What Are the Different Types of Solar Panels?

In 2019 the U.S. surpassed 2 million solar installations nationwide with forecasts expecting that number to double by 2023. With so many people eager to embrace this new wave of clean energy, it can be difficult to know what types of solar panels are best suited to your specific needs.

Thankfully, this simple guide should help orient both first-time and returning solar power users to the pros and cons of each solar panel variant and allow you to discover which is the best solar panel choice for your home, business, or otherwise.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

The first and most common type of solar panel is the monocrystalline solar panel. These are typically used for smaller, residential building projects. These panels are noted for their higher efficiency rates when compared to alternatives. They also sport a much sleeker appearance.

Monocrystalline panels are produced using single-crystal silicon. This means that the electrons flowing through the material have more room to move and generate electricity. This results in an efficiency rate ranging from 17% to 22%. This is the highest of the three major types of solar panels on the market today.

The appearance of these panels is attributed to their creation using the Czochralski method. This method involves dipping a “seed” silicon crystal into a large vat of molten silicon. The seed is then removed from the vat. The molten material is allowed to cool around the seed and create a single silicon crystal. This results in a uniform, dark black color across all monocrystalline panels.

This unique process means that monocrystalline panels are generally sold as “premium” products. This makes them one of the most expensive types of solar panels on the market today.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline solar panels are a frequent choice of the homeowner looking to install solar panels on a budget. These panels are noted for their moderate energy rate. They also tend to be generally less “attractive” than their counterparts.

Polycrystalline panels are produced using multi-crystal silicon. This makes it difficult for electrons to flow freely through the material. This results in an efficiency rate ranging from 15% to 17%. This puts it slightly below monocrystalline’s output.

Similar to monocrystalline, polycrystalline panels are formed by dipping a “seed” crystal into a vat of molten silicon. However, instead of removing the seed from the vat before allowing it to set, the entire vat is allowed to cool and set around the seed. This method creates a panel with multiple crystal structures. This results in a marbled blue-ish tint to the material which some homeowners view as an eyesore.

However, This more streamlined creation process makes polycrystalline solar panels much more affordable. Unfortunately, they also have a slightly lower energy output.

Thin Film Solar Panels

Thin film solar panels are completely unique from other crystalline solar panels. They are the only type of solar panel constructed without the use of silicon crystals. These panels are rarely used in residential installations as their efficiency is low. However, they make a popular choice for large-scale or industrial construction projects.

Thin film solar panels can be produced using a variety of substances. Each substance results in different variants of thin film paneling. Despite this, thin film panels still have the lowest efficiency rating of all. Their efficiency can range anywhere from 10% to 13%.

In place of crystals, thin film solar panels use what are known as “photovoltaic substances.” The panels are produced by placing a thin layer of a photovoltaic substance onto any preferred material type. Common paneling materials include glass, metal, and plastic. This results in a solar panel that is not only dark black and incredibly lightweight but also flexible.

Because of their simplistic design, thin film solar panels are the most affordable option for solar energy on the market. However, due to their low efficiency rating, most homeowners use crystalline panels instead.

Which Types of Solar Panels Are Best for You?

Now that we have covered the general pros and cons of each solar panel type, you are probably wondering how to decide which solar panel is the perfect fit for you. Well, the final answer is completely dependent on your own energy needs, roof space, and budget.

To make your decision a little simpler, unless you are planning on building a skyscraper or condominium in your backyard any time soon, you can more than likely rule out thin film solar panels as an option. Their low efficiency rate is only made up for on buildings with a large enough surface area, which residential roofing does not provide.

When comparing solar panels, remember that the higher the efficiency of each panel, the fewer panels you will need to meet your energy needs. Therefore, if you have a smaller home with limited roof space, monocrystalline panels may be the only way to meet your energy needs.

Likewise, if you have a larger home with more roof space, you may be able to meet your energy needs with the less efficient polycrystalline panels. Just keep in mind that you will not be getting the sleek, dark black look of the monocrystalline panels.

So What’s the Right Choice?

Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” answer to this question. However, with the information provided here, you should be well equipped to decide which types of solar panels best suit your needs.

If you still have some unanswered questions, or you are interested in getting a free quote on your own solar panel installation, feel free to reach out to us at Altair Solar!

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