Types Of Solar Panels [Pros & Cons]

Solar panels are available in a bewildering variety of choices requiring some research before purchasing just any old solar panels.

The choice factory exists due to the vast number of solar panel applications ranging from small solar panels in watches to commercial applications. 

Key Takeaways:

1️⃣ Selecting the right solar panel for your application will ensure years of green power generation.

2️⃣ Monocrystalline panels are used due to their excellent efficiency and pricing.

3️⃣ Polycrystalline panels offer great value and last a long. And thin film panels are great for portable and RV systems.

With such a vast selection of panels on the market, even as an experienced solar installer myself, it can be tricky. Selecting the correct type of panel for a particular use without research isn’t likely.

So here is everything you need, narrowed down to four commonly used types of solar panels, and provided their pros and cons. 

📋 Types Of Solar Panels

Solar panels are a popular alternative energy source for homes and many other applications.

They use free sunlight (irradiance) to generate electricity that can (in conjunction with an inverter) supply your home or business with power. Alternatively, batteries can store the energy for use at night. 

Four solar panels have emerged as firm favorites over the years to power homes, portable solar cell systems, and an RV’s electric circuits.

The four solar panel types are interchangeable for general use, but each offers specific pros and cons, which are listed below.  

Solar Panel TypeProsConsApplication
MonocrystallineLast 25 years plusMore ExpensiveHome 
Highest EfficiencyLess cold tolerantPortable power
Suited to small spacesHeavier than thin filmRV’s
Black finish
Highly weather resistant
PolycrystallineAffordable PricingLess efficient than MonoHomes
Last 25 years plusMore roof space requiredPortable Power
Well suited to hot climatesHeavier than thin filmRV’s
Blue FinishLess heat tolerant
Highly weather resistant
Thin FilmWell suited to hot climatesLeast EfficientHomes (large roof)
Flexible Solar PanelLarge roof requiredPortable Power
Lightweight and thinIt doesn’t last as long (10 to 20 years) RV’s 
Well suited to hot climatesNot silicon basedCurved surfaces
Attachable using adhesivesLeast weather resistant
Most affordable
Blue or black color
PERCVery efficientMore ExpensiveHomes
Mono PV cellsHeavier than thin filmCommercial
Black colorOnly available in larger sizes
Last 25 years plusLess cold tolerant
Great in low light conditions
Highly weather resistant
Dark blue/black color

1️⃣ Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Mono solar panels are available in sizes up to 700 watts and are the most used solar panels for residential homes worldwide.

Monocrystalline solar cell panels are recognizable by their dark blue to black. Mono solar panels contain photovoltaic (PV) cells manufactured from a single silicon crystal as its electricity-generating semiconductor material.

Cutting the PV cell from a single silicon crystal ensures better material consistency, leading to greater solar panel efficiency, higher power generation than most other PV cell types, and a long, 25-year-plus useable lifespan. 

Monocrystalline solar panels are well suited for most roof types, especially for smaller roofs, due to their higher efficiency. In addition, fewer solar panels are needed to produce the same power as a higher number of less efficient solar panels.

Mono solar panels are a good balance between energy production and input cost. The higher efficiency somewhat negates the possible losses due to scorching temperatures or icy weather conditions. 

Monocrystalline solar panels are available in several variations offering the user the option of size in terms of output and varying degrees of efficiency depending on local weather conditions.

2️⃣ Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline solar panels, like Monocrystalline panels, generate electricity from a silicon crystal-based semiconductive material. The difference is that polycrystalline solar panels are made from tiny shards of silicon crystal artificially fused to form solar cells.

Poly solar panels are marginally less efficient than mono solar panels due to how solar PV cells are constructed. The appearance of the poly panels makes them easily recognizable by their light blue color.

The lower initial purchase price of the poly panels makes them an excellent option for areas where sunlight is abundant. Adding a few more solar panels to reach the output of mono panels in a PV array may cost less than using mono solar panels without sacrificing energy production.

If you have sufficient roof space, polycrystalline panels are a good choice. In terms of longevity and weather resistance, the poly panels are on par with mono panels, having a life expectancy of over 25 years. 

3️⃣ Thin-Film Solar Panels

Thin film solar panels are the most affordable type but have two downsides. First, thin-film solar panels tend to last less than 20 years, and the efficiency of the thin-film panels is slightly less than that of Mono and poly panels.

The lower initial purchase price means the payback period for these panels is shorter, making them an attractive option.

Thin film panels are made from materials other than the traditional silicon crystal semiconductors used in poly and mono solar panels.

For example, thin film PV solar cells are made from Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS), Cadmium Telluride (CdTe), or Amorphous Silicon (a-Si) which is non-crystalline silicon.

What makes thin-film panels unique is their light weight, flexibility, and high heat tolerance, meaning they are less affected by losses due to the temperature coefficient effect.

In addition, their heat tolerance makes the solar panels ideally suited to sweltering climates.  

The flexible solar panel design makes thin film panels ideal for use on cylindrical structures and curved RV roofs or can even be attached to a wall or window using adhesives.

The lightweight design makes the solar panels perfect for use with portable solar energy systems that need to be transported, such as when you go camping.

4️⃣ PERC – Passive Emitter And Rear Contact Solar Cells

Passive Emitter and Rear Contact Solar Cells are a modification of existing technology aimed at improving the efficiency of standard solar cells. 

The design difference in these solar panels is that a reflective layer has been added to the base of the solar panel that reflects unused sunlight back through the PV cells, effectively providing the PV cells a second light source from which to generate power.

Reusing the potentially wasted power source (sunlight) a second time increases the efficiency of the solar panel by between 3% and 12%.

The mono PERC solar panels can reach 23% efficiency, which is exceptionally high for commercially available residential-use solar panels.

The outward appearance is the same as monocrystalline solar panels with a dark blue/black color finish. In terms of physical size, they’re the same as traditional mono solar panels, making them ideal for use where roof space is limited.

⛈️ Effects Of Weather On Solar Panels

Solar panels require sunlight to generate electricity. Therefore, the brighter the sunlight, the more efficiently the solar panels will work.

They are fantastic at utilizing the available sunlight and can generate electricity even when it’s overcast, cloudy, and even when raining or snowing lightly. 

The amount of solar production is directly related to the direct sunlight that reaches the solar panels in any weather conditions. So on cloudy days, solar production will be lower than on clear warm days.

Interestingly, solar panels need sunlight to produce electricity, but when the solar panel heats up, its production starts declining.

This phenomenon is referred to as the temperature coefficient. Interestingly, the best solar production occurs on cool sunny days and not hot sunny days. 

The effects of the temperature coefficient can significantly reduce the potential solar production when the solar panels get too hot. Therefore, solar panels are tested and designed for optimum output at 77°F (25°C). 

The losses due to increased resistance in the solar panels’ electrical circuits are given in %/°C. Most panels list their temperature coefficient rating on the label.

When a solar panel’s rating is 0.5%/°C, it means the solar panel loses 0.5% of its total output for every 1°C temperature increase that the solar panel experiences above 25°C. The average losses across all brands average between 0.3 and 0.5%/°C.

Thin-film panels are best suited for areas where ambient temperatures are generally well above 77°F (25ۜ°C). Cold climates don’t significantly affect the performance of solar panels if sunlight is available and the solar panels are not covered by snow.

Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline solar panels work well in hot climates. Provided the potential losses are factored into the initial design of the solar panel system.

🚙 Solar Panels for Mobile and RV Systems

Mobile solar energy systems range widely in size and their intended applications.

For example, small portable units used to power a campsite may consist of a solar panel, charge controller, a battery, and potentially an inverter if 110- or 220-volt power is required. 

Mono, poly, and thin film solar panels are useable for mobile systems. Thin film solar panels are the lightest and easiest to maneuver when keeping the weight down.  

Regarding RV solar systems, the placement of the solar panels will dictate which is best. The thin film solar panel is best in this application as they can be attached using an adhesive.

Thinner is better to reduce drag when driving when the solar panels are permanently attached to the RV’s roof.

The systems used in home and mobile or RV applications all work on the same principle and use similar hardware, such as batteries, inverters, and solar panels.

The determining factor is the expected yield required from the system, which affects the size of all the significant components, including the solar panels.

🙋‍♂️ FAQs

What Type Of Solar Panels Are The Best?

Monocrystalline solar panels provide the best energy production for the average household due to their efficiency of around 17% to 22%. Monocrystalline solar panels are available in sizes up to a maximum of 700 watts, depending on the application required. 

Monocrystalline solar panels are known for their long useable lifespan, with most solar manufacturers now offering 25-year output warranties, although their useable life is significantly longer. 

What Is the Newest Solar Panel Technology?

Solar technology is constantly evolving, and solar panels are no exception. Experimental technology such as Quantum Dots uses nanotechnology to apply a conductive material onto transparent sheets.

For now, commercially available innovations for domestic applications come in the form of Bifacial Solar Panels. As the name implies, the solar panel has two faces, the front and now the rear, enabling both sides of the solar panel to absorb sunlight. 

What Is The Longest-Lasting Solar Panel?

Standard Monocrystalline solar panels are made to last 25 to 30 years and even longer. Reputable mono solar panel manufacturers offer a 25-year linear output warranty or 80%. In practical terms, the solar panel will produce at least 80% or more of its rated output for at least 25 years.

Specialty solar panels such as the SunPower Maxeon offer a 40-year warranty, which indicates excellent build quality but leads to premium pricing. 

What Is The Highest Efficiency Solar Panel?

The SunPower Maxeon is currently the most efficient commercially produced and available solar panel. The Maxeon is a monocrystalline design offering up to 30% efficiency, which significantly improves the current best of 23% efficiency.  

The SunPower Maxeon uses integrated back contact (IBC) technology which makes them unique as they don’t have visible grid lines on the panel face improving light absorption and making them a uniform black color. 

🔑 Key Takeaways

Four main types of solar panels dominate the domestic solar market today. These are Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline, PERC, and Thin Film Panels. 

1️⃣ Monocrystalline panels are the most used due to their efficiency and mid-range pricing. Mono solar panels, as with the PERC, are an excellent option for roofs with limited space to mount the panels.

2️⃣ Polycrystalline solar cell panels are affordable and have a long useable life, making them an excellent option for regions with moderate climates.

3️⃣ PERC solar panels are exceptionally efficient and great choices when the roof area is limited and for larger solar systems. Their cost is slightly higher than standard mono and poly panels, but given that their usable lifespan is as long as mono and poly panels, the price is ultimately justifiable.

4️⃣ Thin film solar panels tend to be excellent in hot climates. Their light construction makes them ideally suited for mobile systems, camping applications, and use on RVs. Thin film panels are the least efficient of the four solar panel types and last less time than the others. They’re also the most affordable on the upside.

Now that you know the different types of solar panels, including their pros and cons, you can make an informed decision on the kind of solar panels that best suit your application.

The next step is to contact your local solar panel supplier and choose the brand, size, and type of solar panel for your project. 

I’m the website operator and editor here at ALTA Devices. The solar revolution is the most exciting thing to happen in a generation! I’ve written extensively on solar, electric vehicles, and the electrification of the marine industry. You can find out more on LinkedIn below: