Solar Panels – Choose Your Technology!
If you are looking for a solar power system, the major part of that system is going to be “solar PV (photovoltaic) panels” (which I’ll just refer to as “solar panels” from here on) that convert sunlight into electricity using a phenomenon called the photovoltaic effect.
There are 3 major types of solar PV technology.
Monocrystalline 2. Polycrystalline 3. Thin Film
Only the first two technologies – monocrystalline and polycrystalline – are available in Australia these days. Thin film is no longer used here for residential installations.
The following are some details on each type of technology, including thin film just for general interest purposes:
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Some think of monocrystalline solar panels as the ‘Rolls Royce’ of solar PV technology and the best choice. Monocrystalline is one of the oldest technologies, and more expensive to make, but this type have the highest efficiency.
These panels can typically achieve 15-20% conversion efficiency in the real world, i.e. convert 16-21% of the sunlight that hits them into electricity. They are made from wine-bottle sized single crystals of ultra-pure silicon and sliced up like salami to make individual wafers.
These circular wafers have their sides cut square, and are then converted into a monocrystalline “solar cell” that looks like this:
The silver lines are wires that collect the electricity that is created when light hits the cell. The solar panel is made up of a matrix of these moncrystalline solar cells laid flat – like tiles on your bathroom floor:
Monocrystalline solar cells are generally high performance, but because they waste a bit of space between the cells when they are encapsulated in a solar PV panel (the little white diamonds in the picture above) they perform about the same (in efficiency and power terms) as polycrystalline.
The easy way to spot mono solar panels on a roof is to look for the tell tale white diamonds between the cells.
(Top tip for keeping the kids busy in the car: Play “spot the solar panel” with bonus points for identifying the technology type! Yes I really do make my long-suffering kids play that game…)
Polycrystalline Solar Panels (Also Called Multicrystalline)
Polycrystalline solar panels are also made from silicon, but the type of silicon used is slightly less pure and they are cast into blocks rather than sawn from a single crystal. The fact that the crystals are randomly arranged means that they are visible individually.
Once the polycrystalline ingot is cast, it is sawn into square blocks and then sliced into square wafers that are processed to convert them into solar cells.
Here’s a close up of a polycrystalline solar cell – you can see that it looks very different to the sleek, uniform appearance of its monocrystalline rival:
Polycrystalline solar cells are very similar to monocrystalline in performance and degradation, except in multicrystalline, the resulting cells are typically slightly less efficient. However, as you can see here, there is no wasted space between the corners of the perfectly square cells:
This means that when they are encapsulated in solar PV panels, there is slightly more area available to absorb sunlight. The result is that a polycrystalline solar panel’s performance is almost identical to monocrystalline solar panels. Here’s what they’ll look like on your roof:
Thin Film Solar Panels
Whereas mono and polycrystalline solar panels are made in very similar ways, thin film solar panels use a completely different method of manufacturing. Instead of creating solar cells by sawing up large blocks of silicon, a film containing silicon is “sprayed” on to the surface that is to become a solar panel.
As mentioned above, thin film panels are basically obsolete in Australia, due to mono and poly panels far outstripping them in price and performance – I haven’t seen them sold here for many years!
So to sum up, which solar panels are best type in terms of technology?
When choosing between monocrystalline vs polycrystalline solar panels, despite what many salespeople will tell you, there is nothing really to distinguish between the types – except their looks!
Thin-film was slightly cheaper per kW, but occupied at least twice the area, and no-one is 100% sure how much they will degrade in the long term. However, as mentioned thin film panels are no longer available for the Australian residential solar market – so this technology choice is one you won’t have to make.
Main Types of Solar Panels
It can be difficult to decide between different types of solar panels. It’s a good problem to have: you have a lot of options to choose from when picking solar panels for your house, solar powering your RV, or starting a DIY solar project.
This article will break down the 3 main solar panel types available today, comparing their efficiency, price, and best uses. Let’s get started.
Types of Solar Panels
The 3 main types of solar panels on the market today are:
Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels are made of silicon solar cells packed into a frame and covered with glass or plastic. They’re currently the most common types of solar panels.
Thin-film solar panels are made of a thin layer of a photovoltaic substance laid onto a surface of glass, plastic, or metal. They can be made of a variety of organic or inorganic compounds, which range widely in efficiency and price per watt. They’re less common than silicon solar panels and can be difficult to find.
I’m constantly reading exciting scientific reports about breakthroughs in the development of perovskite, biohybrid, and (my favorite) quantum dot solar panels. But you’re not likely to find any of these new solar panel types on the market for at least a few years.
|Price||1 to 1.50 per watt||0.90 to 1 per watt||0.40 to 2 per watt|
|Color||Black||Blue||Blue or black|
|Pros||High efficiency Decent performance in high temperature||Good value for the money Decent efficiency||Can be inexpensive Lightweight Best performance in high temperatures|
|Cons||Pricier per watt than poly panels||Larger and heavier than mono panels Worst performance in high temperatures||Difficult to find Shortest lifespan Low efficiency|
|Best Uses||Houses and roofs RVs, vans, and boats with limited mounting space Camping and other portable uses DIY solar projects||Houses and roofs with lots of mounting space Ground-mounted solar arrays Camping and other portables uses DIY solar projects||Curved or irregular mounting surfaces|
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Monocyrstalline solar panels are the more efficient, yet more expensive, version of silicon solar panels. They’re best suited for a wide range of uses, such as roofs and houses, DIY solar projects, and RVs and vehicles with limited mounting space. They are most often rigid, but portable and flexible monocrystalline solar panels are also available.
Each cell in monocrystalline solar panels (also called mono solar panels) is a thin wafer of a single crystal of nearly pure silicon. The wafer is coated with other elements, such as boron and phosphorus, so that it has positively and negatively charged sides, known as a PN junction. Silver wires painted onto the wafer allow for electricity to flow once sunlight knocks loose electrons from the silicon atoms.
Monocrystalline panels are usually black in color because the cells’ uniform alignment absorbs more sunlight and refracts less. Many manufacturers also use “black silicon,” where nano-sized needle shapes are etched into the surface of the silicon wafers. This allows for greater absorption (and less reflection) of light, in the same way that a sponge traps water in its pores.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline solar panels are best when you are on a budget or have lots of mounting space. They are less efficient than comparable monocrystalline solar panels, so they need to be bigger to produce the same amount of power.
However, they have a lower price per watt. Like monocrystalline panels, they have a wide range of uses, from residential solar installations to ground-mounted solar arrays.
The PV cells in polycrystalline solar panels (also called poly solar panels) are made of fragments of silicon that are melted together to form wafers made of several smaller crystals. The manufacturing process is less error-prone than shaving wafers off of a single crystal, so it wastes fewer raw materials.
Being manufactured from multiple crystals, polycrystalline cells scatter light to produce a blue color (the shortest light wavelength), just as our atmosphere scatters light to make the sky look blue. The anti-reflective coating used on polycrystalline panels also creates a blue hue.
Because of their popularity and wide availability, you often must pick between monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels. Check out our full breakdown of these 2 types of solar panels to decide which is best for you.
Thin-Film Solar Panels
Thin-film solar panels vary widely in price and efficiency based on their material. Their thinness makes them well-suited to curved or irregular mounting surfaces. They’re much less common than silicon panels, though. If you’re buying solar panels yourself, thin-film panels aren’t easy to find.
Note: Many people wrongly assume that all flexible solar panels are thin-film solar panels. While thin-film panels are often flexible, most flexible panels on the market today are in fact monocrystalline solar panels.
As the name suggests, thin-film panels are films of photovoltaic materials rather than crystals. They can be made of different elements, the most common of which are amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, copper indium gallium selenide, and gallium arsenide. They can be made of organic materials as well.
Here’s a quick overview of some of the main types of thin-film solar panels:
- Cadmium telluride (CdTe) panels are the most common thin-film solar panel technology. They are easy to manufacture and can have efficiencies nearly as high as silicon panels. While the materials are inexpensive to use, cadmium is a toxic and carcinogenic heavy metal which requires extra care in manufacturing. Research is underway to replace cadmium in thin-film panels with other materials.
- Amorphous silicon (a-Si) is flexible and uses fewer toxic materials than other thin-film solar panels. It’s more efficient than most panels at absorbing light in partial sunshine, though they are overall only around 7% efficient. They also have a shorter lifespan of 10 to 20 years.
- Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) absorbs light more strongly than other thin-film panels, and has an efficiency that is comparable to silicon solar panels. It is flexible and lightweight. But CIGS panels also contain cadmium.
- Organic photovoltaics (OPV) have been around since the 1980s, but they are only now reaching marketability. They are made from a mix of organic and inorganic materials, and can be up to 19% efficient at capturing sunlight and converting it into electricity. They can even be transparent! Currently, only a few startups around the world make OPV panels. With growing concerns about toxic materials, supply chains, and the end-of-life disposal of solar panels, I expect the popularity of OPVs to grow.
Types of Solar Panels by Efficiency
Note: Efficiency refers to how well solar panels convert sunlight into electricity — not how much power they output. A 100 watt solar panel will output 100 watts under ideal conditions, regardless of what type of solar panel it is. Instead, more efficient solar panels require fewer solar cells to produce the same amount of power, and are thus usually smaller in size.
Monocrystalline solar panels more efficiently convert sunlight into electricity than polycrystalline solar panels do – up to 22-23% efficient for the former compared to 17% for the latter.
Thin-film panels are generally the least efficient type of solar panel, ranging from 6-15% efficiency depending on the materials used.
How solar panels respond to temperature — a measure called temperature coefficient of Pmax, or simply temperature coefficient — is a key factor affecting their efficiency. While all panels are tested under the same standard test conditions, real-world temperature can affect different types (and brands) of panels in varied ways.
All panels output less power as temperatures rise, but in general, monocrystalline panels do better in higher temperatures than polycrystalline panels do. Thin-film panels handle rising temperatures the best.
Types of Solar Panels by Price
The cost of solar panels is measured in dollars per watt. Monocrystalline panels are more expensive per watt than polycrystalline ones because it costs more (and is more wasteful of raw materials) to shave a thin wafer off a single silicon crystal than it is to fuse together silicon fragments. The manufacturing process is simplest in making thin-film panels, however, so they generally cost less than crystalline panels.
|Monocrystalline||1 to 1.50||20-23%|
|Polycrystalline||0.70 to 1||15-17%|
|CdTe||0.50 to 0.60||9-11%|
|a-Si||0.43 to 0.50||6-8%|
|CIGS||0.60 to 0.70||13-15%|
Types of Solar Panels by Form Factor
When I picture a standard solar panel, I imagine the rectangular ones that are used for residential rooftop installations and solar farms. But those are only one of the options you have for generating your own solar energy. Here are the most common form factors that solar panels come in.
Conventional Rooftop Solar Panels
Conventional solar panels for roofs and houses are set in an aluminum frame, covered with a glass sheet, sealed with encapsulants, with a backsheet at the back of the frame. A junction box attached to the frame will connect the panel to an electric circuit.
Some panels also come with micro-inverters on their backing. common are string inverters that are separate from the panels, which are wired in a series. Anyone who has strung Christmas lights probably knows the benefits of wiring in parallel rather than series: micro-inverters are more expensive, but when one goes down, your whole circuit doesn’t go down.
Bifacial Solar Panels
As their name implies, bifacial panels have crystalline cells on the back of the panel in order to capture any light reflected off the surface below the panels. (Think about it: if light didn’t reflect off the ground below solar panels, you wouldn’t be able to see the ground.)
Reflected light is weaker than direct light, of course, but it’s enough to make a difference: bifacial panels can generate up to 9% more electricity than traditional monofacial panels. Bifacial panels use glass instead of metal frames, and the glass itself isn’t coated with a dark color, allowing more light to pass through. Usually, the back side of a bifacial panel shares the same circuitry as the front side.
Ground-Mounted Solar Panels
Ground-mounted solar panels are conventional panels set in a free-standing solar array, mounted either on top of a single pole or in a rigid metal frame. A ground-mounted system has the added cost of the mounting materials, but allows easier access for cleaning and maintaining the panels.
Ground-mounted systems might also have solar trackers to change the angle and direction of the panels to follow the path of the sun throughout the season and day. Again: more cost, but also more electricity generated.
Portable Solar Panels
Portable solar panels are typically smaller and less expensive than rooftop panels, and can range from sizes as small as 5 watts to up to 200 watts or more. One of the most common sizes is the 100 watt solar panel, which is used often with RVs, camper vans, solar generators, and DIY solar projects.
Portable panels sometimes come with built-in USB ports for charging phones and portable battery packs. They can be a single panel or a triptych of three foldable panels, encased in a mesh fabric or plastic.
Flexible Solar Panels
You might think that flexible solar panels use thin-film technology. Some of them do. But more often than not, flexible panels use monocrystalline cells that are far thinner—only a few micrometers—than those in rigid panels. Flexible panels also use protective plastic rather than glass. They tend to be more expensive than rigid panels.
Because of their form factor, flexible solar panels are best used on curved mounting surfaces, such as boat hulls or teardrop campers. They’re also much lighter than rigid solar panels, so they can be the right choice when you need to minimize the weight of your solar system.
Types of Solar Panels by Use Case
|Conventional rooftop||Rooftops or ground-mounted arrays|
|Bifacial||Mounted on a hard surface that reflects light, like concrete|
|Ground-mounted||Cases where roofs lack space, sunlight, or structural integrity; solar farms|
|Portable||Camping, hiking, apartment living, short-term uses|
|Flexible||Boats, teardrop campers, curved surfaces|
Your choice of solar panels will depend largely on what you want to use the panels for. Crystalline panels (of both types) generally come in rigid frames better suited for rooftops and stationary installations, while thin-film panels are better suited for portable and flexible installations.
But “generally” does not mean always: you can find flexible crystalline panels and rigid-framed thin-film. And any type can be portable if it’s small enough. Nonetheless, these panels are generally more suitable for these applications:
- Rigid panels are heavier, so they need structural support like a roof or a ground-mounted frame. A single rigid panel is certainly portable, but not conveniently so.
- Bifacial panels need ground clearance to capture reflected light. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that lighter colors reflect light better than darker ones, so a surface like a white-painted roof or concrete surface works better than ordinary soil.
- Ground-mounted panels are ideal when roofs lack space, sunlight, or structural integrity, and where land is available with better exposure to the sun. They’re typically also used in large-scale projects such as solar farms or actual farms, where crops can be grown under them or animals can graze.
- Portable panels are ideal if you live in an apartment, have a boat, or go camping. They are also good for temporary uses. If you live somewhere where power outages are frequent, like I do in Maine, you can continue to run a modem and a laptop with a battery backup powered by portable panels, or even solar power a small refrigerator. Just don’t assume you can keep an entire house running on a few portable panels, since the average American home uses 30 kWh of electricity per day.
- Flexible panels bend, letting you install them on curved surfaces, such as the deck of a boat or the top of a camper. Some flexible panels have an adhesive backing, which makes for easy, peel-and-stick mounting.
What Type of Solar Panel Is Best for You?
Monocrystalline solar panels are worth the money when you have space constraints, or when you want solar panels that perform well in higher temperatures. They’re usually high-quality, so if you want an all-around great solar panel, mono panels are a good option.
Polycrystalline panels are great when you have lots of mounting space or are on a budget. They don’t perform as well as mono panels in higher temperatures, though. Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels work well for a range of uses, such as rooftop solar installations, RVs and other vehicles with limited mounting space, portable solar systems, and DIY solar projects.
Thin-film panels are much less common, but may be a good option if you have curved or irregular mounting surfaces. Their efficiency and price per watt vary widely based on material, and they can be hard to find if you’re buying your solar panels yourself.
Types of Solar Panels: Which One Is Best for You?
If you’re new to the world of solar power, it can be daunting to take that first step. Massive leaps in innovation have pushed the industry forward, creating more accessible options for consumers than ever before. Thanks to increased adoption and economies of scale, solar technology is now an affordable, accessible, eco-friendly choice. But with so many options, it’s hard to know where to begin.
The first step in switching to solar is identifying what type of solar panels you need. There are many different types of photovoltaic solar panels on the market today, each with unique benefits, downsides, and characteristics. Here’s a rundown of the three major types to help you make the right choice for your family’s energy needs.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Monocrystalline photovoltaic panels are the most established option on the market and set the gold standard for solar panels. Due to their sleek, seamless look, they’re a desirable commodity for those who want to go solar without sacrificing their home’s aesthetics.
Monocrystalline PV panels get their name from the design: they constitute one continuous crystal shaped from highly durable silicone.
Manufacturers achieve this uninterrupted internal structure by shaping pure silicon into bars. Then, they shave the edges of the cell off, smoothing and rounding it into the desired shape. While time-consuming, this process can boost solar cell electricity production!
One downside of monocrystalline panels is that the production process generates a hefty amount of waste. Sometimes up to 50% of materials are discarded to produce a singular solar cell. For some eco-minded people switching to solar energy, that may be a turn-off. However, because these panels boast higher efficiency than polycrystalline or thin film options, many believe the trade-off is worthwhile in the long run.
Due to their design, monocrystalline panels are one of the most resource-intensive on the market today. They are also quite time-intensive to build. For these reasons, monocrystalline panels are typically more costly than other types.
While size, features, and the manufacturer can influence price, a single panel typically ranges from 300 to 600. However, for many applications, the higher upfront investment will result in more significant savings on energy over time.
The power capacity of monocrystalline panels may also justify their higher price tag. This type of panel has the highest rated power capacity of the bunch due to the single-crystal construction, which provides a higher output rating. Many monocrystalline panels on the market today can achieve up to 400 watts of rated power.
Monocrystalline panels have a higher efficacy when compared to panels developed with multiple crystal segments. High-rated options like the EcoFlow 400W Rigid Solar Panels with the monocrystalline construction have a conversion efficiency of 23% — significantly higher than the industry standard of 15-20%. Conversion efficiency measures the amount of sunlight captured that’s turned into electricity.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Another common type of solar panel on the market today is the polycrystalline panel. This variety isn’t as aesthetically desirable or efficient as its monocrystalline counterpart. Because of its construction, it doesn’t have the signature all-black look of a monocrystalline panel. That said, it’s more affordable and still gets the job done.
Polycrystalline panels are recognizable by their rectangular shape and blue finish. Because they contain many silicon crystals in every cell, they have a speckled, twinkling appearance when the sun reflects off them.
Polycrystalline panels are sometimes called multi-crystalline panels because of their construction. These PV panels use silicone, similar to monocrystalline cells. However, they consist of many polycrystalline fragments melted together, giving them their characteristic checkerboard appearance.
During construction, manufacturers melt raw silicon and pour it into square molds. The molds remove the additional step required with monocrystalline cells to cut their ends. Polycrystalline panels come out of the molds in their final shape.
In the last step, manufacturers will assemble smaller individual squares into one larger panel. This process creates less waste and has a smaller footprint for material use, making them a more environmentally-friendly choice than monocrystalline panels — at least up front.
Since the manufacturing uses smaller pieces of crystal, polycrystalline panels are typically less resource-intensive and, therefore, more affordable than other options on the market. They also take less time to produce than monocrystalline modules. Currently, it’s possible to find polycrystalline PV panels for as low as 100, with 300 being the high end of their typical cost.
Historically, polycrystalline modules haven’t had as high of a power capacity as their monocrystalline counterparts. However, recent solar technology advances have improved the power capacity of polycrystalline panels.
A typical 60-cell polycrystalline panel can now produce between 240-300 watts. The power capacity is still not on par with monocrystalline per cell. Still, this improvement bodes well for the future of polycrystalline solar technology.
Polycrystalline panels are between 15-17% efficient. They’re in a lower tier than monocrystalline options when it comes to efficiency. They also have a shorter lifespan. Because there are many individual crystals in each cell, there is less freedom for electrons to move around. All this means that they don’t generate as much electricity or for as long.
While they can’t boast the high efficiency of monocrystalline panels, they’re still a decent option to get the most bang for your buck in the short term. Because their construction is less resource-intensive than monocrystalline models, they can be a cost-effective option for those trying to switch to solar on a budget.
Thin-Film Solar Panels
Researchers at the University of Delaware first developed thin-film solar cells in the 1970s at the Institute of Energy Conversion. While today, thin-film solar panels are not as efficient or powerful as the other common types, they maintain an important place in the solar industry. Their unique construction, low profile, and flexibility make them suitable for various applications.
Thin-film panels apply sheets of photovoltaic material mounted atop a substrate. Believe it or not, they’re approximately 350 times thinner than monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules.
Unlike other types of PV panels, thin-film uses various materials in their construction, including silicon, copper indium gallium selenide, and cadmium telluride. The silicon used in thin-film panels differs from that used in monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules. Instead of being solid, it is a non-crystalline type of silicon.
In construction, manufacturers put a layer of glass on top to capture sunlight. Beneath it, there is a semiconductor layer between two layers of transparent conduit.
The thing that sets thin-film panels apart from the pack is their flexibility. Unlike the rigid PV panels suited for rooftop installations, the ultra-thin construction of thin-film panels means they can bend and fit the surface that you fix them to without breaking. Because of this flexible construction, these panels are often mounted on RVs or other vehicles with curved surfaces or incorporated into wearable or handheld devices.
Thin-film panels are typically on the higher end of the price spectrum and usually cost 1 to 1.50 per watt. The EcoFlow 100W Flexible Solar Panel is a great example. It’s lightweight, weatherproof, and affordable. You can mount it to the roof of a van or use it to expand an existing rooftop setup without requiring more flat surface area.
Thin-film panels are available in a variety of sizes. This variety is one feature that draws people to thin-film panels, as it allows for their use in many different locations. However, the lack of standard sizing also makes it harder to quantify their power capacity. The size of the panel will largely determine the power capacity.
That said, thin-film panels generally have a lower power capacity than monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules of the same size. While this is a downside for some buyers, the flexible application of these panels means it’s possible to harness solar energy in places that aren’t accessible to panels with rigid construction.
The efficiency of a thin-film solar panel is significantly lower than other crystalline panels. On average, efficiency gets up to around 11%. Because of this, you would need a large amount of surface area to generate a substantial amount of solar energy using thin-film panels alone.
It’s also worth noting that thin-film tends to degrade faster than other types of panels because of their flexibility and thin construction. Unfortunately, this often means that products are not under warranty for as long. Before purchasing thin-film solar panels, ask the manufacturer or installation company about their warranty policy to ensure you can get the most out of your investment.
Which Solar Panel Type is Best For You?
Before you make a purchase, it’s essential to identify your unique needs and any circumstances that may influence the type of panel you choose. Here are a few ways each type of panel can shine, whether you want to build a Smart Home Ecosystem or get off-grid solar power to take on the road.
When to Use Monocrystalline Solar Panels
As discussed, these panels are durable, long-lasting, highly efficient, and boast a hefty power capacity. They also have a sleek, signature look. However, they’re typically more expensive than other options on the market.
Because of all this, monocrystalline panels are great for people who care about style and efficiency. If you want your panels to meld seamlessly into the design of your house, the sleek design will probably appeal to you. Due to their high efficiency, you also could opt to install fewer of them — and they’ll last longer too.
Even though monocrystalline panels are pricier upfront, you can decrease the overall cost by using fewer of them and generating more electricity from available sunlight. They’re also a great option when you want to harness a lot of power with a relatively small footprint.
When to Use Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline panels are a mid-level option that gives you decent efficiency, rated power, and durability at a competitive price. Polycrystalline PV panels can be appealing to shoppers who want to switch to residential solar energy on a budget — even if they save you less money on electricity in the long run. Plus, they’re less resource-intensive than monocrystalline panels, making them an appealing choice for those trying to reduce their environmental footprint in the short term.
When to Use Thin-Film Panels
While not as efficient or powerful as other types, thin-film panels are unique due to their flexibility. Their applications are endless! Thin-film panels are an excellent option for RVs, tiny homes, or anywhere that doesn’t have a large amount of flat, stable surface. They’re also incredibly lightweight, making them a good option for weight-restricted buildings.
Another critical factor when deciding which type of solar panel is best for you is the installation cost. As this can increase the overall cost of converting to solar, it’s worth your careful consideration.
On average, installation costs range from 15,000 and 25,000. Typically, hotter, sunnier climates have larger solar markets because there’s greater competition. The labor cost is often more affordable than in cold places with fewer peak sun hours where solar energy isn’t as plentiful.
Keep in mind that government incentives may be able to help you save substantially on equipment and installation costs.
Want to save some cash? One option to forgo installation and labor costs is to use portable solar panels. These don’t require expert installation; you merely set them up on the foldable kickstand that doubles as a case for easy transport and no-installation use anywhere there’s sunlight.
Home solar power gives you autonomy over your energy in a way that the traditional electricity grid never can. Ultimately, only you can decide what type of panel will suit your needs. However, if you need some help, consulting with an expert at a solar installation company can ensure you make the best choice. When you pick the right type of solar panels for your needs, you’ll be ready to harness the sun’s power for years to come.
Remember, panels are only the first step! You need a power station or solar generator to store captured solar energy for future use. EcoFlow Solar Generators let you bundle and save, combining the portable power station and solar panels for an all-inclusive investment.
If solar is the right fit for your home, EcoFlow is here to help. With efficient, convenient, and competitively-priced products, you’re sure to find your perfect fit.
EcoFlow is a portable power and renewable energy solutions company. Since its founding in 2017, EcoFlow has provided peace-of-mind power to customers in over 85 markets through its DELTA and RIVER product lines of portable power stations and eco-friendly accessories.
A Comprehensive Guide to the Different Types of Solar Cells
Are you interested in learning more about the different types of solar cells available? If so, then you’ve come to the right place! In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the various types of solar cells and discuss the pros and cons of each type. From monocrystalline to polycrystalline and everything in between, we’ll help you […]
Are you interested in learning more about the different types of solar cells available? If so, then you’ve come to the right place! In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the various types of solar cells and discuss the pros and cons of each type. From monocrystalline to polycrystalline and everything in between, we’ll help you understand the differences between the various types of solar cells and help you decide which type is best for you.
Monocrystalline silicon cells
Producing Monocrystalline silicon cells is a process is similar to that used to manufacture transistors and integrated circuits, and it has been developed, optimized, and is clean. Single-crystalline cells look like deep blue glass because of the blue color of the silicon crystals. This technology goes through very slow degradation, typically 0.25%-0.5% a year.
Polycrystalline silicon cells
In this production process, pure molten silicon is cast into cylinders, then sliced into wafers off the large block of multicrystalline silicon. These cells are made up of multiple crystalline structures that form a pattern on the cell’s surface. Polycrystalline cells are slightly lower in conversion efficiency compared with single crystalline cells, but the manufacturing process is less exacting, so costs are a bit lower. Module efficiency averages about 15%–16%, sunlight to wire. Degradation is very slow and gradual, similar to that of single-crystal. Crystals measure approximately 1 centimeter (two-fifths of an inch) thick, and the multicrystal patterns can be clearly seen in the cell’s deep blue surface.
Doping and module assembly are the same as for poly and mono-crystal modules.
Heterojunction technology has seen a surge in popularity in recent years due to its higher efficiency and low cost. This technology combines crystalline and thin-film solar cell technologies to create cells with an amorphous silicon layer that is just a few nanometers thick. The ultra-thin amorphous silicon layer acts as an electrical insulator between the two cell materials, allowing for more efficient current flow than traditional monocrystalline cells. Hetrojunction solar cells can also use n-type semiconductors instead of the traditional p-type. N-type semiconductors are less prone to impurities, allowing for higher efficiency and more reliable operation. Despite their advantages, hetrojunction solar cells still have some drawbacks. The thin-film layer is not as durable as the thicker monocrystalline layer, so the cells need to be protected from damage. Additionally, hetrojunction cells require complex manufacturing processes that can be difficult to scale up. Overall, hetrojunction technology has many advantages over traditional monocrystalline cells, but it’s important to weigh the pros and cons before deciding which type of solar cell is best for your project.
The advantages of bi-facial cells include increased energy efficiency and reduced costs as they allow you to generate more energy from a smaller area than with traditional monocrystalline or polycrystalline cells. This can make them attractive to residential installers who have limited space. In terms of installation, bi-facial cells can be mounted either on top of each other, or they can be mounted on a separate system to be able to orient them towards the sun. The downside of bi-facial cells is that they are more expensive than traditional solar cells, but they may still be cost-effective in the long run.
Overall, bi-facial cells can offer more efficient energy absorption than monocrystalline or polycrystalline cells, allowing for greater energy production in less space. They also come with an added bonus of being able to absorb reflected light, which can be useful in certain environments. However, they come with a higher price tag, so careful consideration should be made before investing in these types of cells.
Half-cell or cut cells
Half-cell solar cells are composed of a substrate such as mono- or polycrystalline silicon, and the electrical connections between them are made with metal ribbons. By cutting the cells in half, it allows manufacturers to reduce cell series resistance and the number of contact fingers needed for electrical connection, resulting in higher efficiency.
The use of half-cells has allowed manufacturers to achieve a maximum efficiency rating up to 21.7%, which is higher than the traditional 17-18% efficiency rating of monocrystalline or polycrystalline cells. This improved efficiency comes at a cost though, as these solar cells tend to be more expensive than their traditional counterparts.
Despite the extra cost, many homeowners and businesses are taking advantage of the increased efficiency by installing half-cell solar panels in order to maximize their energy production. Half-cell technology is also used in commercial solar farms in order to increase their energy output and make them more efficient.
Shingle solar cells
This type of configuration allows for the wiring of the cells to be done differently than with traditional solar panels. Whereas conventional solar panels have cells wired in a series of strings, shingled solar modules can be wired in parallel configuration, reducing the number of interconnects. Additionally, the increased efficiency of shingled cells reduces the amount of energy lost when transferring energy from the modules to the inverter. Due to their unique wiring configuration, shingled solar cells can also offer greater flexibility in system design, as they allow for larger and more complex solar systems to be built with fewer components. As such, shingled solar cells are increasingly becoming popular amongst installers looking to maximize their system’s output potential.
Different Types of Solar Panels (Best) and Which to Avoid in 2023
Solar panels use renewable energy (the sun) to generate electricity, and the different types of solar panels available today all aid in the search for cleaner energy.
In fact, with carbon footprint, solar panels (even with the footprint from manufacturing and waste disposal) offer an energy creation source that is cleaner than coal.
However, understanding the different types of solar panels that are available for home use can be a little tricky. There are a number of manufacturers and cells, and knowing which ones will work best for your specific needs requires a little research.
This complete guide explains the types of solar panels that can be used to reduce your household carbon footprint.
Different Types of Solar Panels
Different types of solar panels have different carbon footprints that begin with materials and manufacturing, that must also be considered when determining the overall carbon footprint of each type of panel.
The different types of solar panels and solar cells include:
- Polycrystalline silicon solar panel
- Cadmium telluride solar panel
- Monocrystalline silicon solar panel
- Amorphous silicon solar panel
- Thin-film solar panel
- Perovskite solar cell
- Biohybrid solar cell
- Organic solar cell
- Multi-junction solar cell
- Plasmonic solar cell
- Hybrid solar cell
- Quantum dot solar cell
SunPower Solar Panels (Best for Efficiency)
SunPower solar panels are also known as Maxeon panels and are well known for having one of the best efficiency ratings of all solar panel options.
REC Solar Panels (Best for Affordability)
REC solar panels are inexpensive and go well with existing aesthetics.
Panasonic Solar Panels (Best for Quality and Warranty)
Panasonic solar panels come with a 25-year warranty.
Silfab Solar Panels (Best for Quality and Affordability)
Silfab solar panels are of the highest quality, but still highly affordable.
LG Solar Panels (Best for Unique Roof Designs)
LG solar panels come with innovative options for rooftop installations.
Q Cells Solar Panels (Best for Long-Term Value)
Q Cells solar panels come with long-term warranties and are well-known for excellent performance.
Trina Solar Panels (Best for Affordable Value)
Trina solar panels are priced right for home installations.
Canadian Solar Panels (Best Economical Choice)
Canadian Solar prides itself on providing economical alternatives.
The best reasons to install solar panels at home or at the office are:
- Going off-grid and cutting down personal carbon footprints.
- Solar power grids can be installed on underutilized land. 19
- Solar power ensures fewer (if any) power interruptions.
- Different types of solar panels come with the added bonus of solar power grants which helps stabilize the conventional electricity grid.
- Solar power job opportunities help grow the economy.
- The solar power energy source will always be free. 1
Installation: The installation process length depends on location and whether necessary permits are readily available. In either case, an installation does take at least a couple of weeks.
SunPower solar panels don’t come cheap, but they are well worth the investment. 25 Their efficiency rating is between 20.1% – 22.8% and they come with a 25-year warranty.
SunPower provides an all-encompassing service by manufacturing panels and solar cells, selling them and installing them. 6
Installation: Installing rooftop solar panels, can take up to 3 days depending on location and whether permits are required.
REC N-Peak Series: Support bars, 20-year product warranty, 25-year power output warranty with a guarantee that panels will continue to produce a minimum of 86% power after 25 years.
REC TwinPeak 2 Series: 300W power, 20-year warranty and 25-year warranty for power output. Using REC-certified installers will add another 5 years to the product warranty.
REC solar panels incorporate half-cut cell technology which cut power losses by 75%. The half-cut designs also ensure higher efficiency and a longer lifespan.
When wondering, how much do solar panels cost, the key is to find an accurate solar panel calculator.
The company offers a wide range of applications for commercial and residential use, including the Alpha series which uses HJT cells. 7
Panasonic solar panels are some of the highest quality solar panels in 2022 and come with a 25–year warranty. 26 Panasonic uses HIT technology to make their solar panels highly efficient (combination of amorphous silicon and monocrystalline layers), and to reduce power loss.
|Advantages of Panasonic Solar Panels||Disadvantages of Panasonic Solar Panels|
|Highly impressive specifications||Similar panels can be purchased at a cheaper cost.|
|Great warranty||The company uses a third party for manufacturing purposes. 8|
|affordable than premium panels|
Silfab solar panels offer different types of solar panels, and ranges which are made with PERC solar cells. These solar panels have a high efficiency rating and are very temperature coefficient.
|Specifications||Silfab Elite SIL-380 BK Solar Panels||Silfab Elite SIL-370 BK Solar Panels||Silfab Prime SIL-370 HC Solar Panels|
|Solar Panel Power output (Pmax)||380 Watts||370 Watts||370 Watts|
|Solar Panel Efficiency rating||21.4%||20.8%||20.2%|
|Solar Panel Cell type||Back contact mono-PERC cell type||Back contact mono-PERC cell type||Half cells mono-PERC cell type|
|Solar Panel Power tolerance||0 to 10 Watts||0 to 10 Watts||0 to 10 Watts|
|Solar Panel Temperature coefficient (Pmax)||-0.38%/°C||-0.38%/°C||-0.36%/°C|
|Solar Panel Workmanship warranty||25 year warranty||25 year warranty||25 year warranty|
|Solar Panel Power warranty||30 year warranty||30 year warranty||30 year warranty 9|
Installation: Installation usually takes around 3 days, depending on the type of system being installed.
LG solar panels are specifically designed for residential roofs that have a complicated design or where there is insufficient roof space. 27 Because of their unique design, these solar panels provide more power per panel, which means fewer panels are necessary.
|Advantages of LG Solar Panels||Disadvantages of LG Solar Panels|
|Excellent efficiency||Panels are expensive.|
|Great performance||LG no longer manufacturers solar panels, but will continue to honor warranties. 10|
Installation: Residential solar systems are installed within a few days, while larger projects may take a few weeks.
Q Cells solar panels are becoming increasingly popular because of their long-term value and affordability. Their efficiency is at 18%, which is the middle to high range of efficiency rankings. Q Cells solar panels make use of half-cut solar cell technology to cut down on power loss.
|Advantages of Half-Cut Solar Cell Technology|
|Reduced power loss|
|Additional area for PERC layer of the cell to receive photons|
|Highly durable 11|
Trina Solar offers a 600W panel and their efficiency is up to 20.4%.
|Module (cells)||Power||Efficiency||Positive power tolerance|
|Half-cut DE06X.05(II)||355-380 Watts||20.6%||0/5 Watts|
|Half-cut DD06M.05||310-335 Watts||19.9%||0~5 Watts 12|
The company incorporates half-cut cell technology as well as a option between white or black backsheets.
Canadian Solar manufactures solar panels, as well as solar cells, ingots and wafers that relate to solar panel manufacturing. 28 The company offers an excellent 25-year performance warranty to go along with their high-quality products.
|HiKu solar panels||Standard solar panel offering that is made with polycrystalline cells|
|HiKu Mono modules||Can generate up to 385 watts of power|
|HiKu All-Black||Less efficient, but more aesthetically pleasing|
|HiKu6||Can generate up to 405 watts of power 13|
Types of Solar Panel Systems
Along with different types of solar panels and cells come different types of solar panel systems.
|Types of Solar Panel Systems|
|Off-grid solar panel system||An off-grid solar panel system operates completely separately from the grid, and requires a huge arrangement of batteries, modules and inverters. Off-grid solar panel systems are best for rural areas.|
|Grid-tied solar panel system||A grid-tied solar panel system comes with fixed rates, and a PV system that needs sizing to generate only sufficient power. These types of solar panel systems are good for those who work from home.|
|Grid backup solar panel system||Grid backup systems can operate for long periods of time without the grid. This type of system is essential for regions with frequent power outages.|
Types of Solar Cells and Their Efficiency
The below table indicates the different types of solar cells and their efficiency: 3
|Efficiency||PERC has the highest efficiency at 5% more than monocrystalline cells.||20% efficiency and up||15-17% efficiency||13-15% efficiency (Thin-film is the least efficient)|
What Are the Types of Solar Panel and Their Efficiency?
The below list indicates the types of solar panel and their efficiency:
- Poly PERC – 17% efficiency
- Mono PERC – 19% efficiency
- Half-Cut Mono PERC – 20% efficiency
- Shingled Mono Cells – 21.5%
- Half-Cut Mono PERC MBB – 22%
- Half-Cut N-Type TOPcon – 22.5%
- Half-Cut N-Type HJT – 22.5%
- N-Type IBC – 23%
Solar Panel Installation Material List PDF
This solar panel installation material list PDF is a helpful guide that highlights the requirements of solar panel installation, inducing costs and labor. 20
Solar Panel Diagram With Explanation PDF
This solar panel diagram with explanation PDF explains the inner workings of a solar cell with a simple diagram and detailed explanation. 21
Solar Panel Design PDF
This free-to-download solar panel design PDF goes into detail about solar system design, and includes various cost calculations. 22
Solar Panel Construction PDF
This free-to-download solar panel construction PDF details the process of designing and constructing a 2kW solar panel inverter. 23
The 4 main types of solar panels are as follows:
- Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell
Best Types of Solar Panels
The below table provides a summary of the best types of solar panels available in 2023, including panel efficiency and temperature co-efficiencies.
|Solar Panel Manufacturer||Efficiency (%)||Temperature Coefficient||Warranty|
|SunPower||22.8%||-0.29||25 year warranty|
|REC||21.9%||-0.26||25 year warranty|
|Panasonic||21.7%||-0.26||25 year warranty|
|Q CELLS||21.4%||-0.34||25 year warranty|
|AXITEC||20.45%||-0.26||25 year warranty|
|Silfab||21.4%||-0.36||25 year warranty|
|Solaria||20.5%||-0.39||25 year warranty|
|Mission Solar||19.35%||-0.35||25 year warranty|
|LA Solar Group||20.6%||-0.37||25 year warranty|
|Canadian Solar||20.6%||-0.35||15 year warranty|
|Jinko Solar||21.33%||-0.35||25 year warranty|
|Trina Solar||20.4%||-0.36||25 year warranty|
Types of Solar Panels
When comparing different types of solar panels, it is important to keep in mind that monocrystalline solar panels and polycrystalline solar panels are considered to be the better options because of their high efficiency ratings. 29
Monocrystalline Solar Panel
A monocrystalline solar panel is also referred to as a single-crystal solar panel. These panels are made from a single silicon crystal that has been cut into wafers. Up to 50% of the silicon is wasted during the production of one monocrystalline cell, which makes the resulting panel more expensive.
Types of Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Types of monocrystalline solar panels include:
Monocrystalline Solar Panel Efficiency
The monocrystalline solar panel efficiency rating is over 20%, with PERC panels adding 5% extra efficiency.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels for Home
Monocrystalline solar panels for home installations are the best option because of their high power capacity and high efficiency percentages.
Monocrystalline Solar Panel Diagram
This monocrystalline solar panel diagram fully explains and illustrates the structure of a monocrystalline solar panel. 30
PERC Solar Panels
PERC solar panels are defined as modified conventional solar cells with the ability to produce up to 12% more power than traditional solar cells.
This is because these cells have an extra layer at the back that allows sunlight to be reflected back into the cell, providing another opportunity for energy production.
PERC Solar Panel Efficiency
PERC solar panel efficiency is 23%, compared to an average of 21% efficiency of monocrystalline cells.
PERC vs Monocrystalline
There are several facts to be considered when debating the pros and cons of PERC vs monocrystalline solar panels. These are detailed below:
|PERC vs Monocrystalline (Mono-PERC) Solar Panels|
|PERC efficiency vs Monocrystalline efficiency||Mono-PERC solar panels absorb more light, therefore they are more efficient.|
|PERC cost vs Monocrystalline cost 31||Standard monocrystalline solar panels are cheaper than PERC panels but not by much. The extra layers required by Mono-PERC modules increases the cost, but the cost per unit of energy is about the same range.|
|PERC space vs Monocrystalline space||Mono-PERC panels require less space.|
|PERC temperature vs Monocrystalline temperature||Both sets of solar panels can produce an equal amount of power. 14|
Mono PERC Solar Panel Advantages and Disadvantages
The Mono PERC solar panel advantages and disadvantages are as follows:
- Cost-effective (over the long term)
- Minimum modifications required
- Lower cost of manufacturing
- Power degradation rates are lower
- Initial purchasing costs are high
- High temperatures can cause a decline in performance. 15
Polycrystalline vs Monocrystalline Solar Panel
When comparing the polycrystalline vs monocrystalline solar panel, the following factors should be considered:
|Polycrystalline vs Monocrystalline Solar Panel|
|Polycrystalline vs Monocrystalline efficiency||Monocrystalline solar panels are more efficient than polycrystalline solar panels because they are cut from a single silicon source.|
|Polycrystalline vs Monocrystalline performance||Monocrystalline solar panels perform better under harsh conditions such as high heat.|
|Polycrystalline vs Monocrystalline cost||Polycrystalline solar panels are cheaper than monocrystalline solar panels.|
|Polycrystalline vs Monocrystalline manufacturing||The production process for monocrystalline solar panels produces more waste than the manufacturing of polycrystalline solar panels. 16|
Which Type of Solar Panel Is Best for Home Use?
The most common question about solar panels is, which type of solar panel is best for home use.
The below table summarizes the main solar panel options as well as their pros and cons:
|Type of Solar Panel||Pros||Cons|
|Monocrystalline solar panel||Highly efficient||Expensive|
|Polycrystalline solar panel||Average price range||Shortened lifespan|
|Thin-film solar panel 32||Affordable prices||Least efficient 17|
Solar Panel Price per Watt
The solar panel price per watt for major metro cities is indicated in the below table (compared to the conventional electricity grid):
Furthermore, to calculate price per Watt, the gross system cost (before the deduction of tax credit and rebates) should be divided by the size of the system (DC Watts).
6 kW system consisting of 15 panels with 400W each, and a gross cost of 20,000 equals 3.33 per Watt.
Solar Panel Cost Calculator
A solar panel cost calculator can also calculate the solar cost per kWh. 33
This is done with the following calculation:
Net cost of solar system / lifespan output = cost per kWh hour.
An example of this calculation is as follows:
- 6.4 kW system with net cost of 20,484 (after the deduction of 30% tax credit)
- 22-year life span
- 90% efficiency over 22 years
Lifespan solar output = 6.4W x 5.5kWh of sunlight per day x 365 days x 22 years x 90% efficiency = 254,390kWh
Cost per kWh = 20,484 / 254,390kWh = 0.08 per kWh 18
What Are the Solar Panel Types and Prices?
For those wondering how much do solar panels cost, here’s a list of solar panel types and their average prices:
- PERC – 0.32 – 0.65 cost per watt
- Monocrystalline – 1 – 1.50 cost per watt
- Polycrystalline – 0.70 – 1 cost per watt
- Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) – 0.60 – 0.70 cost per watt
- Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) – 0.50 – 0.60 cost per watt
- Amorphous Silicon (a-Si) – 0.43 – 0.50 cost per watt
All the different types of solar panels can be used for these types of calculations, provided the correct information is entered into a solar panel cost calculator.
Solar panels may be used not only at home or at the office but it can also be used in a solar farm business. Knowing the efficient types of solar panels out in the market will help business owners to maximize their solar farm income per acre.