Solar Panel Types: The Variations to Know About

Topic: solar projects Read Time: 7 mins
Landowner type:
Institutional landowners | Professional advisers
Energy: Solar
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Are you wondering what kind of solar panels types are out there? Do you need help nailing down the types of solar panels to use for your next project? If so, you’ll want to stick with us as we run through everything from efficiency to appearance that should help you decide.

Building a new commercial solar project is a challenging feat. From planning permission to clearing land and building access roads, enormous solar farms are seriously complicated. For commercial projects, one of the first things that any developer will think about at the outset of a project is which solar panel types are most suitable. And for domestic panels, you may want to know which types of solar panels will look most attractive on your rooftop.

Whatever you’re here for, we’ll run you through everything you need to know. Whether you’re interested in efficiency, appearance, installation costs, or lifespan, we’re here to fill you in. So, let’s dive right in.

Photo of a solar farm

Solar panels are photovoltaic cells that capture the sun’s irradiation and convert it into usable energy with the help of an inverter. The project can then supply energy to homes and businesses across the country. Although we’ll discuss exactly how solar power works in a more detailed article, we’ll give you a quick rundown here.

Solar panels work by releasing electrons, which then produce an electronic charge. They do this when the photons from the sun cause the photovoltaic cells to charge (and start vibrating as a result). This process generates a decent amount of energy, and it causes free electrons to release into an electric field. When this happens, the directional current pulls them in, and this produces direct current (AKA: electricity).

Commercial solar farms convert this direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC) with inverters. Once in this usable AC form, it’s supplied to the local Grid network and sold on (typically through Power Purchase Agreements). This entire process is called the Photovoltaic Effect.

Photo showing different types of solar panels

If you’ve clicked on this article, you’re probably looking for a rundown of the solar panel types that are available to you.  Whether for a domestic installation or a large-scale commercial project, these are the most popular types of solar panels you’ll want to consider using.

Monocrystalline solar panels are the oldest and most well-developed types of solar panels. They were first used in the 1950s as first-generation solar cells and have come a LONG way since.

Thanks to their hardiness, residential developers usually use them in rooftop solar installations. They’re also the go-to panel for developers on solar farms, so they’ll be the type of solar panel landowners see most frequently in their projects.

They have a high-efficiency rate and are usually optimised for commercial use (you can expect efficiency rates between 15% and 20%). They also have the highest output and power capacity compared to other panels, giving them the highest efficiency per square foot. You can expect a 60-cell solar panel to produce around 310 to 350 watts per panel. This can vary based on the manufacturer, but it’s a great ballpark figure.

The panels are made from forming pure silicon into bars. Solar manufacturers then cut the pure silicone into wafer shapes, trim the edges, fashion the panels into rows, and mount them. The excellent alignment of the silicon in these panels means that they absorb a lot more energy than you’d think.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of solar panels, check out our dedicated blog here.

Polycrystalline panels are slightly less efficient and tend to cost more per watt of power output for that very reason. They’re made from a combination of silicone crystals that are melted together and poured into a square mould. A semiconductor layer is placed between each transparent conducting layer before a sheet of glass is put on top to capture the sunlight.

These panels have a lower heat tolerance than monocrystalline panels, which can make them less efficient during the warmer months. So, you’ll likely need to pay for more panels to get the same output as a solar farm filled with monocrystalline panels.

Thin film panels don’t just use silicone but are a combination of many different materials.

These are usually:

  • Cadmium telluride
  • Amorphous silicon
  • Copper indium gallium selenide

Thin film panels tend to have the lowest efficiency rating but are also more flexible than others. So, while they might not be the best types of solar panels for large-scale farms, they’re an excellent choice for tighter roof spaces. You can expect an average efficiency of around 7-13%, and they’re usually cheaper than alternative options. They also have a shorter lifespan, lasting about 10 to 20 years on average before developers will need to replace them.

One thing to note about thin-film panels is that they’re generally more susceptible to hail damage than others. These panels also need to deal with light-induced degradation that can reduce efficiency between 1-3% during the panels’ first few hours of exposure to sunlight.

A hybrid solar panel is a combination panel that can use both heat and light. So, it produces energy and heat simultaneously while absorbing sunlight. These panels comprise a photovoltaic element (to absorb light) and a solar thermal component to capture the sun’s heat. The panels are space-saving and have a good efficiency rating (typically in line with monocrystalline). However, they’re less common than monocrystalline panels, and developers rarely use them in solar projects.

If you want to know what solar panels look like and are worried about how they’ll impact the look of your land, stick with us. This brief rundown of aesthetics will give you the bare bones of these solar panel types (and how they’ll appear on your property).

Close up look to monocrystalline solar panels
  • They are usually made from pure silicone. This gives them a uniform, dark appearance.
  • They tend to have rounded edges.
  • Newer panels can also take up less space and reach efficiency levels of over 20%.
  • Their uniform appearance means they’re the most attractive panels (which makes them very popular with homeowners).
Close up look to polycrystalline solar panels
  • Polycrystalline cells have a blue finish with a distinctive rectangular shape.
  • You’ll also be able to spot blue speckles in each cell from the way the sunlight bounces off the panels.

Close-up of a thin-film solar panel
  • As you might assume from their name, thin-film panels are thin, flexible, and generally have a low profile. So, they’re more ‘subtle’ than other types of solar panels.
Photo of a hybrid photovoltaic thermal panel
  • These panels combine thermal and photovoltaic technologies and have rounded edges and a relatively smooth appearance.
Photo showing solar panels in a commercial project

It’s hard to answer “What are the best solar panel types?” without figuring out which factors are most important to YOU.

Monocrystalline panels are the least cost-effective option regarding an upfront cost. You might think twice about monocrystalline panels if you’re a self-developer looking to keep costs low at the outset. However, monocrystalline panels are far more efficient than the alternatives, which would probably lead to greater overall profits from a project.

Appearance is also a significant consideration to think about. Realistically, most homeowners will opt for slimmer, more attractive panels that will look sleek on their rooftops. If developers are looking for output over aesthetics (which is always the case), they’ll choose the most efficient panels possible.

Although it’s hard to say which solar panel types are the best option, monocrystalline panels are essentially the gold standard. Not only are they the most efficient panels, but they have decent lifespans and will usually last for the entire duration of a commercial project. This isn’t exclusive, though. 

Some developers might choose polycrystalline panels as they represent an excellent price-to-efficiency ratio. You can trade off the cheaper installation costs to install more panels at a high enough square footage. This may be enough to compensate for any lost output from the lower efficiency.

To round up our thoughts, the type of solar panels you choose for a project is entirely down to your requirements and whether the use is commercial or domestic. If you’re looking for a hardy domestic solar project, you can get away with cheaper, less efficient panels. But in our book, developers should probably stretch for monocrystalline panels that will last longer and yield higher outputs. This isn’t exclusive to every project, but it’s generally wiser to put in a more increased upfront investment into a solar project to reap the rewards down the line.

If you want a solar project on your land, get in touch. We’re happy to guide you through the process and determine how much passive income you can make from leasing your land. If you already have a project on your land, we can help you uncover lost income and make your site as efficient and profitable as possible.

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