Exploring the Types of Solar Panels: Which Is Right for You?
If you're interested in saving money on electric bills and reducing your environmental impact, you may be considering a home solar system. But before you make the switch to renewable energy, you'll need to understand the types of solar panels and choose the right fit for your home.
There are a few types of solar panels on the market today, and the kind you use can have a significant impact on the efficiency of your system. Here, we'll break down the differences in solar panel technology and explain the pros and cons of each type of panel.
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What Are Solar Panels?
Before getting into the different types of solar panels, it may be helpful to review the basic layout of a residential solar energy system, and specifically to understand how solar panels work.
Solar panels are laid on the roof of a house, where their surfaces can collect light from the sun. That sunlight is then converted into energy, which may either be stored in a solar battery or used to directly supply power to the home. While choosing the best solar batteries and inverters is important, the efficiency of any home solar system will be largely determined by the number, position and type of solar panels used.
Types of Solar Panels: An Overview
By installing residential solar power, it's possible for homeowners to dramatically reduce or even eliminate their dependence on traditional utility companies. First things first, however: Before you say goodbye to those monthly electric bills, it's imperative to make sound choices about your solar investment. And generally, that starts with the panels themselves.
So, what types of solar panels can homeowners choose from? Most of today's photovoltaic (PV) solar panel systems fit into one of these three categories: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film solar panels.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels: Pros and Cons
Most homeowners find that monocrystalline solar panels provide a sleek look and have the highest efficiency ratings. For these reasons, they may be the only viable option for homeowners who have smaller roofs and less space for panels. If you need to ensure that every square inch of paneling is designed for maximum output, monocrystalline may be the best type of solar panel for you.
However, while they're often the most efficient solar panels, the downside to purchasing panels made from monocrystalline silicon cells is that they are fairly expensive.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels: Pros and Cons
Polycrystalline solar panels, also sometimes called multicrystalline panels, are essentially the inverse of monocrystalline. They generally have lower efficiency ratings, but they tend to be a lot easier on the wallet.
Although they lack the high efficiency of monocrystalline solar panels, their low cost makes them attractive to many budget-conscious homeowners. If you're looking to save money on solar panel installation, polycrystalline could be a great choice.
Thin-Film Solar Panels
The third option is thin-film solar panels. These are usually portable and lightweight, flexible and aesthetically pleasing. However, they're not the best solar panels on the market. Of the three primary types of solar panels, they are at the bottom of the list in terms of overall efficiency and need the most surface area to generate an optimal power output. For these reasons, many top solar companies don't offer thin-film solar panels.
Different Types of Solar Panels: What Are They Made Of?
Clearly, there are different advantages and disadvantages associated with each of the types of solar panels. But what gives each type of panel its unique characteristics? Let's take a closer look at what they're all made of.
Monocrystalline vs. Polycrystalline Solar Panels
These two types of solar panels can be considered together, as they are somewhat similar in their structure. Specifically, both monocrystalline solar panels and polycrystalline solar panels are assembled from photovoltaic cells made of silicon. A series of silicon wafers are carefully arranged into rows and columns, then covered with a layer of glass that's meant to protect them and hold them in place.
What distinguishes these two types of solar panels is the actual composition of the silicon crystals. Monocrystalline solar cells are made from PV cells that are cut from a single crystal of pure silicon (hence the prefix "mono"). Polycrystalline solar cells are made from multiple crystalline silicon fragments that are melted together during the manufacturing process.
What About Thin-Film Solar Panels?
Thin-film solar panels can be made from a variety of materials. The most common variant is made of cadmium telluride, though some are also made from an amorphous silicon or copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) semiconductor.
Choosing Between Different Types of Solar Panels
Ultimately, as you get ready to buy solar panels for your residential solar system, you'll want to consider how the three types of solar panels perform in terms of aesthetics, efficiency and cost.
To begin with, what do each of these types of solar panels look like?
- Monocrystalline solar panels typically have neatly arranged rows and columns of sleek, black cells.
- Polycrystalline solar panels tend to have rows of cells with a more bluish hue.
- Thin-film solar panels may be either black or blue. They are notable for being slimmer and lower profile, but you'll need to install more of them to match the power output of the other two types of solar panels.
The three common types of solar panels vary in how much power they produce.
- Monocrystalline solar panels typically produce the most power and boast the highest efficiency levels. Some can reach efficiencies of higher than 20%. (This means that more than 20% of the sunlight that strikes the surface of the panel is converted to usable energy).
- Polycrystalline panels are usually a bit less efficient, often falling somewhere around 15 to 17%.
- Thin-film solar panels are the least efficient option, often falling somewhere between 5 to 11%.
A final factor to consider is the upfront cost of solar panels.
- Monocrystalline solar panels are the most complex and challenging to manufacture, which means they tend to be the most expensive of the three types of solar panels.
- Polycrystalline solar panels can be assembled with just fragments of silicon, so they are easier to make and thus tend to be pretty affordable.
- Thin-film solar panels can vary in cost depending on the specific type of material used, but you can anticipate them being cheaper than either of the other two options
Get a Free Quote and See How Much You Can Save
Getting a free quote and choosing a company to consult with on your solar energy installation is a great way to ensure you're picking the best solar panels for your home. Fill out the 30-second form below for a no-obligation quote. You could save up to $2,500 per year on utility bills and get federal and state tax credits.
Choosing the Right Panel for Solar Power
Installing a home solar system is one of the best ways to produce clean, renewable energy. After considering the major solar energy pros and cons and deciding that going solar is the right move for you, a crucial next step is selecting the right technological setup. This is when understanding the different types of solar panels becomes especially valuable.
As you consider your options, make sure you shop around, compare different panels, and talk with a solar installer that can help you narrow down which type of panels is best suited for your residential energy needs.