Type of Solar Panels

Updated: Sep 17, 2019

There are hundreds of companies manufacturing solar panels today. Most of the solar panel options currently available fit in one of three categories: monocrystalline, polycrystalline (also known as multi-crystalline), or thin-film. These solar panels vary in how they are made, appearance, performance, costs, and the installations each are best suited for.

Which one is the most suitable to my house or business? It depends on how you install it on site. The type of installation is playing a crucial role to assist you to choose a more suitable type of solar panels.

Polycrystalline, Monocrystalline & Thin-Film Solar Panels

Pros and Cons of Different Type of Solar Panels

Generally, the types of solar panels are monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film panels. Each type has its own unique advantages and disadvantages, and the solar panel type best suited for your installation will depend on factors specific to your own property and desired system characteristics.

Pros and Cons of monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film solar panels

Below, we will break down some common questions and concerns about solar panels and how different types of panels have varying characteristics.

What Are They Made of?

In order to generate electricity, solar cells are made from a semiconducting material that converts light into electricity. Silicon is the most common semiconducting material used during the solar cell manufacturing process.

Monocrystalline & Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Solar cells of both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, are made of silicon wafers. In order to build a monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panel, wafers are assembled into rows and columns to form a rectangle, covered with a glass sheet, and framed together. 

Even though solar cells of both types of solar panels, are made from silicon, they vary in the composition of the silicon itself. Monocrystalline solar cells are cut from a single, pure crystal of silicon. On the other hand, polycrystalline solar cells are composed of fragments of silicon crystals that are melted together in a mold before being cut into wafers.

Thin-Film Solar Panels

Unlike monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, thin-film panels are made from a variety of materials. The most prevalent type of thin-film solar panel is made from cadmium telluride (CdTe). Manufacturers have to place a layer of CdTe between transparent conducting layers so it can capture the sunlight. This type of thin-film technology also has a glass layer on the top for protection.

Secondly, thin-film solar panels can also be made from amorphous silicon (a-Si), which is similar to the composition of monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels. Unlikely, they are not made up of solid silicon wafers as monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels. They are composed of non-crystalline silicon placed on top of glass, plastic, or metal.

Lastly, Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) panels are another popular type of thin-film technology. CIGS panels have all four elements placed between two conductive layers (i.e. glass, plastic, aluminum, or steel), and electrodes are placed on the front and the back of the material to capture electrical currents.

Thin-film Solar Panel

How to Differentiate The Type of Solar Panels

The differences in materials and production cause differences in appearance between each type of solar panel:

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

If you see a solar panel with black cells, it is most likely a monocrystalline panel. This is because of the way light interacts with the pure silicon crystal. Thus, it appears black in color. However, monocrystalline solar panels have a variety of colors for their back sheets and frames. The back sheet of the solar panel will most often be black, silver or white, whereas the metal frames are typically black or silver. 

Monocrystalline Solar Panel

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline solar cells tend to have a blue hue to them due to the light reflecting off the silicon fragments in the cell in a different way than it reflects off a pure monocrystalline silicon wafer. Similarly to monocrystalline, polycrystalline panels have different colors for back sheets and frames. The frames of polycrystalline panels usually are silver, and the back sheets are either silver or white.

Polycrystalline Solar Panel

Thin-film Solar