Types of Solar Panels: Size, Shape, Color, & Efficiency

There are many types of solar panels.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  How do you tell which one you’re dealing with?  This is a great question — one I didn’t know the answer to when I first got acquainted with solar panels.

Let’s start off and discuss the three main types of  photovoltaic (PV) panels:

  1. Monocrystalline Solar Panels – Monocrystalline cells are cut from a block of silicon that has been grown from a single crystal.These tend to be the most efficient, but also the most expensive solar panels.  They have been considered the go-to panels for the last couple decades, and also boast being the oldest and most dependable.
  2. Polycrystalline Solar Panels – Polycrystalline cells are cut from multifaceted silicon crystal.  They don’t come from a single piece of silicon crystal, but rather from many different crystals.   These solar panels tend to be  less efficient than monocrystalline solar panels of the same size.  This means a 200 Watt Monocrystalline panel will usually be smaller than a 200 Watt Polycrystalline panel.
  3. Thin Film or Amorphous Solar Panels – These panels are not made up of any crystals.  They are actually a thin layer of silicon deposited on a substrate or base material like metal or glass.  Thin film solar panels tend to be the least efficient per square foot, but they are also the cheapest.  The best application for amorphous panels is if you have a large amount of surface area and space doesn’t matter.

I talk a lot about efficiency above.  I want to note that I am referring to efficiency per square foot.  A 200 Watt Monocrystalline panel will generate as much electricity as a 200 Watt Polycrystalline panel or four 50 Watt Thin Film Panels.  The main difference would be size.

So how can you tell which type of solar panel is which?  It’s easy to tell the difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels versus thin film panels.  Monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels are rigid and much thicker than thin film.  Thin film panels are flexible and they are, well, “thin.”   Thin film also has a mostly uniform color.

Now let’s talk about the visual differences between monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels.  Polycrystalline usually have a shattered glass look.  This is because polycrystalline panels are made up from many different crystals put together.  Monocrystalline panels tend to have more of a one-color look to them because they come from one crystal.

Brightstar Solar is a Massachusetts solar company specializing in residential and commercial installations.  We can help you determine which type of solar panel is right for your project.  Please contact us for a free solar evaluation of your home or business in Massachusetts.