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Types of Solar Panels

Types of Solar Panels

So, you’re thinking of switching over to solar, where to start? There are three main solar panel types, and one option may be better than the others when it comes to your needs.

solar panel blueprint

The materials, appearances, efficiencies, and costs of these panels vary greatly. Because of these differences, there are advantages and disadvantages to each of the three solar panel types. The three types of paneling are monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film. Overall, monocrystalline is the most efficient with the highest costs, polycrystalline is lower efficiency with a lower cost, and thin film is the lowest efficiency and cost. These generalizations come from a multitude of factors, one of which being the materials that the panels are made from.


To convert light into electricity, the panels must have cells that are made of a semi-conducting material. Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline cells are made from silicon wafers that are assembled to form a rectangle, covered with a glass sheet and framed. Monocrystalline cells are cut from a single sheet of silicon, while polycrystalline cells are composed of silicon fragments that have been melted together. On the other hand, thin film cells are made from a variety of materials. The most common material is a layer of cadmium telluride, which is placed between transparent conducting sheets and covered with a glass layer. Another common thin film cell material is amorphous silicon, which is similar to the monocrystalline and polycrystalline material but is composed of non-crystalline instead of solid silicon.


Because the panels are all made of different materials, they have slight differences in their appearances. Monocrystalline panels are usually black, with back sheets that are either black, white, or silver, and either a black or silver frame. Polycrystalline panels tend to have a blue tint, with either a silver or white back sheet and a silver frame. Thin film solar panels are the thinnest and lightest of the solar panels. They are the lowest profile solar panel, but the framing of these panels can make them the same thickness as the other two. Thin film panels can either be blue or black depending on the material that they are made from.


Another difference in the solar panel types are their efficiencies. Monocrystalline panels have up to a 20 percent efficiency rate and the highest power capacity. Polycrystalline panels can usually reach 15 to 17 percent efficiency and a slightly lower wattage of power capacity. Thin film panels usually only have efficiencies up to 11 percent, and the power capacities vary greatly. Monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels come in standard 60, 72, and 96 cell variants, which standardizes the amount of power and efficiency. Thin film panels, however, do not come in uniform sizes. The efficiency and power that will come from thin film panels depends on the physical size that is being installed.


All of these factors come into play when determining what the cost will be of your solar panels. Because of the higher quality materials and more intensive manufacturing process, monocrystalline panels tend to be higher cost. Since polycrystalline panels are produced from silicon fragments instead of one silicon sheet, the manufacturing process is a little simpler. This makes their cost a decent amount lower than monocrystalline panels. Thin film panels have varying costs. Because there are different types of materials that the cells can be made from, the costs depend on the quality of these materials. Generally, thin film panels are less labor intensive to produce, making their costs lower than either monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels.

So, Which Type of Solar Panel?

When it comes to deciding which solar panel is best for your home, take all of these factors into consideration. If you have a smaller property that needs smaller but more efficient paneling, monocrystalline is your best bet. If you own a larger property and are able to spread out paneling, lower efficiency paneling may be more cost effective for you. Thin film paneling works best on surfaces that cannot handle very heavy paneling. RVs and boats would benefit the most from this type of paneling. Once you’ve figured out which type of paneling is best for your needs, you are one step closer to moving forward with the process of switching to solar energy.

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With over 20 years of experience in the solar energy industry, IGS is committed to helping you make the switch. Reach out to us about any solar energy concerns that you may have, we are happy to help guide you through this wonderful process!