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Solar

Types of Solar Panels

On this page:
  • Solar roof shingles
  • Polycrystalline and monocrystalline panels
  • Thin film solar cells

There are four types of solar panels to choose from. The decision of which type of solar panel is best for your home hinges on your space and your personal needs. Important factors include your budget, the amount of roof space your home has, your area’s access to sunlight, and your desired energy efficiency.

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Opting to add solar panels to your home can come with a lot of advantages. But the process isn’t always cut and dry. There are several different types of solar panels to choose from when installing and they all come with different advantages. 

Besides their cosmetic variations, solar panels also perform differently depending on the type you select. On this page, we’ll review the four most popular types of solar panels you can have installed: solar shingles, polycrystalline solar panels, monocrystalline solar panels, and thin film solar panels.

This helpful guide will outline the different types of solar panels, their benefits, and how to pick the best solar panels for you.

Solar Shingles

  • Sleek, modern appearance
  • Easy to track efficiency with integrated apps
  • Limited mobility and lower productivity 

Polycrystalline

  • Lower cost  
  • Can be less efficient
  • Less heat tolerant than others 

Monocrystalline

  • Highest efficiency and most power capacity
  • Black in appearance, matching darker roofs
  • More expensive 

Thin Film Solar Cells

  • Thinner appearance
  • Lighter and easier installation
  • Less efficient than traditional panels 

Solar Roof Shingles

Among the newest solar panel options, solar roof shingles are rising in popularity as a way to dip your toe into the water of energy efficiency.

Solar roof shingles act as a modern response to having a beautiful roof that can mimic asphalt shingles while still operating a solar energy system. 

Solar shingles are as durable as regular asphalt shingles and protect your roof and home just as effectively. Each solar shingle installed can produce anywhere from 13 to 67 watts of solar energy. They can also withstand just about any weather elements. 

Homeowners like them for their aesthetic appearance and their easy integration. Solar shingles often come with software and app connectivity that allows a homeowner to easily track their efficiency and productivity. 

Still, there are drawbacks. These panels can be hard to come by. Some come with waitlists depending on where you live. They are also more expensive than not only standard asphalt shingles, but also compared to more traditional solar panels. On average, the cost of a traditional solar system is about $2.65/W. Conversely, the average cost to install a roof with solar shingles is about $6/W. 

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Solar panels are made up of crystalline cells. A typical home rooftop solar panel contains up to 40 solar cells. There are two main types of solar panel cells: polycrystalline and monocrystalline. It’s important to understand the difference between the two, because your choice will determine the cost and amount of roof space your solar installation requires.

Polycrystalline solar panels come from a combination of silicon crystals rather than one (i.e.: monocrystalline). The silicon fragments are melted down and poured into a mold. In turn, the process to make the panels is not very wasteful and keeps the panels affordable. 

But, the panels are less efficient when compared to their monocrystalline counterparts. That’s because they are unable to generate as much electricity from the sun and can’t operate as well in high-temperature environments. For that reason, polycrystalline solar panels are considered less efficient in warm weather than monocrystalline panels.

Still, polycrystalline panels remain popular because of their competitive pricing. They typically cost about $1/W compared to $1.50/W for monocrystalline solar panels. 

Solar Panel Installation Cost

Want to know how much it would cost to have solar panels put on your home? This is where to start.

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Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline solar panel cells tend to achieve higher levels of efficiency because they are made of more pure silicon. You will notice a uniformity in their coloring. Their cylindrical shape also helps these cells achieve higher efficiency. 

To make them, solar manufacturers carve silicon ingots into wafers. In the process, they smooth and round the cell edges. Because their form and content help them produce more electricity, you will need fewer of them.

But that level of efficiency comes with a price. Monocrystalline cells cost more to manufacture compared to polycrystalline solar panels. In turn, they are more expensive — about .50 cents more per wattage than their polycrystalline counterparts. 

That price tag comes with advantages, though, including longevity. Monocrystalline panels tend to last longer and often come with longer warranties

Thin Film Solar Panels

Thin film solar panels are essentially the new kids on the block. They are a newer type of solar panel and are less frequently used for homes. But they are growing in popularity, holding about 5 percent of the market share, only second to mono- and polycrystalline panels. 

The thin film panel gets its name from how it’s produced. Layers of semiconductor materials (silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium gallium selenide) are rolled out as a film on a surface.

Thin film solar panels tend to be less efficient than crystalline solar panels, and require a lot of roof space. They also tend to degrade more quickly, so companies may offer shorter warranties to homeowners.

But the thin film is also inexpensive and more flexible than crystalline solar cells. They can be manufactured into shingles. So for those who don’t like the appearance of solar panels on a roof, thin film panels are a good alternative. 

They are also more customizable. While traditional panels come in set cell counts, thin film panels can be tailored to different sizes to fit specific needs. 

On average, thin film solar panels cost between $1 and $1.50 per watt. But keep in mind, there may be local solar rebate incentives for installing these types of solar panels.

Choosing a Solar Inverter Type

You will also want to think carefully about which kind of solar inverter works best with your solar energy system and roof. 

Solar inverters convert the DC electricity that comes from the solar panels into AC electricity that is usable in your house. Choosing a solar inverter can get a little confusing, so it may be best to simply talk to local solar installation contractors about your specific needs.

There are three basic kinds of solar inverters:

String Inverters

  • Most common
  • Least expensive 
  • Ideal for well-lit roofs with little shade and a flat plane

Microinverters

  • High energy-efficiency 
  • Panels operate autonomously 
  • More expensive

Power Optimizers

  • Perform well when roofs are partially shaded 
  • Moderately priced
  • Conditions power for efficiency 

Solar Inverters

Learn more about these three types of inverters, and find out which is best for your home.

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Track Mounting vs Fixed Mounting for Solar Panels

You will need to think not only about the type of solar panel that best suits you, but also how you want it mounted. Here’s a general overview of the advantages and disadvantages between track and fixed mounting for solar panels:

Fixed

  • Works for pitched roofs
  • Less expensive
  • Can be less efficient 

Tracking

  • More efficient
  • Works with flat spaces, including flat roofs
  • More expensive

Among the most popular is the flat (or fixed) mount — because it works with pitched roofs. If you have a flat roof or if your panels will be installed in an alternate location, like a yard, you may choose to mount them on trackers. 

Solar Panel Mounts

Looking for more information on the cost and efficiency of different types of solar panel mounts? Start here.

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If you are considering going solar, Modernize has some useful resources to help with your decision. Explore these 10 factors to consider before going solar or calculate your potential return on investment. Use our checklist to hire the best solar installer for the job.