective energy solutions.

What happens to solar panels after 25 years of usage?

Solar panel degradation is measured in percentage points per year. The rate at which solar panels lose efficiency over time is known as their degradation rate. 

This implies that four out of five solar panel units will still function at 75% or better efficiency after 25 years of use. It’s appropriate to assume that, long after the warranty has expired, your solar panels will continue to produce solar energy in some fashion.

What is the best way to dispose of old solar panels?

In the United States, worn-out and damaged solar panels usually find their way to general-purpose glass recycling plants.

Here, they undergo a comprehensive process of recycling and disposal.

The panels contain heavy metals like copper, indium, gallium, and selenide.

During recycling, these metals are carefully separated from the rest of the components.

The glass from these panels gets reused, adding to the cycle of sustainability.

The metal frames, too, are recycled, ensuring every usable part is put to good use.

However, not all parts of the solar panels can be recycled.

The remaining components, which cannot be reused or recycled, are either discarded responsibly or incinerated.

This process ensures minimal waste while maximizing the reusability of the resources within these panels.

Do solar panels create hazardous waste?

Solar panels consist of solar cells that convert sunlight into usable energy.

These panels, when functioning optimally, pose no danger, primarily due to their inaccessible locations.

Yet, the risk arises when these panels break and are disposed of improperly.

Discarded solar panels can become an environmental hazard.

They house dangerous chemicals such as lead within their components.

As these panels decompose, these toxic substances can leak out, posing a significant threat to the environment.

Therefore, responsible disposal and recycling of damaged solar panels is crucial to mitigate this risk.

Is it dangerous to reside near a solar farm?

The solar energy that is generated by a solar farm may be of great concern to many individuals.

They are concerned that there is too much power and it will cause harm to their health, their electronics, the condition of their house, and so on.

Living near a solar farm is not hazardous. It does not pose any kind of threat to health.


Over the last three decades, the design of the three solar panel types may have evolved significantly.

Still, they remain a top choice for consumers to participate in a greener future by tapping into solar power.

The process of transforming sunlight into solar energy enables us to maintain our lifestyle without harming the environment.

By selecting a solar panel that best fits your needs and geographical location, you can benefit from a nearly endless stream of clean energy at home, producing no pollution whatsoever.

Remember that even the best thin-film solar cells, monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels will endure if installed by a trustworthy company experienced in commercial solar panel installations.

To ensure you receive value for your money, including the selection of the right solar panel company in your checklist is essential.