Does the prospect of going off-grid and saving a ton of money in energy bills have you feeling excited about purchasing your first solar panel? We know the feeling. However, you might find that buying solar panels is not as easy as you may have initially anticipated.

If you’re reading this then you already know that there are different types of solar panels available to choose from, which is something you probably didn’t expect. But don’t worry because we’re here to help you choose the best option for your needs.

As with any purchase, you want to make an informed decision when buying your first solar panel, which is why we’ve put together this helpful guide to make sure that you know enough about the different solar panel options to make the right decision.

Without further ado, let’s dive right into the different types of solar panels you should look out for, their pros and cons and how you can decide which one is right for you. Read on for more.

Monocrystalline Silicon Solar Cells

Monocrystalline photovoltaic cells

Panels that are made from monocrystalline solar cells are basically fashioned from silicon ingots that have a distinct tube-like shape. These solar cells are also known as single-crystalline silicon because they have a very even and uniform look, and this is mainly because only the purest silicon of the highest quality is used to make them.

Now, what you’ll notice about monocrystalline silicon solar cells is that they have a very distinct look as mentioned. That’s because the tubular ingots that make up the cells have their four corners cut out to create silicon wafers with rounded edges. Not only does this contribute to the solar panels’ unique look, but it’s also a great way for manufacturing companies to keep production costs low while boosting the overall performance of the panels.

At the end of the day, you get monocrystalline solar cells that have nice rounded edges, as opposed to the sharp and unmistakable rectangular shape of polycrystalline solar cells, and they’re great for residential purposes.

Pros

  • As previously mentioned, monocrystalline solar panels are created using only the highest quality silicon which is why they’re so super-efficient. In fact, they have an efficiency rating of about 15 to 20% which is much higher than other types of solar panels.
  • If you’re working with a small space, then you’re in luck. Monocrystalline silicon solar panels are of a reasonable size and they don’t take up as much space as other types of panels even though they produce the most amount of power when compared to the competition.
  • Monocrystalline solar panels are very durable and long-lasting. You can expect them to last you for as long as 25 years, which is why they often come with a long standard warranty of up to two decades.
  • When compared to polycrystalline solar panels, monocrystalline panels undoubtedly perform better at low-light conditions.

Cons

  • Monocrystalline solar panels don’t come cheap and you’ll probably have to save for some time before you can purchase them unless you have deep pockets. However, in most cases, they’re definitely worth the price.
  • Monocrystalline solar panel circuits tend to break down easily when exposed to dirt, debris, snow or even partial shade cover. That’s why homeowners are often recommended to purchase their monocrystalline panels with micro-inverters just to offset the potential risks of shade or dirt cover. Micro-inverters generally reduce the effects to just one solar panel instead of the whole solar array so that you don’t have to stay without power just because one solar panel got sprinkled with some snow.
  • There’s quite a lot of wastage in the manufacturing of monocrystalline solar panels, as they require the use of the Czochralski process. This involves cutting out the four sides of the tubular ingots used to make the panels, leaving behind a lot of unused scrap material.
  • You might experience some performance problems with your monocrystalline solar panel when the temperatures drop, but they’ll still be more efficient than polycrystalline models.

Polycrystalline Silicon Solar Cells

Polycrystalline solar cells

Polycrystalline silicon solar cell panels are probably the easiest and most efficient to produce when compared to the monocrystalline variety. That’s because they don’t go through the Czochralski process. Instead, they’re fashioned out of melted raw silicon which is poured into square-shaped molds, thus giving them their perfect square shape. Of course, before they can become wafers, they go through a cooling and cutting process so that they’re easier to work with.

Pros

  • It’s much more cost-effective and efficient to produce polycrystalline silicon than it is to make monocrystalline panels.
  • For the most part, polycrystalline solar panels handle heat really well except for extreme circumstances where they’re exposed to really high temperatures. They don’t necessarily perform as well as monocrystalline solar panels, but they still work well for most households.

Cons

  • Since polycrystalline solar panels are made from inferior quality silicon, they have an efficiency rate of about 13 to 16%, which is significantly lower than that of monocrystalline solar panels.
  • They take up a lot of space. You need to make sure that you have enough space to fit polycrystalline solar panels if you want to get the most out of them performance wise.
  • Polycrystalline solar panels aren’t much to look at, and they’re definitely not as visually appealing as thin-film and monocrystalline panels. They have a very uniform and boring look so if its good looks you’re after then you should probably look elsewhere.

Thin-Film Solar Cells (TFSC)

thin film solar cells

Thin-film solar cells are made by combining photovoltaic material that’s been separated into paper-thin layers. The end result is thin-film photovoltaic cells (TFPV) that differ according to the type of photovoltaic material that’s placed on the substrate.

Generally, thin-film solar cells are separated into the following categories:

  • Organic photovoltaic cells (OPC)
  • Amorphous silicon (a-Si)
  • Copper indium gallium selenide (CIS/CIGS)
  • Cadmium telluride (CdTe)

When it comes to performance efficiency, thin-film solar cells are rated between 7 to 13%, while manufacturers promise that upcoming models will have a performance efficiency of up to 16%.

Thin-film PV is quite popular, especially in the U.S. where the residential sector accounts for 20% of all photovoltaic module shipments.

Pros

  • Thin-film solar panels are incredibly easy and cheap to manufacture, which makes them an affordable solution for the consumer as well.
  • They look really nice thanks to their homogeneous design.
  • They’re quite flexible and can be applied to a number of different purposes.
  • They offer the same performance regardless of temperature changes or shading.
  • They’re perfect for large-scale applications and areas with a lot of space.

Cons

  • Although cheap, thin-film solar panels take up a lot of space and may not be the best solution for household purposes. If you’ve got a moderately sized house then it might be a good idea to go for monocrystalline solar panels instead, which will provide you with 4x the power of thin-film panels while taking up the same amount of space.
  • When installing thin-film solar panels, you also have to consider additional PV equipment that’s needed to put them in place.
  • Thin-film solar panels don’t last long at all, which is why they often come with a short warranty.

Conclusion

As you can see, you have quite a few options to choose from when it comes to purchasing solar panels and each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.

If you’re looking for a solar panel array that performs well without taking up a whole lot of space, then you should definitely consider getting crystalline-based solar panels. However, if you do like the idea of getting the more visually pleasing and affordable thin-film solar panels, then you should definitely take that route. Although solar panels come in different sizes, those that have a power output of 180, 200 and 220-watts usually come in the same size category even though they have a different power rating.

Thin-film solar panels go through the same manufacturing process no matter what size they are, so your best bet is to just ask your supplier for the model with the highest power output in the size category that you’re considering. On the other hand, monocrystalline solar panels are generally more space-efficient and have a higher power output than polycrystalline models, but they are rather pricey so keep that in mind if you’re working with a limited budget.

If space is not an issue, then you may still opt for polycrystalline panels because they’re the economically sound option and will work better for your particular climate because they offer a similar performance to polycrystalline panels. If you’re on a really tight budget, however, and don’t mind giving up space for your solar energy setup, then you should totally consider thin-film solar panels.

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