The process of finding the perfect solar system for your home can be frustrating. Infuriating, even, especially after you find out that there are so many to choose from. So, today, let me simplify all of that by discussing the 4 main types of solar panels.
Besides that, I’ll also help you choose what suits your needs best. I recommend reading this from the top but if you want to jump sections, simply tap on the bullets below:
- Monocrystalline solar panels
- Polycrystalline solar panels
- Thin film solar panels
- Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell solar panels (PERC)
- Which type of solar panel is best for your home?
- Other factors you should consider
The 4 primary types of solar panels
Monocrystalline solar panels
As its name suggests, monocrystalline solar panels are made from a single silicon crystal. It comes in its signature deep black color which, to me, looks the most appealing.
More importantly, the fact that it’s made from a single crystal also means that electrons flow freely through its solar cells. Thus, making these solar panels highly efficient.
Research says the efficiency of monocrystalline solar panels can range anywhere from 15-24%. From what I’ve seen, though, the range is closer to 17-20%. (1)
However, the manufacturing process of these panel types also comes with a lot of wasted silicon. This, in turn, raises its price tag.
Recommended: How do solar panels generate energy?
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Polycrystalline solar panels
Unlike monocrystalline solar panels, polycrystalline panels are made from many silicon crystals that are melted together. Hence, why these solar panels also look like a mosaic from randomly broken tiles. They’re mostly a dark blue color, too.
The manufacturing process of polycrystalline solar panels is easier and has less waste. In turn, this makes it more affordable than single crystalline solar panels.
In terms of performance, however, polycrystalline solar panels are also less efficient because the flow of electrons isn’t as smooth. Research rates the efficiency at about 10-18% but from what I gather, it’s more towards 15-17%. (1)
Thin-film solar panels
Thin film solar panels are – you guessed it – the slimmest of all types. They’re also not made from silicon. Instead, they’re made of either of these 3 things:
- Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS)
- Cadmium telluride (CdTe)
- Amorphous silicon (a-Si)
With efficiency ratings of only 6-15%, neither of these thin-film panels is as efficient as their silicon counterparts. However, they are also easier to manufacture and install, therefore making them your cheapest option.
Of these 3 choices, CIGS panels are the most efficient followed by CdTe. On that note, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend a-Si. It is, by far, the least durable and least efficient of all these solar panel types and will not save you a lot of money in the future to make the upfront cost worth it.
Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC)
And last but not least, PERC solar panels: The most efficient but also the most expensive type of solar panel for residential installations.
As its name implies, this type has a reflective passivation layer added to the back of a monocrystalline solar panel. This layer enables the “recycling” of what would have been wasted photons which, in turn, results in higher efficiencies.
This technology has been around since the 1980s but it wasn’t until 2016 that it’s been mass produced. During that time, it was rated to have 20-22% efficiency but I’ve seen modern residential PERC solar panels go as high as 23%. (2)
Having said that, it’s the most cumbersome to install and manufacture. Hence, why it’s also the most expensive type of solar panel.
What type of solar panel is best for your home?
Taking cost out of the equation, PERC panels are the best solar panel type that money can buy. But, realistically, not everyone has thousands of dollars just lying around.
With that said, the best solar panel for your home depends on a few factors, such as:
- How much are you willing to spend?
- How much efficiency are you willing to compromise?
- How much roof space do you have?
The image below represents a summary of what you’re getting with each solar panel type concerning cost, efficiency, and other notable things. But, let me break it down for you anyway.
Polycrystalline – Your safest bet
Polycrystalline solar panels are great at everything but don’t excel at one particular thing. So, if you’re still confused at the end of your research, I don’t think you’ll regret it if you chose polycrystalline for your home.
Polycrystalline solar panels aren’t the cheapest but at their price, they have amazing efficiency. Fairly durable, too, so you should still end up saving thousands more than the upfront cost of installation.
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PERC – The best overall, especially for smaller roofs
If money is of no concern, PERC solar panels are where you’ll want to point your attention. As of right now, they are the most efficient type of solar panel.
To paint you a better picture, imagine you have 10 polycrystalline solar panels and 10 PERC solar panels. The higher efficiency of PERC means that they’ll produce more energy given the same amount of sunlight.
In terms of savings, more excess energy means you’ll be receiving more feed-in tariffs from the power companies. This, in turn, lowers your electricity bills more than any other type. If you were to add batteries to your system, you’ll have more energy stored for the night.
This higher efficiency would also mean that you wouldn’t need as many panels to generate the same amount of electrical energy. So, it’s the best choice if you don’t have huge roof space.
The 2nd best: Monocrystalline
Before PERC, monocrystalline solar panels have been the standard – and for good reason. They’re still highly efficient, still highly durable, and also just as good-looking.
So, if PERC panel types are just slightly out of budget, monocrystalline solar panels are your next best choice.
I would also recommend monocrystalline if a polycrystalline solar panel setup doesn’t generate enough electricity given your roof space. They’re more efficient, so you will need fewer panels to produce the same amount of energy.
Cheapest but least efficient: Thin-film
Among all types, the thin-film solar panel is by far the cheapest. So, it’s at least worth a look if you’re on a tight budget. However, you also get what you pay for in terms of efficiency and durability.
Thin film doesn’t last nearly as long as crystalline solar panels. The standard is 25 years and many modern solar panels last well beyond that. Thin film, however, only lasts about 10-20 years. You also wouldn’t be generating as much electricity for the same number of panels.
But, on the bright side, you will still be saving money regardless. The fact that it’s also flexible makes the thin-film panel suitable for roofs that have unconventional shapes.
Although, if you do decide to get thin film solar panels, please aim for CIGS or CdTe. A-Si just isn’t justifiable for homes, to be honest.
Other factors you should consider
- Appearance – It’s all subjective but, remember these: Monocrystalline panels and PERC are generally black; polycrystalline is mostly blue; thin film has the slimmest profile.
- Brand – Go for brands that have a strong reputation in the Australian market so everything’s smooth if you ever need the warranty. As of writing, SunPower makes the most efficient and most durable solar panels but they’re expensive. If you’re on a budget, check out Trina and Canadian.
- Installer – A good installer is the difference between a long-lasting, efficient solar system and a botched job. At the very least, look for one that’s CEC accredited. It’s the only way you’ll be eligible for rebates.
That being said, if you’re ready to take the next step, we have a network of pre-vetted installers ready to give you 3 FREE quotes. To ease your worries about getting ripped off, know that we trust these installers with our own systems, so we know they’re honest and skilled professionals.
Conclusion: Which solar panel type is best for you?
If all we’re taking into account is efficiency and durability, PERC is the best choice. However, you and I both know that there are more layers to this, just as any other high-cost investment should.
Having said that, monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels are cheaper but slightly less efficient options. Of these 2, monocrystalline panels are more efficient, more expensive, and have a black color. Polycrystalline modules, on the other hand, are mostly blue.
Thin film is the cheapest, least durable, and least efficient. If you’re on a tight budget, this should at least be worth a look. Plus, they’re flexible so it’ll be easier to install if you had an unorthodox roof.
For further reading: The 4 main types of solar inverters for your home
- Pastuszak, Justyna, and Paweł Węgierek. “Photovoltaic Cell Generations and Current Research Directions for Their Development.” Materials (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 15,16 5542. 12 Aug. 2022, doi:10.3390/ma15165542
- Benda, Vítězslav, and Ladislava Černá. “PV cells and modules – State of the art, limits and trends.” Heliyon vol. 6,12 e05666. 15 Dec. 2020, doi:10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e05666