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What Are Different Types of Solar Panels and How They Work?

Tim Carter
Written by Tim Carter Last Updated: June 5, 2022

The high demand for renewable energy sources increased the interest in solar energy. In the last decade, the solar industry has grown tremendously, by almost 50%. There are many different types of solar panels on the market today. But how do they work? And which one is best for your home?

Today’s market offers four major types of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, thin-film panels, and PERC. All solar panels capture solar energy from the sun, convert it to electricity, and/or store it in batteries or thermal storage. 

In this blog post, we’ll look at the different solar panels and how they can help you save money on your energy bill. We will explain solar panels on the market today and their advantages and disadvantages. So what are the different types of solar panels and how do they work?

Before we explain different solar panel types and solar technology, let’s learn more about renewable energy sources and solar power.

Table of Contents

What Are Renewable Energy Sources?

Renewable energy sources are those that can be replenished or replaced over time.

Common examples include solar, wind, and hydropower. These forms of energy don’t rely on fossil fuels, which are finite resources that will eventually be depleted.

Renewable energy sources are environmentally friendly because they don’t produce harmful emissions like carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

They also tend to have a smaller overall impact on the environment than non-renewable sources of energy.

Despite these advantages, renewable energy sources still make up a relatively small percentage of the world’s total energy supply. This is because they can be more expensive to develop and sometimes require more land than traditional forms of energy production.

There is also a lot of research and development needed to make these technologies more efficient and widespread.

With the right policies in place, however, it’s possible to increase the use of renewable energy sources and help combat climate change.

Why Are Renewable Energy Sources Important?

Renewable energy sources are our best hope for a sustainable future.

Renewable energy is defined as energy derived from natural sources that is replenished at a faster rate than it is consumed. Sunlight and wind are two examples of such constantly replenishing sources. Renewable energy sources abound and are all around us.

Currently, the most popular renewable energy sources are:

  • Solar power
  • Wind power
  • Hydroelectric power
  • Tidal power
  • Geothermal power
  • Biomass energy

Renewable energy sources differ from fossil fuels primarily in their diversity, abundance, and potential for use anywhere on the planet, but most importantly, they emit neither greenhouse gases nor polluting emissions.

Wind power is the leading renewable energy source, accounting for 8% of total energy consumption in the United States. Although not as quiet as solar power, this renewable energy source has a high-efficiency rating and is environmentally friendly.

Renewable energy has the potential to save the nature, but can also harm it.

A massive shift away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources can slow climate change.

However, mining for materials is required for the construction of solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable energy systems.

What Is Solar Power?

Solar panels are devices that convert sunlight into electricity. They are made up of a series of connected solar cells, which create an electrical current when exposed to sunlight. Solar panels can be used to power everything from small electronic devices to entire homes.

Solar power is a type of renewable energy that is generated by harnessing the power of the sun through solar cells.

Solar cells are a part of a solar panel, typically made of silicon, which absorbs sunlight and converts it into electricity.

This electricity can then power homes and businesses. Solar power is a clean and sustainable energy source that can help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

What Are the Benefits of Solar Power Systems?

Solar power has many benefits over other forms of energy generation.

It is a clean energy source that does not produce harmful emissions, and it can generate electricity even in remote areas where there is no access to the grid.

Solar power is also very versatile – it can generate electricity for a single home or business, or it can provide power for an entire community.

Solar power is becoming increasingly popular to generate electricity, and we expect that its share of the global energy mix will continue to grow in the coming years.

What Are the 3 Types of Solar Panels?

There are different silicon solar cells.

The most talked about are polycrystalline, monocrystalline, and thin-film solar panels.

Besides these three, there are PERC solar panels, made of crystalline silicon recycled from old photovoltaic panels.

What Are 3 Important Uses of Solar Panels?

Common solar technologies include:

  • solar photovoltaic panels for electricity,
  • passive solar designs for heating and cooling, and
  • solar water heating.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

A typical solar panel comprises individual solar cells made up of layers of silicon, boron, and phosphorus.

The boron coating provides the positive charge, the phosphorus coating provides the negative charge, and the silicon wafer functions as the semiconductor.

When photons from the sun hit the surface of the solar panel, they knock electrons out of the silicon “sandwich” and into the electric field that solar cells generate.

This produces a directional current that is further converted into usable electrical power.

The photovoltaic effect refers to the entire process.

That’s why solar panels are known as photovoltaic panels or PV panels.

A standard solar panel has 60, 72, or 90 solar cells.

What Are the Types of Solar Panels?

We classify solar panels into four types: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, thin-film solar panels, and PERC (Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell) panels.

Before purchasing and installing a solar panel system, consider all the unique advantages and disadvantages of different solar panel types.

Also, keep in mind that solar panel technology continues to advance, so you shouldn’t invest much and install solar panels with lower efficiency.

Installing solar panels is not cheap, and you’d install a solar power system to improve your energy efficiency and lower your electricity bills.

Undoubtedly, we will see many innovations in the area.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline solar panels, also known as single-crystal panels, are made from a single, large crystal of silicon cut into several wafers.

A monocrystalline solar panel is the most space-efficient and long-lasting when compared to other types of solar panels.

Monocrystalline panels have a dark black color.

However, monocrystalline solar cells are very expensive because, during the production of a single monocrystalline cell, a significant amount of silicon is wasted, sometimes as much as 50%.

Also, monocrystalline panels are the most efficient type of solar panel and are often used in residential applications.

Monocrystalline panels are also the most expensive type of solar panel. Solar panels made from monocrystalline silicon cells typically have efficiency levels around 15-20%.

Overall, if you’re looking for the most efficient solar panel on the market, monocrystalline panels are the way to go.

However, they come with a hefty price tag so be prepared to pay a bit more than you would for other types of solar panels.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline solar panels are made of melted silicon fragments poured into a square mold, which gives them their recognizable square shape.

At the same time, a polycrystalline solar power system is recognizable because of its blue-colored cells made of multiple silicon crystals.

There is little waste, so polycrystalline cells are more affordable than monocrystalline solar panels.

Yet, the silicon purity and construction of the polycrystalline solar panel is lower compared to the monocrystalline solar panel, so they are less efficient, less heat tolerant, and thus less efficient in high-temperature environments.

PERC (Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell) Solar Panels

PERC solar panels are a relatively new technology.

The PERC solar cell, invented in 1983, now powers over 85 percent of all new solar panel modules worldwide.

These solar cells are made of 100% crystalline silicon recycled from old panels.

PERC panels collect more solar energy in a smaller physical footprint, which makes them perfect for small spaces.

They are only slightly more expensive to produce than traditional panels but are much more efficient.

Thin-film Solar Panels

Thin-film solar panels have extremely fine flexible layers, so they are lighter and easier to install.

Unlike crystalline solar panels, (that have standard sizes of 60, 72, and 96 cells), thin-film panels can be custom-made to meet one’s specific needs.

However, they are less efficient than standard silicon solar panels.

Thin-film solar panels have several variations depending on the materials they are made of.

Thin film solar panels can be made of:

  • Tellurium cadmium (CdTe) (cadmium is toxic, so recycling it is more expensive than recycling other materials)
  • Silicon amorphous (a-Si) (have the lowest production costs but are the least efficient, which makes them good for low-power applications, such as pocket calculators)
  • Selenide of copper, indium, and gallium (CIGS) (has the highest efficiency among thin-film panels)
  • Cadmium telluride (CdTe)

What Type of Solar Panels Are Most Efficient?

Important note: The solar industry has almost completely abandoned polycrystalline solar panels and PERC-based cells in favor of much more efficient monocrystalline solar panels.

Even more recently, it has turned to monocrystalline PERC (Mono PERC) solar panel production.

The amount of sunlight that hits the surface of a solar panel and is turned into electricity represents the efficiency of a solar panel.

In the past years, with the advancement of technology, the average efficiency of a panel has gone from 15% to over 20%.

This jump in efficiency resulted in a jump from 250W to 370W.

The efficiency of a solar panel depends on two factors.

First, it depends on the efficiency of each photovoltaic (PV) cell, based on the design of the solar cell and the type of silicon.

The temperature coefficient of monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels is between -0.3/°C % to -0.5%/°C, but thin-film panels are closer to -0.2%/°C.

Second, the efficiency of the solar panel depends on the panel layout, configuration, and size of solar cells.

Monocrystalline solar panels are the best. However, monocrystalline panels cost more than other types of solar panels and much more compared to thin film panels.

Polycrystalline solar panels are less expensive than monocrystalline panels, but they do not work as well (so that’s why we started this section with an important note).

However, if researchers find more effective and cheaper techniques to make monocrystalline solar cells, this gap between monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels may narrow.

Thin-film solar panels are the least expensive.

The reason for this is that thin film panels are the least efficient and take up the most space.

If you’re planning to go solar, you should know that more important than the type of solar panel you install is the brand of solar panels and the solar installer you choose.

Solar energy advancement will bring many innovative designs.

In summary, the different types of solar panels vary in their efficiency, meaning the amount of sunlight they can convert into electricity.

Monocrystalline silicon solar cells are the most efficient type of solar cell, while poly-crystalline silicon solar cells are the least efficient.

Solar panels that use thin-film solar cells fall somewhere in between.

When it comes to powering homes, both on-grid and off-grid, mono-crystalline silicon solar panels are the most efficient option. However, they are also the most expensive.

For those who want to save money, poly-crystalline silicon solar panels are a good option. They may not be as efficient as mono-crystalline solar panels, but they are significantly cheaper.


When it comes to solar panels, there are two main types: monocrystalline and polycrystalline.

Monocrystalline panels are made from a single crystal of silicon, while polycrystalline panels are made from multiple smaller crystals.

Both types of panels are effective at converting sunlight into electricity, but they differ in a few key ways.

One key difference is efficiency. Monocrystalline panels are typically more efficient than polycrystalline panels, meaning that they can convert more sunlight into electricity.

Another difference is price. Monocrystalline panels tend to be more expensive than polycrystalline panels, but they also tend to last longer.

When it comes to the color of solar panels, black panels are generally more efficient than white or blue panels.

Black solar panels absorb more light than other colors, which helps to increase their efficiency. In addition, black solar panels tend to have lower reflectance rates than other colors.

This means that less sunlight is reflected away from the panel, allowing more light to be absorbed. As a result, black solar panels are typically more efficient than their lighter-colored counterparts.

Final Thoughts

Are solar panels worth it? Definitely yes, they are worth it in the long run.

However, installing a solar panel system comes at a large cost.

Nonetheless, choosing the right solar panel system depends on your project and budget.

The cheapest option is thin film panels, but they have a much lower efficiency than other types, especially when compared to monocrystalline panels.

For that reason, we don’t recommend installing thin film panels to power your entire home. A thin film solar panel is the least effective and takes up a lot of space. Instead, monocrystalline panels would be the best option.

Also, the cost disparity between monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels might become smaller if researchers discover more efficient ways to manufacture monocrystalline solar cells.


Tim Carter
Tim Carter

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