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April 7, 2021

The Top Three Solar Panel Types, Explained

  • icon SOLAR

Most solar modules on the market today fall into three different categories—monocrystalline solar panels, polycrystalline solar panels and thin film solar panels—and vary in appearance, performance and price point.

With each module bringing its own unique attributes to the table, choosing which is best equipped to meet specific commercial or residential energy needs can be tricky. The following is a detailed look at monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin film solar panels to help streamline your selection, and includes details about which is best suited for each property type. 

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

The solar cell in this type of panel is cut from a single, pure silicone crystal, and is easily identified due to the module’s visible square wafers. Monocrystalline is the most effective (and expensive) panel available on the market due to having the highest efficiency, ranging from 15 – 20%, with select newer prototype models reaching production levels of almost 50%. Monocrystalline solar panels are uniformly dark and come with rounded edges because the silicone crystals are cut from cylindrical wafers. Compact, durable, long-lasting and equipped with the ability to withstand high temperatures, monocrystalline panels are often utilized for rooftop solar installations. 

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline, or multi-crystalline, solar panels contain many fragments of silicone crystals. Before being cut into wafers, these crystals are melted together and molded as solid blocks. When the wafers are cut, a more rectangular shape is formed with each panel containing between 60 to 72 cells. 

Polycrystalline panels are lower in cost but offer slightly less heat tolerance and require more physical space to install. They have a lower efficiency rate—ranging from 13 to 16%–since electrons don’t flow as easily across multiple silicone crystals. However, due to technological advancement over the past few years, improvements have been made to increase polycrystalline solar panel efficiency. For example, a standard 60-cell panel in today’s market can output over 300 watts compared to the 240 watts produced in older models.

Thin Film Solar Panels

Also known as second-generation solar panels, thin film solar cells are solid blue or black and are a more budget-friendly option for large-scale projects. The most common technologies used in this panel type are:

  • Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) is photovoltaic (PV) technology that is placed between two transparent conducting layers with a glass sheet on top containing amorphous silicon, a non-crystalline element that rests on top of plastic, glass, or metal. CdTe can be quickly and inexpensively manufactured and offers efficiency rates ranging from 18 – 22.1%.
  • Copper Iridium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) technology contains material that sits between two conductive layers with electrodes on the front and back. This thin film technology has favorable electronic and optical properties and offers between 12 – 14% efficiency rates.


Thin film solar cells are successful because they are easily manufactured, affordable, lightweight and can be used across a diverse range of applications in comparison to monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules. However, thin film panels require a lot of physical space for installment and have the shortest lifespan.

So Which Module Type of Solar Panel Is Best?

For businesses, thin-film solar panels are an ideal option, especially for commercial facilities with roofs that cannot support the weight of a traditional solar panel system. For residential use, polycrystalline panels are well-suited for larger homes and monocrystalline panels are best for smaller housing properties. It’s important to note that more solar panel roof coverage can make up for the lower efficiency levels expected from certain modules. You should carefully consider all options, including panel type, before deciding on a high-quality solar installation company. Your due diligence will ensure that your solar investment meets the structure in question’s power needs, physical requirements and overall expectations.

Let Sunworks Take on Your Next Solar Installation Project

Sunworks handles solar installation projects for home builders and homeowners in addition to commercial, industrial, or agricultural businesses. Managing every aspect of the project, the Sunworks experts enable customers to save on utility electricity costs and generate their own, sustainable energy. To learn more or obtain a free quote, visit https://sunworksusa.com/contact/ or call 866-600-6800 today!

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