Basically there are 3 types of solar panels
Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline (also known as Multi-Crystalline), or Thin-film.
These solar modules vary in how they are made, by appearance-performance-costs and the installations each are best suited for.
Generally speaking, each type has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. The solar module best suited for your installation will depend on factors specific to your own property and desired system characteristics.
Solar Panel’s Parameters
|Solar panel type||Advantages||Disadvantages|
|Polycrystalline||Low cost||Lower efficiency/performance|
|Thin-film||Portable and flexible|
Materials for production of different solar modules
Solar cells are made from a semiconducting material that converts light into electricity. The most common semiconductor material used during the solar cell manufacturing process is silicon.
Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar modules
Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar modules have cells of silicon wafers. To build panel, wafers are assembled into rows and columns to form a rectangle, covered with a glass sheet and framed together.
While both monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels have cells made from silicon but composition of the silicon itself vary in them. Monocrystalline solar cells are from a single and 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 cutting in wafers shape.
Thin-film solar modules
Thin-film panels are made from a variety of materials, the most prevalent type of thin-film solar module is made from cadmium telluride (CdTe). For production of this type of thin-film modules, manufacturers place a layer of CdTe between transparent conducting layers that help capture sunlight. Thin-film technology also got a glass layer on the top for protection.
These types of solar modules (Thin-film) can also be made from amorphous silicon (a-Si), which is similar to the composition of monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. These thin-film panels use silicon in their composition but they are not made up of solid silicon wafers. They’re composed of non-crystalline silicon placed on top of glass, plastic or metal.
Another popular type of thin-film panels are made by Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) technology. In CIGS panels all 4 elements are placed between two conductive layers (between glass, plastic, aluminum or steel) plus electrodes are placed on the front and the back of the material to capture electrical currents.
Different solar modules looks different
The differences in production materials cause differences in appearance between each type of solar modules.
Monocrystalline solar modules
Solar module with black cells is most likely a monocrystalline panel. Monocrystalline cells appear black because of how light interacts with the pure silicon crystal. Monocrystalline solar modules have a variety of colors for their back sheets and frames. Most often, the back sheet of the solar module will be black, silver or white and the metal frames will be typically black or silver.
Polycrystalline solar modules
Polycrystalline solar cells tend to have a bluish hue to them because of the light reflecting off the silicon fragments in the cell in a different way than it reflects off a pure monocrystalline silicon wafer. Similarly polycrystalline modules have different colors for back sheets and frames. The frames of polycrystalline modules most often are silver and the back sheets are either silver or white.
Thin-film solar modules
The biggest differentiating factor for thin-film solar modules is how thin and low-profile the technology is. As name shows, thin-film panels are often thinner than other panel types. It’s because the cells within the panels are roughly 350 times thinner than the crystalline wafers used in monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar modules.
It’s important to keep in mind that the thin-film cells themselves are much thinner than traditional solar cells and an entire thin-film panel may be similar in thickness to a monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar module with a thick frame. Adhesive thin-film solar panels lies as-close-as-possible to the surface of a roof but there are more durable thin-film panels that have frames up to 50 millimeters thick.
Thin-film solar modules comes in both blue and black hues, depending on what they are made from.
Solar panel power and efficiency ratings
Each type of solar module produces varies amount of power.
Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline solar modules
Among all panel types, monocrystalline typically have the highest efficiencies and power capacity. Most monocrystalline solar modules reach efficiencies higher than 20%, while polycrystalline solar modules usually have efficiencies between 15 to 17%.
Monocrystalline solar modules generates more power than other types of panels not only because of their efficiency but because they come in higher wattage modules as well. Many monocrystalline solar modules come with more than 300 W (watts) of power capacity and even with more than 350 watts. On the other hand, polycrystalline solar modules, tend to have lower wattages.
Physically monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar modules are of the same size – in fact, both types of solar modules comes with 60, 72 or 96 silicon cells variants (usually for large-scale installations). Even with the same number of cells, monocrystalline panels are capable of producing more electricity than polycrystalline solar panels.
Thin-film solar modules
Thin-film solar panels have lower efficiencies, power capacities than monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels. Panels efficiencies vary based on the specific material used in the cells, usually have efficiencies closer to 11%.
Dissimilar monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panels that come in 60, 72 and 96 cells variants, thin-film technology does not come in uniform sizes. The power capacity from one thin-film panel to another, largely depend on its physical size. In other words, the power capacity per square foot of monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panel will always exceed thin-film panel.
Solar panels of different types have different costs
Monocrystalline solar panels
Monocrystalline panels are most expensive option. Largely due to the manufacturing process as the solar cells are made from a single silicon crystal, manufacturers have to absorb the costs of creating these crystals. Creation of these crstals is known as the Czochralski process, it’s energy intensive and results in wasted silicon (waste can be later used to manufacture polycrystalline solar cells).
Polycrystalline solar panels
Polycrystalline solar panels are cheaper than monocrystalline solar panels. The polycrystalline cells are produced from silicon fragments rather than a single, pure silicon crystal. Manufacturing process is much simpler, thus costing less for manufacturers and eventually end users.
Thin-film solar panels
Cost of thin-film solar panels largely depends on the type of thin-film panel – CdTe is generally the cheapest type of solar panel to manufacture and CIGS solar panels are much more expensive to produce than both CdTe or amorphous silicon.
Except cost of the panel themselves, the overall cost of a thin-film solar panel installation may be lower than installing a monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panel system because of additional labor requirements. Thin-film solar panel are lighter weight and more maneuverable so installations are less labor-intensive, making it easier for installers to carry panels up onto rooftops and secure them in place.