Types of Solar Panels for Homes

By Alex Hawkins Updated February 5, 2024

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The decision to switch to solar energy is easy for many homeowners. After all, reducing your dependence on fossil fuels is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, understanding the science involved isn’t quite as simple, and shopping for solar panels involves many technical terms and concepts that we don’t typically encounter in our busy day-to-day lives. 

We understand you want to know which type of solar panels will perform the best, reduce your carbon footprint, and save money on your energy bills. That is why we have researched the best solar installation companies in the United States and the solar industry at large. This guide will demystify the jargon about the main types of solar panels and explain the design, materials, and efficiency ratings to help you choose the best solar panels for your home.

 


 

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Star Rating Location Presence BBB Rating Link
Sunrun Sunrun
19 States A+ Get Quote
Blue Raven Solar Blue Raven Solar
19 States A+ Get Quote
Palmetto Solar Palmetto Solar
19 States A+ Get Quote
Momentum Solar Momentum Solar
12 States A+ Get Quote
Tesla Solar Tesla Solar
50 States A+ Get Quote
Sunrun
Logo Sunrun
Star Rating
Location Presence 19 States
BBB Rating A+
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Blue Raven Solar
Logo Blue Raven Solar
Star Rating
Location Presence 19 States
BBB Rating A+
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Palmetto Solar
Logo Palmetto Solar
Star Rating
Location Presence 19 States
BBB Rating A+
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Momentum Solar
Logo Momentum Solar
Star Rating
Location Presence 12 States
BBB Rating A+
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Tesla Solar
Logo Tesla Solar
Star Rating
Location Presence 50 States
BBB Rating A+
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What Are the Different Types of Solar Panels?

Now that you understand the basic science behind solar panels, read over the most popular types of solar panels you will encounter when shopping for a solar system. 

PanelUpsideDownside

Monocrystalline

Most efficient

Most expensive

Polycrystalline

Mid-range prices

Shorter lifespan

Thin-Film

Lowest prices

Least efficient

Monocrystalline Panels

Monocrystalline solar panels are one of the most popular solar panel choices. This type of panel currently features the highest efficiency rate, at an average of 24%, and its average lifespan of 25 to 40 years is longer than other solar panels.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels - Adobe

Monocrystalline solar cell follow a manufacturing process that creates a pure, nontoxic, and stable silicon ingot. This monocrystalline silicon is then sliced from the ingot to create a silicon wafer. This process results in a highly efficient and eco-friendly product.

Mono panels, as they are often called, feature a dark-black color, making it easier for them to blend into a home’s color scheme and design. For example, if you are interested in solar shingles or a solar roof, you will most likely choose monocrystalline panels.

Polycrystalline Panels

Polycrystalline solar panels are made from different silicon crystals instead of one. Silicon fragments are melted and poured into a mold, leading to limited waste in producing polycrystalline solar cells.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels - Adobe

However, because they use less pure silicon, they are less efficient than monocrystalline panels. These panels average around 20% in efficiency ratings. Other downsides to polycrystalline include a lower heat tolerance and a shorter average lifespan of 25 to 35 years.

You can recognize polycrystalline panels by their blue color. You’ll need a larger roof if you opt for polycrystalline solar panels, as they require more space than monocrystalline.

Thin-Film Panels

Thin-film panels are a newer type of solar panel used less often for homes than mono- and polycrystalline. Thin-film solar panels are less efficient, at an average efficiency rate of 19%, and last between 10 and 20 years.

Thin-Film Solar Panels - Adobe

Thin-film panels get their name from the thin layers of semiconductor materials used in them. Materials include silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium gallium selenide. These materials are rolled out as a film on a surface. Companies often sell thin-film panels in standardized sizes of 60-, 72-, and 96-cell counts.

Thin-film panels are entirely black, flat, and flexible in shape and size and have the sleekest appearance among the three types of panels. However, because they are far less efficient, you need many more to generate enough power for your home. However, companies typically sell them at a lower cost.

There are three types of thin-film panels:

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How Do Solar Panels Work?

A solar panel is a device that collects energy from the sun and converts it into electricity through another device called an inverter.

Individual solar cells make up solar panels. Each solar cell is made from layers of silicon. These silicon layers create an electrical field from the electrons inside the solar panel, resulting in direct current (DC). This conversion of electrons from solar power to electricity is called photovoltaics

DC power then passes through the inverter within the solar power system and becomes alternate current (AC) power. AC electricity powers your home’s electrical system and home appliances. 

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Compare the Types of Solar Panels

TypeMonocrystallinePolycrystallineThin Film

Efficiency Rating

24%

20%

19%

Color

Black

Blue

Depends on the material used

Lifespan

25–40 years

25–35 years

10–20 years

Upsides

Most efficient; Highest power capacity

Middle-ground option

Most cost-efficient; Portable

Downsides

Most costly

Requires more space; Lower heat tolerance

Least efficient; Shortest lifespan

 


 

Other Factors to Consider

A few other factors might influence which type of solar panel is best for your home:

 


 

Our Recommendation

Overall, monocrystalline panels are the best solar panel option for residential solar on the market today. However, you may want to consider polycrystalline or thin-film solar panels, depending on the size of your solar system and other needs. For example, if you have a lot of space and want to be cost-efficient, you might install lower efficiency but more affordable polycrystalline panels with an up-front purchase of the system. Similarly, thin-film may be a viable option if you want to use solar energy for a small edifice.

We recommend you obtain three quotes from solar installation companies in your area before deciding which provider to use. You can use our tool below to help you determine what reputable solar companies service your home. 

 


Types of Solar Panels FAQ

Which solar panel type is best?

Overall, monocrystalline solar panels are considered the best due to their longer lifespan and higher efficiency rates. 

What is the difference between black and blue solar panels?

Some solar panels are blue due to an anti-reflective coating. This coating helps improve the absorbing capacity and efficiency of the solar panels. You will most commonly find this blue coating on polycrystalline panels. Black solar panels, which tend to be monocrystalline panels, are often more efficient. This is because black surfaces naturally absorb more light.

Are solar panels shatterproof?

A popular misconception of solar panels is that they are fragile and break easily. In fact, the photovoltaic module glass used in solar panels is commercial-grade tempered glass, making it durable and robust. It is more resistant to breakage than the standard glass in your home’s windows. However, solar panels can still crack in extreme weather conditions or if mishandled.

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