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Exploring the Sun’s Power: Discovering the Different Types of Solar Panels

Solar panels are a big deal. They offer ways to help the environment, reduce monthly utility costs, and harness energy from the sun. (1) However, that doesn’t always mean that they are always easy to understand. Even with a bit of research, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the different kinds.

Thankfully, once you understand the type of solar panels out there, and the categories they fall into, you can easily grasp the solar panels that may be best for you.

Residential Solar Panels

For most people, the most important kinds of solar panels will likely be residential ones. These are types of solar panels that work for homes, RVs, small outdoor decorations, and even sometimes businesses.

There are really only 4 kinds of solar panels that fall into this category. Each one has slightly different purposes and uses that make them more beneficial for certain situations than others.

house with solar panels

The first kind of residential solar panel is monocrystalline. These are some of the best kinds of solar panels out there. They are usually about 20% efficient, which is pretty good for solar panels at the current time. However, they have a heftier price tag and are usually less environmentally friendly due to high waste.

Next are PERC solar panels. These are a type of monocrystalline panel. However, they add another layer in the back of the panel to increase efficiency a little.

Because of this, they are often the most efficient residential solar panels. However, their cost is often a little higher than even monocrystalline and they are still wasteful.

Polycrystalline is a cheaper alternative to the two above. They are less efficient but cost a lot less to purchase as well, so they are a good option for someone that doesn’t need a whole lot of power or has a lot of space.

Finally, there are thin-film solar panels. These are not as widespread as the others. They are the least efficient and cheap due to their thin design. They are best used in cases where height, weight, or roof shape doesn’t work for traditional solar panels like steep roofs, RVs, or vans.

That’s the basics of the differences in residential solar panels.

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Commercial or Specific Solar Panels

If you’ve heard about other kinds of solar panels, you may have accidentally looked at ones that aren’t currently available for residential use, or just aren’t practical for many people. This can be due to the cost or efficiency of gathering materials.

These kinds of solar panels are used in big settings like utility grids or space stations. There are really only two kinds of these solar panels.

The first kind is slowly moving over to the residential side. These are amorphous panels. They have been used for a long time for small purposes, like powering watches, calculators, and toys.

As the name suggests, they are shapeless solar panels. (2) They don’t use traditional cells like the others and can be cut to any fit or shape. However, they are currently only about 7% in practice and 15% in theory which puts them well at the bottom for efficiency. (3)

The next are III-V solar panels. These are the ones used in space most often because they are highly efficient. They can easily reach efficiencies of above 40%. (4)

Unfortunately, these are very costly due to the materials required to make them. Right now, the hope is to make them around $10 per watt which is a pretty large jump from $2 or $3 per watt like with most other solar panels. (5)


  1. Maka, A. O., & Alabid, J. (2022). Solar energy technology and its roles in sustainable development. Clean Energy6(3), 476–483.  https://academic.oup.com/ce/article/6/3/476/6606003
  2. Definition of amorphous. (2023, February 28). Merriam-Webster Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/amorphous
  3. Towler, B. F. (2014, January 1). Solar Power. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/amorphous-silicon-solar-cell
  4. Geisz, J. F., Schulte, K. L., Steiner, M. A., Norman, A. B., Guthrey, H., Young, M. R., Song, T., & Moriarty, T. (2020). Six-junction III–V solar cells with 47.1% conversion efficiency under 143 Suns concentration. Nature Energy5(4), 326–335. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-020-0598-5#author-information
  5. Multijunction III-V Photovoltaics Research. (n.d.-b). Energy.gov. https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/multijunction-iii-v-photovoltaics-research