Types of Solar Panels: What are your options, and does it really matter?

For many homeowners, going solar isn’t always an easy decision. The idea of saving thousands of dollars on electricity bills is promising, but it takes time and research to determine which company offers the best service and the best panels. As with any large purchase, choosing the right make, model, or type can be the most overwhelming part of the purchasing process. In the solar industry, new technology and solar panel improvements are constantly being made making it difficult for consumers to feel that they are getting the best product available on the market. Luckily, an increased demand and competition have created dozens of reliable brands and several consistent types of solar panels. In today’s blog post, we will be taking a deeper look at monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film panels.

Monocrystalline – Solar energy’s original power producer

As the foundations of solar technology were being laid in the 1950s, scientists successfully produced the world’s first monocrystalline panels. Monocrystalline cells utilize pure silicon ingots that are cut and shaped into wafers and placed into panels. Typically, monocrystalline panels come in three distinct sizes: panels with 60, 72, or 90 of these pure silicon wafers (a.k.a. solar cells). Because of their use of pure silicon, monocrystalline panels generate some of the highest electricity rates available in the solar industry. Because of this, many solar companies prefer monocrystalline panels because they can utilize the smaller 60 wafer panels and still produce sufficient energy to sustain the needs of any home. This allows the companies to create a variety of designs that work well on oddly shaped roofs or homes that don’t have a large area of southern facing roof. They also come in a clean black-on-black color, which makes them blend in with just about any roof! All in all, monocrystalline panels have become a staple in the solar industry and are a great choice for just about any homeowner going solar.

Advantages:

  • High efficiency – 15-23%
  • Smaller panels produce more energy
    • Solar companies can create a number of solar system layouts and designs
  • Produce energy at high rates for more than 25 years
  • Come with energy production and manufacturing warranties
  • Come in a clean black color that goes great with any roof

Disadvantages:

  • Most expensive panels in the industry
  • Have the least upside
    • Monocrystalline panels have been around for more than 50 years

Polycrystalline – more affordable but less efficient

As you may have guessed from the name, polycrystalline panels were derived from their monocrystalline counterpart. Rather than using a single pure silicon ingot for the makeup of a solar cell, polycrystalline panels are made from fragmented silicon crystals which are then melted together. The manufacturing process for polycrystalline panels is significantly faster and cheaper, which means a less expensive price tag on the consumer side. Although their price might be slightly more reasonable, they are slightly less efficient because they do not contain pure silicon cells. Typically, polycrystalline panels produce electricity at a 15-18% efficiency.

Usually, homeowners who decide to buy polycrystalline panels tend to choose the panels with 72 or 90 silicon wafers (solar cells) rather than the smaller 60 wafer panels. This means that polycrystalline can be a great option for large residential solar projects or homes that have large southern facing roofs. These panels have a blue color with a speckled texture. They often come in a white or silver framing to complement the blue color. Because they have been around for a much shorter time than their mono counterpart, expect polycrystalline panels to continue to see improvements to efficiency, wattage, and pricing!

Advantages:

  • Cheaper than monocrystalline panels
  • Makes sense for large roof spaces and solar farms
    • Typically used for commercial projects and solar farms
  • Large upside
    • New technology and advancements are making these panels more efficient
    • They will eventually reach the level of monocrystalline panels

Disadvantages:

  • Have a shorter life span
    • Usually, last 5-7 years shorter than monocrystalline panels
  • Shorter warranties
  • Take up more space
    • Homeowners typically choose the bigger panels to compensate for loss in energy efficiency
    • Need more roof area and have less solar system design options
  • Not as aesthetically pleasing
    • Come in a blue, speckled color that clashes with most roofs

Thin-Film – the latest solar technology

With the rise in solar panel popularity over the last decade, private investors, governments, and solar companies have poured millions of dollars into solar panel development. Even though monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels have gotten the job done, the solar industry knows that they are just one technological development away from changing the industry forever. In recent years, many manufacturing companies have invested a lot of time and money into the development of thin-film solar panels. These panels are made up of an extremely thin layer of semiconductor materials including silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium gallium selenide.

Because thin-film panels avoid the use of wafers, they can be up to 350 times thinner than both monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels, making thin-film panels low profile and aesthetically pleasing on any house. They are also significantly cheaper than their panel counterparts because they do not require as much silicon. Unfortunately, a thin-film solar system requires a significant amount of roof space because their efficiency peaks at 10%, which is about half of most monocrystalline panels. Hopefully, in the coming years, the increased research and investments into thin-film panels allows solar to become a commodity that anyone can get their hands on.

Advantages:

  • Cheapest of any panel that is currently on the market
  • Thinner panels mean lower profile
  • Lightweight
    • Can be an advantage for a weaker roof or larger commercial project
  • Massive upside
    • The technology is very new, which means consumers should see major improvements in the coming years

Disadvantages:

  • Lowest efficiency of available panels 10%
  • Panels are more brittle and susceptible to damage
    • Panels often come with a protective casing which makes them just as thick as their counterparts
  • Require large roofs
    • In order to offset all of the electricity needs, a homeowner will need to double the amount of panels

Does my decision really matter?

Despite being the most expensive upfront, monocrystalline panels are going to be the best option for most homeowners. However, there are some cases where either polycrystalline or thin-film panels make more sense. For example, if a homeowner were to have a southern facing roof with lots of square footage, both polycrystalline and thin film would be a more affordable short-term savings option for the homeowner. Thus, we think that it is important for homeowners to gain a general understanding of the types of solar panels so that they recognize if their house would be better off with a specific type of panel. However, in the coming years, the solar industry will make major improvements to all of the current models and is trending to produce a plethora of new technologies, so it is important to stay updated on new solar trends and developments. Over the next decade solar should become even more accessible.

At Blue Raven Solar, we take pride in providing high-quality, black-on-black, monocrystalline solar panels to our customers. For the time being, we have come to recognize through hours of research and customer data that monocrystalline panels are the most reliable, longest lasting, and biggest money savers for residential homeowners. They look great on just about any home and make an important statement that preserving our precious environment and planet matters! If you’re interested in seeing how much a monocrystalline system would cost on your house, click the link below and get a free quote from one of our solar specialists today!

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