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5 Different Types of Solar Panels: Which One Is Best for Me?

Motivated by rising electricity costs and declining solar prices, homeowners and businesses are increasingly turning towards solar power. According to the Solar Energy Industry Association, the growth of the residential solar market in 2021 grew by 30% over 2020—this is the 5th consecutive record growth the solar market experienced.

Did you know?

California has the largest number of solar installations in 2022.

Source: Solar Energy Industries Association

If you have considered going solar and are perplexed about which type of solar panels would best serve your home, scroll down.

On this page, we take a closer look at the most popular types of solar panels and how to choose the one that would work best for you and your family.

A Quick Overview:

Solar panel type

Lifespan

Cost

Advantages

Disadvantages

Monocrystalline solar panels

25+ years
depending on manufacturer

Expensive

Higher efficiency, better performance, longer lifespan, occupy less space

Expensive and heavy

Polycrystalline solar panels

25+ years
depending on manufacturer

Average

Lower cost, longer lifespan

Lower efficiency, occupy more space

Thin-film solar panels

10-20 years

Cheap/affordable

Sleek design, lightweight, portable, cheap

Lower efficiency, require more space, lower lifespan,

Solar shingles

about 30 years

Expensive

Aesthetically pleasing, a sustainable alternative to asphalt shingles, easy installation

Expensive, lower efficiency, not suitable for every roof

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Types of solar panels

There are five main types of solar panels, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Besides cosmetic variations, they also vary in how they’re manufactured, efficiency, cost, aesthetic value, and the type of installation they are suited for.

Based on the above  factors, one type of solar panels would be more suitable for you than the others.

1. Monocrystalline solar panels (aka single-crystalline solar panels)

As the name suggests, monocrystalline (Mono-Si) solar panels are made from a single, pure silicon crystal. They come in black and have rounded edges, making them easy to identify. They are also the oldest but the most developed of all solar panel types.

To manufacture a monocrystalline solar panel, single-crystal silicon is first converted into bars and cut into wafers. In the process, a significant portion of silicon—50% as per some estimates—is wasted in making one panel, which is why it is the most expensive among all types of solar panels.

On the brighter side, they are the most efficient conventional solar panels. This is due to the silicon purity—since a single silicon crystal is used, electrons have more space to flow and consequently perform better. The new single-crystalline solar panels are coming with even higher efficiency, above 20% in some cases. They also have longer lifespans.

Since you would need fewer monocrystalline solar panels to cater to your energy needs, it is best to go with this option if you have limited space. Another benefit of these panels is that they tend to be less affected by higher temperatures.

2. Polycrystalline solar panels (aka multi-crystalline solar panels)

Unlike monocrystalline solar panels, polycrystalline (p-Si) solar panels are made from multiple silicon fragments. Manufacturers melt raw silicon fragments, which are sliced into wafers to form panels. Given the simpler and less energy-intensive production process than monocrystalline solar panels, this type of solar panels are cheaper and more affordable.

With their efficiency ranging between 14% to 16%, p-Si panels are less efficient than their mono counterparts.  This is because many crystals are bound to form one cell, electrons have less space to move freely to generate electricity.

Polycrystalline panels  also occupy more space, as more panels are needed to generate the same amount of electricity compared to monocrystalline panels.

If you have ample space on your property or rooftop, consider polycrystalline solar panels. You can easily recognize them through their bluish color and the absence of rounded edges.

3. Thin-film solar panels

Thin-film solar panels are the latest types of solar panels. Their manufacturing process and materials are different from monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels.

Rather than using only silicon, thin-film solar panels are made from various materials, the most notable being copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), cadmium telluride (CdTe), and amorphous silicon (a-Si).

To make thin-film panels, manufacturers keep the material—CIGS, CdTe, or a-Si—between transparent conducting sheets, usually aluminum, to capture light and convert it into electricity. A protective layer is also added to the top to ensure protection and a longer lifespan.

Their flexibility and sleek and modern design are a couple of reasons they may be gaining popularity, especially in deserts and homes with plenty of sunlight and space. Thin-film panels are the least efficient among the three main types and the cheapest among all. Their efficiency stands between 8% and 18%, depending upon the material used—panels made from CIGS have the highest efficiency than CdTe and a-Si. They also have the shortest lifespan, 10 to 20 years.

4. Solar shingles

Solar shingles are small solar panels, having the same size as standard roof shingles, typically 12 inches wide and 86 inches long. They are made either from copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), with an efficiency of 10-12%, or monocrystalline silicon, having 15-20% efficiency.

You can install them on top of an existing or new roof without needing traditional asphalt shingles. They are aesthetically more pleasing and easy to install than  conventional solar panels—you don’t need to dig holes into your roof for rack mounts if you opt for solar shingles.

Solar shingles are expensive—a large installation can cost homeowners upwards of $20,000. They make sense only when the roof needs a replacement or when the roof is old, and drilling  holes in it might cause substantial damages.

5. Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) panels

Passivated emitter and rear cell are not a separate solar panel type but the latest technology that improves the performance of crystalline solar panels. In mono and polycrystalline solar panels, solar leakage occurs, which decreases the panels’ efficiency  in harnessing solar energy to its fullest potential. Solar leakage refers to lost sun rays—in solar cells, electricity is generated at the PN junction, but some rays make it beyond the PN junction and are thus lost.

To minimize the leakage, a PERC layer is attached to the back of mono and polycrystalline solar panels. PERC technology redirects those rays to PN-junction back, where it is converted into electricity, thus increasing the efficiency by 1% to 5%. If your solar panels come with PERC, your system will have better efficiency than all solar panel types. Needless to say, they are more expensive due to the additional material and technological costs.

Which type of solar panels is best for me?

It depends on your goals, budget, financing option, and space. All panels come with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Monocrystalline panels are the most expensive but efficient and require less installation space. If your budget allows it, you can choose monocrystalline solar panels. This may cost more upfront than others, but their payback period is the lowest.

Polycrystalline panels, on the other hand, are cheaper but have relatively less efficiency than monocrystalline. If you have plenty of space, you may consider polycrystalline panels.

Both mono and poly have the same lifespan of 25+ years, though it may vary based on the manufacturer.

Thin-film solar panels are more suitable for large-scale installation, especially where the roof won’t be able to bear the additional weight of mono and polycrystalline solar panels. But they need a large area, as their efficiency is lower and more panels would be needed to generate enough electricity.

Thin-film solar panels are also suitable for RVs and boats thanks to their flexibility and portability.

Solar shingles are expensive and, as discussed earlier, would be more suitable for a roof that needs replacement anyway.

A disadvantage of solar shingles is that they are installed for life—you can’t take them with you if you want to move out of your home in the future.

You may not be able to change the world (yet) but you sure can find ways to conserve and save money.

Start with generating your own electricity powered by the same old sun 🙂

You can own an affordable solar energy system.

We'll put together a solar installation package that won't break your budget.

Whatever the size of your project, you save with Next Earth Solar.

Call us today to get a quote on solar panels, inverters, and battery packs. We're sure we can beat any other quote you have!.

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