Types of Solar Panels (Which Is Right for You?)
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Written by Leonardo David
Leonardo David is an electromechanical engineer, MBA, energy consultant and technical writer. His energy-efficiency and solar consulting experience covers sectors including banking, textile manufacturing, plastics processing, pharmaceutics, education, food processing, fast food, real estate and retail. He has also been writing articles about energy and engineering topics since 2015. Learn About This Person
Reviewed by Karsten Neumeister
Karsten is an editor and energy specialist focused on environmental, social and cultural development. His work has been shared by sources including NPR, the World Economic Forum, Marketwatch and the SEIA, and he is certified in ESG with the CFA Institute. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the solar energy sector, studying energy policy, climate tech and environmental education. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace. Learn About This Person
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Main Types of Solar Panels
You will find that solar panels come in many sizes, ranging from large commercial modules that are nearly 7 feet tall to compact and portable panels that fit in your In general, the vast majority can be classified into three main types: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film.
Each uses materials that produce electric power when they receive sunlight, but the specific materials used in the panels are different. Like in any design decision, each type of solar panel has pros and cons, which are summarized below:
|Type of Solar Panel||Major Pros||Major Cons|
|Monocrystalline||Highest efficiency, which means more kilowatt-hours per square foot covered Long lifespan (25 years or more)||– Most expensive type of solar panel|
|Polycrystalline||Balanced cost and efficiency: intermediate between monocrystalline and thin-film solar panels Long lifespan (25 years or more)||– Less efficient than mono panels – High temperatures can lower their productivity and durability|
|Thin-Film||High temperatures only have a small impact on their productivity Lower weight than mono and poly solar panels Lowest cost per panel There are flexible and adhesive thin-film panels available||– Least efficient, which means fewer kilowatt-hours per square foot covered – Generally less durable than mono and poly solar panels|
Polycrystalline and monocrystalline panels both use solar cells made of silicon crystals, but with a different physical structure. On the other hand, thin film solar panels use non-crystalline silicon or other photovoltaic materials.
SunPower designs and installs industry-leading residential solar and storage solutions across all 50 states. With a storied history of innovation dating back to 1985, no other company on this list can match SunPower’s experience and expertise.
SunPower earns its position as the top national installer on our list for a handful of reasons: It installs the most efficient solar technology on the residential market, offers the most expansive service area and backs its installations with a warranty well above the industry standard. All the while, SunPower pioneers sustainability efforts within the industry.
If that weren’t enough, SunPower systems come packaged with products all manufactured in-house by its sister company, Maxeon. This means that your panels, solar cells, inverters, battery and EV chargers are designed to work together and are all covered under the same warranty.
SunPower’s biggest downside? Its high-efficiency panels are considerably more expensive than most of its competitors’ products. However, its powerful panels are workhorses that make up for the initial cost with more backend production (think about this like spending more money for a car that gets more miles per gallon).
Facts and Figures: SunPower
|Solar Panels, Solar Batteries, EV Chargers, System Monitoring|
|25-year all-inclusive warranty|
Blue Raven Solar
We like Blue Raven Solar because it understands that, for most homeowners, the cost of solar presents the biggest barrier to entry.
For that reason, Blue Raven Solar developed an innovative solar financing plan that offers in-house, flexible, zero-money-down options. The results speak for themselves, as Blue Raven Solar is now one of the fastest-growing solar companies in the nation and was recently acquired by SunPower. Its BluePower Plus plan (exclusive to Blue Raven) mimics the flexible structure of a lease while still providing the greatest benefits of owning your system.
Eligible homeowners enjoy 18 months of solar power before having to pay their first bill. When coupled with the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC), the initial energy savings can offset more than a third of the overall cost of a system before requiring a dollar down.
In contrast, other installers can only offer similar financing through solar leases, PPAs or third-party providers (such as Mosaic or Sunlight). Third-party loan providers can complicate the process, while opting for a loan or PPA will disqualify you from some of solar’s biggest benefits (additional property value, federal solar tax credit and local solar incentives).
Facts and Figures: Blue Raven Solar
|Solar Panels, System Monitoring|
|Trina Solar, Canadian Solar, SolarEdge, Silfab, SunPower|
|25-year manufacturer warranty; 10-year workmanship warranty, 2-year production guarantee|
ADT Solar sets the industry standard for warranty coverage by including a multifaceted guarantee, making it one of the top installers for homeowners who want added peace of mind.
Its warranty coverage includes all of the following for 25 years:
- Power Production Guarantee: Also known as a performance guarantee, this ensures your solar system will produce the amount of electricity that’s outlined in your proposal, or ADT will write you a check for the difference.
- Labor Guarantee: This covers any issues with the installation of your system and is also known as a workmanship warranty.
- Panel Module Performance Guarantee: This is what ADT Solar refers to the manufacturer warranty as, and it ensures that any manufacturing defects are repaired or your ineffective panels replaced.
- Enphase Microinverters Guarantee: This backs the performance of your inverters.
Though in recent years other solar companies have started to offer similar guarantees, ADT Solar has been at it since 2008, performing over 30,000 installations across the country.
Facts and Figures: ADT Solar
|Solar Panels, Solar Batteries, EV Chargers, Energy-Efficiency Upgrades|
|Silfab, Panasonic and others depending on location|
|25-year all-inclusive warranty|
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Monocrystalline solar panels have the highest efficiency ratings in the industry. These solar panels can normally convert over 20% of sunlight into electricity, and the most efficient panels now exceed 22% efficiency.
Mono panels are an excellent choice when you have limited roof space, since they will generate more electricity per square foot. Mono solar panels are characterized by their black photovoltaic cells, and many homeowners prefer this appearance over the lighter blue tone of poly solar panels.
The main downside of these panels is their high cost, but in return, they give you more electricity per panel you purchase.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline solar panels are less efficient than monocrystalline silicon panels — typically below 17% — but they are also more affordable. High efficiency really only becomes critical when your roof has limited space for solar panels and you need to make the most of the available area.
When space is not a limitation, you can simply install a few additional polycrystalline panels to compensate for their lower efficiency. Contrary to popular belief, lower efficiency does not mean lower quality when comparing solar panels.
In the case of polycrystalline panels, this is just a consequence of their material property: They have multiple silicon crystals per cell, as opposed to a single crystal that carries electrons in a more efficient manner. You can find high-quality solar panels of both types, mono and poly, with solid warranties from their manufacturers.
Thin-Film Solar Panels
Thin film solar panels are not divided into cells like polycrystalline and monocrystalline are. Instead, their entire surface has layers of photovoltaic material. Since thin film uses material layers instead of rigid cells, they can be manufactured to be flexible and lightweight.
There are also adhesive thin-film panels, which can be used on Windows and other vertical surfaces. These are also popular for RV solar energy systems. However, thin-film panels are generally less efficient than the other two types, which means you need to cover a larger area to produce as much solar power as mono and poly panels.
For this reason, thin film is more suitable for large commercial and industrial rooftops, or ground-mounted solar farms. They are not normally recommended for homes, since they need too much space to be productive.
Thin Film Solar Panels
There are three types of thin-film solar cells:
- Cadmium telluride (CdTe): CdTe solar cells are the most common type of thin-film solar panels and the second most common type of solar cell type after crystalline panels. 1 CdTe solar panels have cadmium and tellurium in them which create a chemical compound that converts sunlight into energy very efficiently. 2 However, due to the toxicity of cadmium, more robust recycling and disposal facilities must be developed to avoid harming human health and the environment with these components. 3
- Amorphous silicon (a-Si): Amorphous silicon solar cells are made with non-crystalline silicon. They are technically the most efficient solar cell available today, but they require far more surface area than traditional panels, making them less feasible for most homes. However, the thin layers of silicon make the solar panels flexible and lightweight, they perform well in low-light conditions and they are easier to produce than monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar cells. 4. 5
- Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS): CIGS solar cells are made with layers of copper, indium, gallium and selenide that can convert sunlight into electricity very efficiently. However, due to the complex nature and high-cost process of producing CIGS solar cells, this type of solar cell has to overcome some barriers before becoming commercially popular. 6. 7
If you’re ready to get a quote for a home solar installation, you can click below to get connected to a certified professional in your area.
Key Differences in Solar Panels: Design, Cost Efficiency
When comparing solar panels, the purchase decision is often based on appearance, cost and efficiency. While all types of solar panels perform the same function, there are important differences between them in these three areas:
How Different Types of Panels Look
The appearance of solar panels can be described based on factors like their color and number of cells.
- Monocrystalline solar panels have black cells with cropped corners, and most have 60 or 72 silicon solar cells. The latest designs use 120 or 144 half-cells that boost efficiency, but panel dimensions are roughly the same.
- Polycrystalline solar panels have blue cells with sharp corners. Like mono panels, they are normally available with 60 or 72 cells (or 120 or 144 half-cells in newer models).
- Thin-film solar panels have a uniform surface with layers of solar photovoltaic material, instead of separate solar cells. Their color depends on the material composition, and you can find black, blue or even gray thin film.
Cost of These Types of Panels
The specific price of a home solar system will depend on the panel brand and model, as well as local labor costs. Also keep in mind that your total installed cost of solar will include components like the inverter, racking, wiring and circuit breakers. The cost of solar panels themselves can be ranked as follows:
- Monocrystalline: Highest price
- Polycrystalline: Intermediate price
- Thin film: Lowest price
This is the general pricing trend you can expect, but there may be exceptions.
Efficiency and Power Ratings of Panels
The efficiency and power output of solar panels is closely related, since being more efficient means more watts with the available sunshine. In addition, you also need to consider the dimensions of solar panels, since a larger product has more area to collect sunlight. Assuming you compare solar panels of similar sizes, you can expect the following ranking when it comes to efficiency and wattage:
- Monocrystalline: Highly efficient, typically over 19%
- Polycrystalline: Medium efficiency, typically 15-17%
- Thin film: Least efficient, typically below 15%
Solar manufacturers are constantly investing in research, and all three types of solar panels have been improving over time thanks to new technology. There are now thin-film panels that can match the efficiency of mono and poly panels in laboratory conditions. Although, they are not widely available as commercial products yet.
Additional Types of Solar Panels
Monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film solar panels are the most widely-available types of solar panels — for now.
As solar technology advances rapidly, so do the different types of solar panels available to homeowners. New advances in solar technology have not only introduced new types of solar panels to the market but have introduced higher efficiency panel options as well.
Here are some of the up-and-coming solar technologies we expect to see become more popular in the near future.
Solar Roof Shingles
In a recent EcoWatch solar outlook survey, 31% of homeowners reported that they find solar panels ugly. In fact, solar panel appearance was one of the most cited reasons why homeowners said they wouldn’t consider installing solar, second only to high costs.
Acknowledging these concerns, solar manufacturers have developed a solution to this problem: solar shingles. Solar shingles blend in seamlessly with your roof, allowing you to generate clean energy while maintaining your home’s curb appeal. Tesla and GAF Energy offer two of the most popular solar shingle products on the market.
You can expect to pay more for solar shingles than a traditional solar panel system. However, as these products become more popular and widespread, we expect the price of solar shingles to become more accessible.
Bifacial Solar Panels
Unlike traditional solar panels, bifacial solar panels capture sunlight on the front and back of the panel. Bifacial solar panels can be more efficient than traditional panels because they can capture light reflected off the ground or other surfaces.
Bifacial solar panels work best when installed in a position that allows light to reflect onto the back of the panels. That makes them less compatible with traditional residential rooftop solar arrays and more compatible with freestanding structures like awnings, pergolas or canopies.
They also work well for commercial-scale solar projects that are ground-mounted because sunlight can reflect off the ground onto the back of the panel.
Quantum dots are a developing solar technology that have shown promise in laboratory settings. While traditional solar panels only harness visible light, quantum dots harness infrared rays, which make up half of the sun’s power that hits the earth’s surface.
Quantum dots could help improve solar panel efficiency, as they would capture a wider spectrum of sunlight than solar panels currently on the market.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has shown that, in a lab environment, quantum dots have the ability to achieve a maximum theoretical conversion efficiency of 66%, more than twice the conversion efficiency achievable with current solar technologies. 8
Although this technology is still in the research and development phase, it’s promising for the future of solar panels.
Passivated Emitter and Rear Contact (PERC) Solar Cells
Passivated Emitter and Rear Contact (PERC) solar cells are a new technology that modifies traditional solar panels by adding additional reflective layers on the back of the cell. This rear layer reflects sunlight from the back of the solar panel, converting more solar energy and thereby improving the panel efficiency.
Many top solar manufacturers, such as SunPower and REC, use PERC solar cells in their panels. SunPower states that its P-Series solar panels, with PERC technology, can generate 35% more energy over 25 years compared to conventional solar panels of the same size. 9
Concentrator Photovoltaic Technology
Concentrating photovoltaics increase the efficiency of solar panel systems by concentrating light onto the solar cells using lenses or mirrors. Essentially, this optical equipment collects light from a larger area and concentrates it onto the small solar cell. 10
Concentrating photovoltaics have recorded a 40% efficiency in lab settings, twice the efficiency of traditional solar panels. 11 Unfortunately, this technology has not been able to achieve prominence in the market due to barriers of cost and achieving scale in a competitive market. 12
Perovskite, a semi-conductive material similar to silicon, is a potential alternative to silicon-based solar cells. The use of perovskite can help to avoid the expensive, energy-intensive process currently used to manufacture traditional cells. This technology is promising because scientists can easily manipulate perovskite cells to have the unique optical, physical and electrical properties that they want.
Scientists have rapidly made advances in the efficiency of perovskite cells in laboratory conditions, and they are working to make perovskite cells more durable and scalable. 6 They currently are not stable enough for commercial use.
Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells (DSSC)
Dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) are a type of thin-film solar cell. They are made up of five layers with a sensitizing dye that facilitates the movement of electrons that generate energy when exposed to sunlight. 7
DSSCs have the potential to be cheaper, thinner and more flexible than the solar panels currently available. They can also operate in low-light conditions, so they could maintain high efficiency on cloudy days or when exposed to indirect sunlight.
However, DSSCs still have a number of obstacles to overcome before they can be commercially available:
- DSSCs can freeze at low temperatures and expand at high temperatures, making them less resilient in extreme weather conditions.
- The electrolyte solution in DSSCs has volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are toxic to the environment and humans. 13
- Scientists have yet to find a way to avoid using platinum and ruthenium, two expensive metals that make it difficult for DSSCs to be affordable. 14
What Should You Consider When Choosing a Solar Panel Type?
The vast majority of solar panels on the market today are monocrystalline solar panels. However, polycrystalline and thin-film solar panels could be a suitable alternative for you.
When choosing a solar panel type, in addition to efficiency, consider the durability, light-induced degradation rate, temperature coefficient and brand of each one. Below, we’ve ranked each type of solar panel either okay, better or best in each category:
Polycrystalline panels perform less efficiently than monocrystalline and thin-film solar panels in very hot conditions.
Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels tend to be the most weather-resistant types of solar panels. Thin-film solar panels are more prone to weather damage, especially from hail.
When it comes to solar panel modules, look for fire, hail and hurricane-resistant features and ratings:
- Fire rating: Solar panels are classified as either Class A, Class B or Class C fire resistance. Look for Class A panels, which are the most resilient against fires.
- Hail rating: In accordance with UL 1703 and UL 61703 standards, solar panels undergo rigorous tests that simulate hail impacts. Both mono and polycrystalline panels can endure hail hitting at up to 50 mph. 17
- Hurricane rating: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recommends design features for solar panel systems to help protect against hurricanes and storm damage. 18
Light-induced degradation (LID) occurs when solar panels experience a temporary drop in performance during the first few hours of sun exposure to the panel.
research needs to be conducted to fully understand the impacts of LID on solar panels, and how much they can affect solar panel efficiency. 19
Monocrystalline solar panels tend to experience LID more than polycrystalline solar panels because of the “traces of oxygen which gets combined with the molten silicon during the Czochraliski process used in growing mono silicon crystals.” 20
Basically, the unique monocrystalline solar panel manufacturing process allows for more oxygen to enter the silicon than the manufacturing process of polycrystalline solar panels.
The temperature coefficient of solar panels represents the percent decrease in productivity your solar panels experience for each one-degree Celsius increase in the temperature above 25 degrees Celcius (77 degrees Fahrenheit).
For instance, if your solar panels have a temperature coefficient of.0.3%/℃, your solar panels would become 0.3% less efficient when it’s 26 degrees Celsius outside, 0.6% less efficient when it’s 27 degrees Celsius outside, 0.9% less efficient when it’s 28 degrees Celcius outside, etc.
Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels have a temperature coefficient between.0.3%/℃ and.0.5%/℃ degrees Celsius, while thin-film solar panels only have a temperature coefficient of about.0.2 degrees Celsius. 21
That means that thin-film solar panels maintain more of their efficiency in hot weather than crystalline panels.
The good news is that, unless you live in an area that regularly experiences extreme heat, temperature coefficient doesn’t matter that much. Talk with a solar professional if you’re not sure whether or not you need solar panels with a superior temperature coefficient.
The appearance and efficiency rating of solar panels depends on their material composition. While having high efficiency is favorable, this metric is overestimated in some cases. There are high-quality solar panels of all three types, and you can get excellent results with polycrystalline and thin-film panels when space is abundant.
As mentioned above, polycrystalline and monocrystalline solar panels share the same crystalline silicon wafers. However, the microscopic structure of those crystals is different in each type of panel:
- Monocrystalline solar cells are made from solar PV cells that are cut from a single crystal of pure silicon (hence the prefix “mono”). This is an advanced manufacturing process, which is a key reason why mono solar panels have higher prices.
- Polycrystalline solar cells are made from multiple crystalline silicon fragments that are melted together during the manufacturing process, and they are also called multicrystalline for this reason. Their manufacturing process is simpler, since there is no need to carefully grow a single crystal of silicon. This leads to a lower cost, but also a lower efficiency.
- Thin-film solar panels don’t use silicon crystal cells. Instead, they use thin layers of photovoltaic material. The most common chemical compositions are copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), cadmium telluride (CdTe) and amorphous silicon (a-Si).
Which Type of Solar Panel is Best For You?
Generally speaking, monocrystalline solar panels are best for residential purposes. However, each type of solar panel has its own advantages and disadvantages. Your budget, roof size and energy needs will determine if monocrystalline, polycrystalline or thin-film solar panels are best for you. Here are the top considerations for each panel type:
- Monocrystalline panels: Monocrystalline panels are great for homeowners with limited roof space or who prefer black-colored solar panels. Monocrystalline panels are the most expensive type of solar panels, but they’re also the most efficient. That means you’d need fewer monocrystalline panels than polycrystalline or thin-film panels to generate the same amount of energy.
- Polycrystalline panels: Polycrystalline panels have a blue hue, and are less efficient than monocrystalline panels. However, they are polycrystalline solar panels cost less than monocrystalline panels.
- Thin-film panels: Thin-film panels are lightweight and thinner than the other two types of solar panels, making them ideal for RVs or camping when a portable solar panel is necessary. They also come in flexible and adhesive varieties that make them more versatile than mono or poly panels. Thin-film panels are not typically recommended for residential roofs due to their low efficiency, but work well on surfaces that are not suitable for the other two types.
So, which type of solar panel is best for your home? To find out for sure, you’ll need to talk to a solar installer near you. Most of the best solar companies and installers offer free consultations that can tell homeowners what type they should buy and how much they will cost.
To get started, you can click below and get connected to a pre-screened solar installer in your area.
All Types of Solar Panels Explained
Nowadays, the market is inundated with what seems like an endless list of different types of solar panels and solar panel technologies. This long list of materials makes choosing the right panel quite complicated and confusing for your average homeowner when it doesn’t have to be.
This article will break down every different kind of solar panel currently available on the market, what new technologies are emerging, and how to choose the best solar panel type for your project.
The Most Popular Types of Solar Panels
At heart, every solar panel works in the same way – by collecting the energy emitted from the sun to power homes, businesses, and items ranging from streetlights to the calculators we used in math class.
Since the need for renewable energy is increasing every day, scientists, engineers, and manufacturers are constantly creating and testing new solar PV technologies to improve the tech and increase overall efficiency to support the adoption of solar panels. This means that homeowners are left with a long list of different types of solar modules to choose from.
While you’ll find other solar panel types on the market, most solar installation companies carry either some or all of these types of solar panels. Here’s everything you need to know about the 4 most common types of solar panels available today.
Polycrystalline solar panels
Poly solar panels are built with fragments of silicon crystals that are melted together to form a single solar cell and then outfitted into a solar panel. Visually, you can recognize polycrystalline solar panels from their speckled blue shade, and they also have very straight edges and hard corners.
Poly panels are one of the most common types of solar panels available right now since they’re one of the easiest to manufacture, leading to a lower cost overall. They are a good choice for most run-of-the-mill residential solar projects, with efficiency ratings that will ensure that a home is powered as long as the sun is shining.
However, the downside to using poly panels is that they don’t do as well in hotter temperatures, have lower efficiency than their monocrystalline counterparts overall, and are also usually a bit larger than the other types of solar panels you’ll learn about in this list.
Monocrystalline solar panels
Mono panels are built with a single silicon wafer rather than a bunch of shards melted together and combined. Because of this construction, monocrystalline panels are harder to make and come with a slightly higher price tag than their poly counterparts.
Mono panels are black and have rounded edges. They also use up less space than poly panels, making them a better choice for smaller roofs that need to use up every inch of their available solar panel installation space.
The tradeoff for the higher cost is that monocrystalline silicon panels are around 15% more efficient than poly panels. They will often last about five years longer, giving most buyers a better return on their investment than poly panels would net them while also using less space.
“PERC” stands for “Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell” or “Passivated Emitter and Rear Contact.”. PERC solar cells are different from standard solar cells in the extra layer found on the back that you won’t find on your traditional cell. This extra layer allows sunlight to be reflected into the cell, allowing for an additional opportunity to generate more power without needing more panels or space.
This extra sunlight reflection also prevents the heat generation and potentially high temperatures you’ll see with standard poly or mono cells to help maintain the panel’s temperature and increase efficiency.
While standard panels and PERC solar modules are different categories of solar panels, you can consider PERC panels as an upgrade to your traditional module rather than an entirely new type of equipment. PERC cells just have an additional layer that you won’t find on your average, run-of-the-mill solar cell but use the same materials and technology as other panels elsewhere in their build.
This also means that any facility that can manufacture mono or poly panels can quickly start manufacturing PERC varieties of their standard panels without much extra equipment or effort, making them a very accessible panel type to find.
The additional layer on a PERC cell increases the panel’s efficiency, resulting in a need for fewer panels than you would require if you were choosing a standard monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film variety. PERC panels are available in both mono, and poly versions, but monos are more common due to the high-efficiency rating this combo will provide.
Thin-Film Solar Cells (TFSC)
Thin-film solar panels are probably the most visually attractive option of the 4 main types of solar panels listed here. Built with multiple thin layers of photovoltaic materials such as copper or silicon placed on a thin membrane, these types of panels are highly affordable since the manufacturing process is straightforward. Still, the tradeoff is that they lack efficiency.
Three of the biggest pros to buying and installing thin-film solar panels are that they are one of the cheapest panels available today since they are easy to manufacture and don’t require as many materials as mono, poly, or PERC cells. They are also flexible, making them an excellent panel choice for many different use cases, and they don’t lose much of their efficiency when faced with high temperatures.
On the other side of the coin, thin-film solar panels require a lot more space than mono or poly panels to generate enough power to be worthwhile, making them a less-than-ideal choice for most residential installs.
Thin-film panels are available with the following photovoltaic material constructions:
Amorphous silicon (a-Si)
The least efficient option available, amorphous silicon panels aren’t really used for rooftop solar. Still, their cost-effectiveness makes them an excellent choice for items requiring very little power, such as calculators. They are the thinnest panels available, with an average thickness of around 1 micrometer.
Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS)
These panels have the highest efficiency rating of all the thin-film varieties – around 22% compared to crystalline silicon, making them a great, cost-effective option. Copper indium gallium selenide cells usually have a plastic or glass back. They are one of the most promising new types of panels, with new breakthroughs in efficiency consistently being made.
Cadmium telluride (CdTe)
The last thin-film panel type is cadmium telluride, one of the most eco-friendly panel types currently available. These panels require much less water to construct than other PV varieties, making them a great option for those looking to reduce their carbon footprint. However, the downside to using them is that cadmium telluride itself is toxic, making it a less attractive option for many since it’s a tricky material to dispose of or recycle.
Types of Solar Panels: On the Market and in the Lab 
Solar panel installations have grown explosively all over the world in the last ten years.
The best part is their costs have dramatically plummeted by 99% over the last four decades, so there’s no better time than now to take advantage of clean solar energy for your home or business to lower the electricity bill.
According to 2018 data from International Renewable Energy Alliance, (IRENA), the United States is the world’s third-largest solar energy user behind China and Japan. The United Kingdom is in 7th place followed by Australia in 8th place.
As the decade comes to a close, the forecast for solar power has never looked brighter.
Much of that growth will occur predictably in sunny California, but several other states are spearheading solar projects, too. Note from the graph below that three of the top five states leading in solar panel installations in 2019 were in the not-too-sunny Northeast United States.
Even the UK, with less sun than many parts of the U.S., had over one million solar panel installations in 2018, up by almost 2% (in terms of power generated) from the previous year.
Australia meanwhile hit the 2 million solar installation mark in 2018.
In light of this solar energy trend wherever you turn, accelerated by the urgency to stop burning fossil fuels and switch 100% to renewable energy as quickly as possible, maybe you’re thinking it’s time to jump onboard.
If so, welcome to the solar energy revolution!
One of the major concerns when you’re initially considering a solar panel installation for your home or business is choosing the best type of solar panel for you.
In this article, you’ll do a deep dive into the three main options for solar panels available today. These are:
The technologies underpinning all three of these types of solar panels have made significant improvements over time to meet your energy needs better.
We’ll also survey what’s up and coming in the solar energy world. This includes technologies like:
- Bifacial solar
- Concentrated PV (photovoltaic) cell
- Solar tiles
- Transparent solar panels
All of these innovations in solar energy are cutting edge and many, especially bifacials and CPVs, are commercially available in some regions and competitively priced. They hold a lot of promise to boost the green energy segment of the global energy consumption mix.
For example, bifacial solar modules are expected to increase tenfold in capacity by 2024 to 28,000 megawatts (MW)! For reference, the current national average of American homes powered by just one MW of solar is about 190.
In this article, we’ll first consider what all solar panels, both those in commercial production and those up-and-coming, have in common: solar cells enmeshed in a solar panel system.
What is a solar panel system?
A solar panel system is an inter-connected assembly, (often called an array), of photovoltaic (PV) solar cells that (1) capture energy emanating from the sun in the form of photons; and (2) transform that solar energy directly into electricity. The amount of electricity produced, as measured in volts or watts, varies according to the system and the type of solar cell.
Each individual solar panel (also called a module) in the array consists of a group of solar cells packaged together in a metal frame. There are typically 60, 72 or 96 solar cells in a single solar panel.
To convert the direct current (DC) electricity produced into the alternating current (AC) used in your home, every solar cell system contains an inverter. The inverter may be large and centralized.
Alternatively, some photovoltaic modules have an inverter already built-in. These are called AC modules. Wiring is much simpler with AC modules.
What are solar cells made of?
Solar cells today are mostly made of silicon, a chemical element with semiconducting properties. In most types of solar cells, silicon is in a crystal form.
Because 100% pure silicon crystal doesn’t transfer electric current, it is “doped” with very small amounts of “impurities”—usually phosphorus and boron—that do readily carry an electric current within the silicon crystal lattice.
The silicon doped with phosphorus is called N-type (for “negative” because it has a surplus of electrons).
Silicon doped with boron is referred to as P-type (for “positive” because it has a deficit of electrons).
When constructed with one N-type section next to one P-type in this manner, the solar cell is called single-junction, meaning it has only one p-n junction.
When doped silicon absorbs some of the sun’s energy, it dislodges some free electrons in the process. In the electric field of a solar panel system, the electrons are routed to flow in one direction, establishing an electric current.
The solar cell’s electric field causes voltage. The mathematical product of current and voltage is power—the power used to run your household appliances and heat or cool your home.
Other components of a solar cell include an anti-reflective coating, since silicon’s natural luster would cause sunlight to reflect off of it—which is not what should happen if you want to create electrical power.
The silicon crystals of the solar cells are grouped inside an electric field and then covered in glass to protect all components from weather.
What is solar cell efficiency?
A measure of how well solar panels absorb sunlight and convert it to electrical energy is called efficiency. Light travels in different wavelengths of varying energy levels across the bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, and not all is absorbed by a solar panel. Measured in electron volts (eV), the typical Band gap energy which can be absorbed and transformed by a solar panel into electricity is about 1.1 eV.
Photons hitting the panel with more energy than that (and there are lots of them) represent an energy loss.
Using different materials in solar panels with a low Band gap would increase the number of photons absorbed, and, consequently, the current. But, it would also reduce the voltage of the panel. Since power equals current multiplied by voltage, there’s a trade-off between material selection and electric field strength in solar panel development.
Research shows that the optimal Band gap of a material is between 1 and 1.6 eV.
Besides the material of a solar panel resulting in some energy loss, there is the problem of the internal resistance of a material (called series resistance).
Silicon, as a semiconductor, doesn’t conduct electrical current as well as metals. Its series resistance, in fact, is rather high. This translates into yet another source of high energy loss.
To correct for this, some panels are covered with a metal grid to allow the electrons to move more easily in the electric field, complete the circuit and create electrical power for your home.
But, the downside of this superimposing grid is that it blocks some of the PV cell surface from absorbing photons! A thinner grid covering would minimize this loss, but the thinness itself would contribute significant resistance and result in more energy loss.
Takeaway: There are several reasons why solar cells aren’t highly efficient. Ongoing research is based on finding materials that are more efficient, at reduced cost and are aesthetically pleasing.
Solar Trivia: The highest efficiency ever recorded for a PV panel to date (developed in 2006) was about 41%!
This was a U.S.-funded effort for power in space exploration. At the time, the Department of Energy believed the system would be scaled commercially, eventually reaching a solar panel cost of a mere 3/watt, producing energy at 0.8–0.10 per kilowatt/hour (kWh).
Incidentally, in 2019, the solar price per watt (PPW) is approximately 3–4. In some areas, it may be as low as 2.50!
The cost of a kilowatt-hour of solar energy derived from a rooftop solar array is about 0.06–0.08 cents (versus 0.09–0.13 for coal or natural gas-derived energy).
Take-Home Message: These super low rates for solar renewable energy is extremely competitive with fossil fuel energy today.
Unfortunately, a 41% degree of energy efficiency is still not common for residential or commercial solar systems. However, some of the work done in labs looks promising.
Besides achieving higher efficiencies, experimental work on solar panels also focuses on lower costs and a more pleasing appearance.
major types of solar panels on the market today
Depending on your energy needs, budget, cosmetic preference and space allotment, it’s important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of your three options in solar panels for your home or business.
Two of these solar panel types consist of single-junction solar cells. Theoretically, their maximum efficiency is about 33%. The highest efficiency achieved to date with single-junction cells is about 22%.
The thin-film solar panel may be single- or multi-junction depending on its material(s). Multi-junction solar cells are made of different materials, each of which best captures photons of varying wavelengths. In this manner, more sunlight can be converted to electric energy.
Monocrystalline solar panels
Constructed from a single silicon crystal that’s been sliced into wafers, monocrystalline solar panels contain rows and columns of these wafers. Since the silicone crystal (also called an ingot) is cylindrical, slicing them into wafers causes them to have rounded edges.
Polycrystalline solar panels
Polycrystalline (also referred to as multi-crystalline) solar panels have solar cells containing multiple crystalline fragments of silicon. The fragments may be the left-over pieces from monocrystalline solar production. They are arranged in an irregular manner. Then they’re melted together and formed into solid blocks before being cut into wafers. Each wafer is more rectangular than its monocrystalline counterparts.
Thin-film solar panels
Called second-generation solar cells, thin-film solar panels can be made of a variety of materials including:
- Amorphous silicon (no crystal lattice)
- Gallium arsenide
- Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS)
- Cadmium telluride (CdTe)
Each wafer of a thin-film cell is super-skinny compared to the other types, making it flexible. They may be applied by an adhesive directly to a surface (like your roof, boat, or RV), or set up into durable frames (rack) much like the other common types of solar panels.SEE ALSO: Flexible Solar Panels: Application and Helpful Buying Tips
Here’s a summary table of the three most common solar panel types:
(If you’re using a mobile device, please swipe left and right to view the full-size table.)
Solar panel innovations
The overarching goals of research and development into solar panels are to:
- Increase efficiency
- Lower cost of materials
- Increase longevity of solar systems
- Heighten aesthetic appearance
Although some of the following solar technologies are commercially available only in certain areas right now, here’s a glimpse of what you can look forward to everywhere as the renewable energy revolution advances.
Solar Panel Purchasing Tip: When you begin getting estimates for your rooftop or backyard solar array, always inquire about the local availability of these newer technologies. You just may get lucky!
Bifacial solar technology
“Two-faced” solar panels are able to generate electric current through photon contact with both sides of solar cells.
As sunlight hits the top of a solar panel, activating some PV cells, it continues on and passes through the panel. Then some of it is reflected back off the surface underneath the panel (like a roof). Those reflected rays expose the bottom solar cells to further photon activation.
Bifacials may be either monocrystalline or polycrystalline.
Concentrated PV technology (CPV)
One of the most avant-garde solar panel technologies uses lenses or curved mirrors to direct sunlight into a specific point, thereby concentrating it on a small, multi-junction solar cell.
Essentially, CPV reduces the energy loss by sunlight diffusion over a large surface. As a result, efficiency is greatly improved, even more than what a monocrystalline solar cell will deliver.
Right now, CPV is expensive because of added components like solar trackers and cooling mechanisms.
Solar tile technology
In 2016, Elon Musk of Tesla announced the concept of a solar roof equipped with solar tiles (also called solar slates or solar shingles). The solar tiles function like traditional solar panels. They may be constructed of thin-film material or monocrystalline silicon.
Right now, solar tiles are slightly less efficient than conventional monocrystalline solar cells.
However, this solar panel system has no supporting rack that traditional solar panels are placed in, and so considered more visually appealing than the common setup. Solar tiles are installed like conventional asphalt shingles and span the entire roof surface.
Tesla estimates that their solar roof costs about 22/sq. ft. while others calculate a price tag of 35/sq. ft. To put this in context today, to cover an average-sized home with solar shingles, it may cost upwards of 45K or more.
Transparent solar panels
Discovered by MIT researchers, transparent solar panels capture only the wavelengths of light that our eyes can’t see (near-infrared and ultraviolet) while allowing visible light to pass through.
So, everything in theory—from mobile phones to laptops to Windows—could have a transparent solar panel on its surface, producing electricity, but you’d never know it!
Here is a schematic diagram of a transparent solar cell—low-cost to boot—taken from the MIT source linked in this section.
Currently, efficiencies for transparent solar panels are on the low end, but researchers see 11% or more very likely in the near future. Note, however, that if these cells cover all of the Windows of a huge skyscraper, for example, even a 5% efficiency could easily defray 25% of the total cost of the power needs of the building.
Another significant advantage of transparent solar panels over conventional solar arrays is that they don’t need vast expanses of land or water (like traditional solar farms do) to operate.
First commercial applications (for cell phones) are expected in a few years.
Imagine how transformative the widespread use of transparent solar panels for Windows (solar Windows) in urban locations will be! Achieving this milestone in solar energy innovation will definitely tilt the global energy consumption pattern in favor of renewable energy from the sun.
Key takeaways on types of solar panels
Solar panel installations have grown in popularity and efficiency while decreasing in price due to the green, clean energy revolution. Now is a perfect time to invest in a solar panel system.
The most common types of solar panels for home use are composed of monocrystalline, polycrystalline or thin-film solar cells. They vary in efficiency and cost. Monocrystalline panels are the most expensive and most efficient. The least expensive, but typically least efficient, are thin-film solar panels.
Polycrystalline solar cells usually have moderate efficiencies and reasonable costs.
There is a large body of active RD into new solar technologies. Among the most promising—already in the marketplace in some areas or projected to be in the next few years—are bifacial solar, CPV, solar tiles, and transparent solar panels. comment
What Types of Solar Panels Are Best for Industrial Use?
Home / Blog / What Types of Solar Panels Are Best for Industrial Use?
When considering the energy crisis that much of the world is currently experiencing, installing an industrial solar system is one of the most practical solutions. Coal, natural gas, and petroleum have been used to produce almost 80% of the world’s energy, all of which harm the environment and adversely affect the ecosystem.
Installing an industrial solar system at your plant offers many benefits beyond protecting the environment. However, you must choose wisely if you want these units to be effective. Before installing commercial solar panels for industrial use, you must consider a few things. After all, the setup can be challenging and technical.
If the environment and selected solar panel types are precisely matched, solar energy is a very cost-effective and efficient energy source and a truly dependable and long-lasting one. Such bright prospects have emerged in a sector that has invested much in creating effective methods to harness, utilize, and store solar energy by using various solar panel types and creating useful power.
How Efficient Are Solar Panels?
The amount of sunlight reflected off the panels’ surface and converted into electrical or thermal energy determines how effective the solar panels are.
Before recent advances in photovoltaic technology, the average efficiency of solar panels was around 15%. Now, that efficiency ranges from 15 to 22%. Solar panels with high efficiency can even reach about 23%. Hence, a panel’s usual power rating is 370W, up from 250W.
Photovoltaic (PV) cell efficiency and overall panel efficiency are the two criteria determining a solar panel’s efficiency.
If you are wondering how to determine the total efficiency of the solar panels, simply divide their maximum power rating under the standardized test conditions by the total area occupied by the panels. It would be best to use the meter area measurement for the calculation.
The type of silicon and the design of the cell are essential factors for determining photovoltaic cell efficiency. On the other hand, the cell configuration, layout, and solar panel size are the basics that help find the total panel efficiency.
Categorizing Different Types of Solar Panels
Different solar panel types are suitable for different purposes and needs. Considering that it is possible to use sunlight differently in space points or on earth, the location becomes a significant factor in picking the right type of solar panels for industrial use.
Distinguishing between solar panel types is the same as differentiating between multi-junction and single-junction solar panels. Here, we will do so by categorizing solar panels into generations.
Simply put, multi-junctions and single-junction solar panels differ in the number of layers on the solar panels’ surface. These solar panel layers absorb sunlight. On the other hand, generational categorization focuses on the efficiency and materials of different solar panel types.
First Generation Solar Panels
First-generation solar panels are the conventional ones, with monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels being the most common.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Monocrystalline panels are made with monocrystalline silicon and are the purest solar panel option on the market. These solar panels are easily recognizable, thanks to their rounded edges and uniformly dark appearance.
These solar panels’ high silicon purity level contributes to the high-efficiency rates provided by monocrystalline solar panels. Interestingly, the newest monocrystalline panels on the market have an efficiency rate of over twenty percent.
What else? Monocrystalline panels occupy less space, have an extensive shelf life, and give a high power output. They are also the least affected by extreme weather conditions like high temperatures. However, these excellent benefits mean these solar panels are costlier than their counterparts are.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Distinguishing between polycrystalline panels is easy – they are squared with uncut angles. Additionally, they have a blue, speckled appearance. These solar panels are made with melted raw silicon.
The melting process is much cheaper and quicker than the one used to make monocrystalline solar panels. How they are made lowers the solar panels’ efficiency rate (to fifteen percent) while reducing their lifespan. Not to mention, high temperatures can affect polycrystalline solar panels much more than monocrystalline panels.
Therefore, they are less expensive than monocrystalline solar panels. That said, the differences between monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels are not much and largely depend on their specific installation conditions.
Second Generation Solar Panels
Second-generational solar panels have different solar cells than those used in photovoltaic power stations. Let us learn about second-generation solar panels and whether they are the right choice for industrial use.
Thin-Film Solar Cells
Are you looking for more affordable solar panels for commercial use in the industry? If yes, you might want to consider thin-film solar panels. Manufacturing thin-film solar panels include adding one or more films of photovoltaic material, such as copper, calcium, or silicon, on a substrate.
Since thin-film solar panels are easy to produce and use less material, they are much cheaper than their other alternatives. Furthermore, these solar panels are flexible and versatile, opening opportunities for different solar panel installations. Not to mention, thin-film solar panels are comparatively less affected by weather conditions like high temperatures.
However, these solar panels occupy a lot of space, which makes them unsuitable for installation in various settings and locations. Depending on your available industrial space, you can decide whether they are a good pick.
In addition, they usually have a short lifespan and carry short warranties than monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels. Even then, they make for suitable options in large spaces.
Amorphous Silicon Solar Cell
If you have ever used solar-powered calculators, you are probably aware of amorphous silicon solar cell panels. Amorphous silicon solar cells are most commonly used in these tools. These solar panels feature a triple-layer technology, among the best options for thin-film varieties.
Are you wondering what “thin” means? Regarding solar cells, “thin” refers to a thickness of one micrometer. These cells have an efficiency rate of only 7%, lower than crystalline silicon cells, which have an efficiency rate of about 18%. However, the A-Si-Cells have the advantage of being more affordable.
Third-Generation Solar Panel
Several thin film technologies are used in third-generation solar panels, but most are still in the research or development stages. Some employ organic materials to produce energy, while others use inorganic materials like CdTe.
Biohybrid Solar Cell
One sort of solar panel that is still in the development stage is the biohybrid solar cell. A seasoned group at Vanderbilt University made the discovery. Using photosystem 1 to mimic the natural process of photosynthesis is the premise behind the new technology.
The American Journal of Optics and Photonics has further information about the biohybrid solar cell if you want to learn more about its functions. It provides greater information on how these cells function. Many of the materials used in this cell are identical to those used in conventional systems. Still, combining photosystem 1’s numerous layers makes converting chemical energy to electrical energy significantly more efficient (up to 1000 times more efficient than first-generation panels).
Cadmium Telluride Solar Cell
This photovoltaic technology uses cadmium telluride, which allows the production of solar cells at a comparatively low cost and hence a quicker payback time among the variety of other types of solar panels (less than a year).
This solar energy technology uses less water during production than the others. Because of the quick energy payback time, your carbon footprint will be as small as feasible using CdTe solar cells. The fact that Cadmium Telluride is poisonous if consumed or inhaled is the only drawback of using it.
Concentrated PV Cell
Concentrated photovoltaic cells produce electricity in the same way as traditional solar systems. These multi-junction solar panel types have the highest efficiency rate of all existing photovoltaic systems, up to 41%.
Such concentrated photovoltaic cells get their name from the features that make them more effective than other solar panels: lenses, curved mirror surfaces, and occasionally even cooling systems are utilized to concentrate sunlight and boost efficiency.
As a result, these solar panel cells, which have a high performance and efficiency rate of up to 41%, have evolved into one of the most effective solar panels. It is true that concentrated CV cell solar panels can only be as effective if they face the sun at the ideal angle. The solar panel’s solar tracker is in charge of tracking the sun for high-efficiency rates.
Contact Coldwell Solar for Industrial Solar Panel Installation
As they consider the benefits of installing commercial solar panels, many businesses in our country have recently started focusing on the solar energy industry. Whether in the hospitality industry, the healthcare or technology sector, government offices, or NPOs, everyone chooses to go green.
Unquestionably, installing industrial solar panels at your location is an investment in the better and more prosperous future of your business and society. To learn more about installing an industrial solar system and starting to reap these rewards for your company, get in touch with Coldwell Solar.