To the casual observer, solar panels are solar panels. But looks can be deceiving.
In the past, solar panels had a clunky effect that ruined the aesthetics of your roof. However, thanks to technological advancements, many solar panels are sleek in design and can efficiently generate enough electricity to meet your energy needs.
As of 2021, more than half the residential solar panels installed in the US had efficiency ratings above 20%, compared with 0.6% a decade ago, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Tracking the Sun report.
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Understanding the different types of panels and how to choose between them can be confusing. Here’s what you need to know.
What are the different types of solar panels?
There are three main types of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film solar panels. Their prices vary based on appearance, efficiency ratio, composite materials and design. The different types of solar panels have their pros and cons.
Before deciding on a specific type of solar panel, its best to first consider factors such as space on your rooftop, aesthetics, temperature resistance, warranty length, your budget, and overall cost versus return on investment expectations, said Rohit Kalyanpur, CEO of Optivolt, a Silicon Valley-based solar technology company. A solar panel system that generates more energy or is more reliable, but more expensive, may provide better returns over its lifetime, he said.
Monocrystalline solar panels are made from a single silicon crystal, an ingot, sliced into thin wafers. They have the highest efficiency rates, ranging from 17% to 22%. The average cost of these panels is between $1 and $1.50 per watt, but prices may differ depending on location. Their aesthetic appeal comes from their all-black appearance.
There are several types of monocrystalline panels, such as roof tile; interdigitated back contact; passivated emitter and rear contact, or PERC; and bifacial panels. These different types of monocrystalline panels have unique advantages and vary in cost, efficiency and application, with some being more suitable for ground-mounted systems.
- Roof tile: They’re costly, but they have the best aesthetic and they maximize fill factor.
- Interdigitated back contact: They’re durable and show no visible busbars on the front of the cell. They’re very efficient.
- Passivated emitter and rear contact, or PERC: These solar cells are modified to produce 6% to 12% more energy than conventional solar panels.
- Bifacial: These solar panels can capture sunlight from both sides (front and back). They’re popular for ground-mounted systems.
The temperature coefficiency of monocrystalline panels is moderate, but can provide a better return on investment over their 25-year life expectancy. The higher power they generate can lead to more electricity bill savings helping to offset the upfront cost, Kalyanpur said. Whether the goal is to maximize the fill factor for solar power generation, enhance aesthetic appeal, increase efficiency or durability, Kalyanpur says monocrystalline panel types offer more solutions to its consumers.
Polycrystalline panels are popular for homeowners on a budget. They have a moderate efficiency rate, ranging from 15% to 17%. They cost between 90 cents to $1 per watt. Polycrystalline panels have a blue hue, which makes them less sleek in appearance compared with monocrystalline panels.
The temperature coefficient of polycrystalline panels is worse than that of monocrystalline panels, but they can still function for up to 25 years. As a result, these panels are great for budget-conscious homeowners who want to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle without sacrificing too much in terms of performance.
Thin-film solar panels
Thin-film solar panels, which have a low efficiency rate, ranging from 10% to 13%, are the least efficient solar panels on the market. They have a shorter life span, 10 to 20 years, and are rarely used for residential purposes.
This type of solar panel costs between $1 and $1.50 per watt. Despite their low efficiency, significant space requirements and shorter life span, they have the best temperature coefficient and an appealing aesthetic, featuring a thin, all-black appearance that some homeowners find attractive.
Comparing the types of solar panels
It’s essential to learn how to differentiate between the solar panel types offered by solar companies, if you want to choose the correct option that meets your needs. Understanding the key features of each type of solar panel can help you make an informed decision for your solar panel investment.
Types of solar panels
|High efficiency, high performance
|Good for solar farms
Factors to consider when selecting a panel type
When choosing a solar panel for your residential installation, consider all the factors affecting your solar installation’s cost and utility. In some instances, investing in a more expensive, durable and reliable solar system is better because you’ll enjoy more energy.
However, if costs are a primary consideration, it’s best to choose a budget-friendly option that may not have all the bells and whistles but will get the job done. Make sure to get quotes and consultations from multiple solar companies or installers before making your final decision.
Other factors to consider while shopping for solar installers and solar panel types:
- Efficiency: The energy efficiency rate of the solar panel.
- Rooftop area: The available space for solar panel installation.
- Aesthetic appeal: The appearance of the solar panels on your property. Good aesthetics can increase property values.
- Temperature coefficient: How the solar panel performs under various temperature conditions.
- Lifetime warranty: The duration of the warranty offered by the manufacturer.
- Budget: The overall cost of the solar panel system, including installation and maintenance.
- ROI expectations: The balance between upfront costs and long-term payback.
- Energy output: The amount of energy produced by the solar panel system.
- Panel lifespan: The expected useful life of the solar panels. Is there functional obsolescence?
- System reliability: The dependability of the solar panel system over its lifetime.
Correction, Aug. 18: This story originally presented some statements as direct quotations that were actually paraphrases of what the individual cited had said. Those passages have now been rendered appropriately as paraphrases.