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Why the Type of Solar Panel You Get Matters

Selecting the ideal solar panel can be confusing. Understanding the different choices can help.

Chi Odogwu Contributor
Chi Odogwu is a consultant and freelance writer who creates content for fintech, real estate, cryptocurrency, and blockchain companies and their senior executives. He has written and published articles on decentralized finance, business, and personal finance for Forbes, Entrepreneur, and several prominent publications. In addition, Chi serves as a part-time college professor and runs a financial education platform where he teaches teens and adults about digital financial literacy, web3, cryptocurrencies, and online entrepreneurship. When he is not writing and teaching, he is an avid podcaster who has hosted the Bulletproof Entrepreneur Podcast for many years.
Chi Odogwu
5 min read

Your decision to go solar doesn't stop at getting solar panels. You'll have to decide exactly what type to get, and each type has its pros and cons.

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To the casual observer, one solar panel looks as good as the next. But looks can be deceiving. 

Solar panels are those mysterious-looking pieces of hardware installed on rooftops of homes and offices that make it possible to convert sunlight into electricity. 

In the past, solar panels had a clunky effect that ruined the aesthetics of your roof. However, thanks to technological advancements, many solar panels are sleek in design and can efficiently generate enough electricity to meet your energy needs. 

Can solar panels save you money?

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As of 2021, more than half the residential solar panels installed in the US had efficiency ratings above 20%, compared with 0.6% a decade ago, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Tracking the Sun report.

Understanding the different types of panels and how to choose between them can be confusing. Here's what you need to know.

Can solar panels save you money?

Interested in understanding the impact solar can have on your home? Enter some basic information below, and we’ll instantly provide a free estimate of your energy savings.

What are the different types of solar panels?

There are three main types of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film solar panels. Their prices vary based on appearance, efficiency ratio, composite materials and design. The different types of solar panels have their pros and cons. 

"Before you decide on a particular solar panel, you must consider factors like rooftop area, aesthetics, temperature resistance, warranty duration, budget, and investment expectations regarding upfront cost versus payback," said Rohit Kalyanpur, CEO of Optivolt, a Silicon Valley-based solar technology company. "A more expensive system that generates more energy or offers greater long-term reliability may provide better returns over its lifetime than a cheaper, more affordable one." 

Monocrystalline panels

Monocrystalline solar panels are made from a single silicon crystal, an ingot, sliced into thin wafers. They have the highest efficiency rates, ranging from 17% to 22%. The average cost of these panels is between $1 and $1.50 per watt, but prices may differ depending on location. Their aesthetic appeal comes from their all-black appearance. 

There are several types of monocrystalline panels, such as roof tile; interdigitated back contact; passivated emitter and rear contact, or PERC; and bifacial panels. These different types of monocrystalline panels have unique advantages and vary in cost, efficiency and application, with some being more suitable for ground-mounted systems. 

  • Roof tile: They're costly, but they have the best aesthetic and they maximize fill factor.
  • Interdigitated back contact: They're durable and show no visible busbars on the front of the cell. They're very efficient.
  • Passivated emitter and rear contact, or PERC: These solar cells are modified to produce 6% to 12% more energy than conventional solar panels.
  • Bifacial: These solar panels can capture sunlight from both sides (front and back). They're popular for ground-mounted systems.

The temperature coefficient of monocrystalline panels is moderate, and they typically have a useful life of 25 years. "Monocrystalline solar panels offer a better return on investment over their 25-year lifetime because they generate more power, leading to higher electricity bill savings in comparison to their upfront cost," Kalyanpur said. "In addition, the variety of monocrystalline panel types ensures that there is a solution for every use case, whether the goal is to maximize the fill factor for solar power generation, enhance aesthetic appeal, increase efficiency or durability."

Polycrystalline panels

Polycrystalline panels are popular for homeowners on a budget. They have a moderate efficiency rate, ranging from 15% to 17%. They cost between 90 cents to $1 per watt. Polycrystalline panels have a blue hue, which makes them less sleek in appearance compared with monocrystalline panels.

The temperature coefficient of polycrystalline panels is worse than that of monocrystalline panels, but they can still function for up to 25 years. As a result, these panels are great for budget-conscious homeowners who want to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle without sacrificing too much in terms of performance.

Thin-film solar panels

Thin-film solar panels, which have a low efficiency rate, ranging from 10% to 13%, are the least efficient solar panels on the market. They have a shorter life span, 10 to 20 years, and are rarely used for residential purposes. 

This type of solar panel costs between $1 and $1.50 per watt. Despite their low efficiency, significant space requirements and shorter life span, they have the best temperature coefficient and an appealing aesthetic, featuring a thin, all-black appearance that some homeowners find attractive.

Comparing the types of solar panels

It's essential to learn how to differentiate between the solar panel types offered by solar companies, if you want to choose the correct option that meets your needs. Understanding the key features of each type of solar panel can help you make an informed decision for your solar panel investment. 

Types of solar panels

Panel type ProsCons
Monocrystalline High efficiency, high performanceVery expensive
Polycrystalline Less expensiveModerate efficiency
Thin-film Good for solar farmsLow efficiency

Factors to consider when selecting a panel type

When choosing a solar panel for your residential installation, consider all the factors affecting your solar installation's cost and utility. In some instances, investing in a more expensive, durable and reliable solar system is better because you'll enjoy more energy. 

However, if costs are a primary consideration, it's best to choose a budget-friendly option that may not have all the bells and whistles but will get the job done. Make sure to get quotes and consultations from multiple solar companies or installers before making your final decision. 

Other factors to consider while shopping for solar installers and solar panel types:

  • Efficiency: The energy efficiency rate of the solar panel.
  • Rooftop area: The available space for solar panel installation.
  • Aesthetic appeal: The appearance of the solar panels on your property. Good aesthetics can increase property values.
  • Temperature coefficient: How the solar panel performs under various temperature conditions.
  • Lifetime warranty: The duration of the warranty offered by the manufacturer.
  • Budget: The overall cost of the solar panel system, including installation and maintenance.
  • ROI expectations: The balance between upfront costs and long-term payback.
  • Energy output: The amount of energy produced by the solar panel system.
  • Panel life span: The expected useful life of the solar panels. Is there functional obsolescence? 
  • System reliability: The dependability of the solar panel system over its lifetime.

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