A Contractor’s Guide to Types of Solar Panels

team of solar panel installers placing a panel
Understanding the different types of solar panels can help you find the right fit for each project. To the untrained eye, all solar panels appear to look the same. But solar contractors know there are four different types of solar panels used in the industry:
  • Monocrystalline Solar Panels
  • Polycrystalline Solar Panels
  • Thin-Film Solar Panels
  • PERC Solar Panels
Each type of solar panel brings different benefits to the table, and finding the right fit depends on the project. Knowing the ins and outs of solar panels helps you improve your solar sales. We’ll break it all down for you here.

What Are Solar Panels?

Before we get into the different types of solar panels, we need to define exactly what solar panels are. Solar panels absorb energy from the sun and convert it into energy to create electricity.

Solar panels are a renewable source of energy that can reduce electricity bills. Depending on the type of solar panel installed, they can last up to 25 years. Additionally, the maintenance cost of solar panels is low.

As with any material, solar panels aren’t perfect. Some factors can reduce a solar panel’s lifespan, including:

  • Extreme weather
  • UV exposure
  • Debris
  • Defects in manufacturing
  • Lack of upkeep
  • Humidity
  • Snow
  • Substandard installation

Why Is Renewable Energy Important?

Not only can renewable energy bring down consumer costs, but it’s also a cleaner and more sustainable way to generate energy. Solar energy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect and preserve the earth’s valuable natural resources.

Different Solar Panel Types

Now that we know the basics about renewable energy, what a solar panel is, and how it works, let’s look at the different types of solar panels you can install.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline solar panels are made up of monocrystalline silicon (single-crystal silicon). This solar panel design can last 25–50 years if properly cared for.

The crystal material’s continuous structure reduces the potential for panel vulnerability, contributing to its potentially long lifespan. These panels are the most efficient of the different solar panel types at about 15–20% efficiency.

These solar panels tend to operate better than their counterparts, even in high temperatures and shade.

The downside to installing these panels is the cost. Monocrystalline solar panels are more expensive to manufacture and cost more to install.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline solar panels are similar to monocrystalline solar panels, but the silicon structure is different and cheaper to produce.

Rather than being a single silicon source like monocrystalline, polycrystalline is a blend of several silicon sources. This blend makes polycrystalline solar panels slightly less energy efficient, with an estimated 13–16% efficiency. These solar panel options can last up to 25 years with the proper care.

Polycrystalline solar panels don’t fare as well as monocrystalline solar panels in hotter temperatures and low-light situations.

Because of the cheaper production cost and decreased efficiency, these solar panel types are more affordable than monocrystalline panels.

Thin-Film Solar Panels

Thin-film panels are made from several materials like cadmium telluride, copper indium gallium selenide, or amorphous silicon.

Thin-film solar panels are the easiest to manipulate of the different solar panel designs. They’re lightweight and flexible, making them easier to install and a good fit for many projects.

Thin-film panels are especially popular for commercial roofs that can’t sustain a heavier crystal solar panel.

These panels are even less efficient than polycrystalline panels, with an estimated 11% efficiency. Thin-film solar panels are the cheapest available solar panel but also the least efficient.

PERC Solar Panels

PERC solar panels, which stands for Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell panels, have an additional panel layer that gives the sun’s rays another chance to convert into energy. This added layer makes these types of solar panels more efficient, at about 23% efficiency. PERC solar panels tend to be more expensive than monocrystalline solar panels.
Monocrystalline Polycrystalline Thin-Film PERC
Efficiency

15–20%

13–16%

11%

23%

Pros

Works well in the shade, can withstand high temperatures, can last 25–50 years

Can last up to 25 years, more affordable than monocrystalline

Lightweight, flexible, easy to install, most affordable choice

Most energy-efficient option

Cons

High initial cost, attractive look

Lower efficiency, less attractive look

Lowest efficiency

Highest initial cost

How to Choose the Right Solar Panel Fit

The right solar panel for a project depends on location, customer needs, and cost. If cost is the customer’s highest priority, polycrystalline panels are a great choice even though they’re less energy efficient. Monocrystalline panels are a fine choice for those looking for a highly efficient panel with the best performance. However, they will cost more.

Conclusion

Each solar panel situation will be unique. Use this article as a guide to choose which solar panels best meet each project’s needs. Whether your customers want high efficiency, low costs, or the most appealing aesthetics, you can help them find the right solar panel design. What are the most popular solar panels in your service area? Let us know in the comments below.
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