The harnessing of solar energy has been experimented with since the late 1800s. Solar panels were first invented in the 1800s, and since then the technology has been widely experimented with. Today, there are various types of solar panels to choose from. And this is the root of confusion for many homeowners.

Each type has its advantages and disadvantages; therefore, a choice shouldn’t be made without having a thorough overview of each of these types of solar panels. In this short guide, we have examined the various types of solar panels available on the market.

Overview: Types of solar panels

Solar panels are often categorized by ‘generations’ because each generation has a distinct type of technology.

  1. First-generation solar panels
    1. Monocrystalline solar panels
    2. Polycrystalline solar panels
  2. Second-generation solar panels
    1. Thin-film solar cells
    2. Unexplored technologies: CdTe, CIGS, and a-Si
  3. Third-generation solar panels
    1. Concentrated PV solar panels
    2. Biohybrid solar cells

Let us look at each in detail.

First-generation solar panels

These are often called traditional solar panels and are made purely of silicon. These are the most common types of solar panels used for rooftop installations. There are two types of first-generation solar panels– the monocrystalline solar panel and the polycrystalline solar panel.

1.  Monocrystalline solar panel

Monocrystalline solar panels are made from one silicon cell. They have a distinguished black colour since they are made from the purest form of silicon. Monocrystalline solar panels are known for providing high power output with low space requirements.

Conversion efficiency: 15 – 20%

2.  Polycrystalline solar panel

Polycrystalline solar panels are made from multiple silicon cells. While they often look like monocrystalline solar panels, the solar cells have a dark blue colour. Polycrystalline solar panels are much cheaper than monocrystalline solar panels. However, this is also the reason why they don’t have a long lifespan.

Conversion efficiency: 13-16%

Second-generation solar panels

Second-generation solar panels are often called thin-film solar panels. These solar panels have cells that are approximately 300-350% thinner than the first generation solar panels. The primary reason for this is that solar cells for thin-film solar panels are generated using a different methodology than monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels.

To compensate for these thin solar cells, many manufacturers use a sturdy aluminium frame. Therefore, you may not see a difference in the final thickness of the solar panel. The difference can be noted in the packing of the solar cells. 

1.  Thin-film solar cells

Thin-film solar cells are popularly called flexible solar panels. These are tightly packed solar panels that include one or more thin layers of solar cells. Due to their flexibility, they are often used over the windows of commercial buildings. They are unsuitable for residential applications because they are thin, inexpensive and prone to damage.

Conversion efficiency: 10%

2.  Unexplored technologies: CdTe, CIGS, and a-Si

Cadmium Telluride (CdTe), Cadmium Indium Gallium Selenide (CDGS) and amorphous Silica (a-Si) are three additional types of solar panels that are available on the market. However, they are not used as often as other technologies due to one of the following reasons:

  • They contain toxic or non-recyclable materials
  • They are expensive to manufacture
  • They have an efficiency of less than 10-15%.

These technologies are still under exploration and we may see more of them in the future.

Third-generation solar panels

Third-generation panels include technology that is still in the research and development phase. While some solar manufacturers have rolled out these types of panels, they are not as widely available.

1.  Concentrated PV solar panels

Also known as CPV panels, they are among the most efficient panels available. They have a unique design: curved mirrors that direct the sunlight to one focal point. At this point, the concentrated beam is converted into electrical energy. These solar panels also include a solar tracker that follows the movement of the sun.

Conversion efficiency: 40%

2.  Biohybrid solar cells

These types of solar panels were discovered in 2012 at Vanderbilt University. They run on organic material like green vegetables and use photosynthesis to generate energy. This is a technology that is still very much in the research and development phase.

These are the major types of solar panels that are available on the market or are being researched. However, if you were to approach a solar panel manufacturer, you may also get two other options.

Two additional technologies

1.  PERC solar panels

PERC solar panels are a type of monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panels with an additional layer of solar cells. Due to this additional layer, PERC solar panels are more expensive, more durable and much more efficient.

Conversion efficiency: 20%

2.  Bifacial solar panels

Bi-facial solar panels are mounted solar panels, with solar cells on both sides. Power can be generated from both sides of the solar panel, so you can enjoy a higher efficiency.

Conversion efficiency: 24-26%

Comparison: Types of solar panels

Here is a table depicting the major highlights of each for accurate comparison:

Type of solar panelMaximum conversion efficiencyAdvantagesDisadvantagesSuitable for homes?
Monocrystalline20%Optimized for residential applicationsDust, snow and rain can cause a power outageYes
Polycrystalline16%Affordable pricingLow lifespanYes
Thin-film solar cells10%Easy installation and inexpensiveShort warranty and lifespanNo
Concentrated PV40%Highest performing solar panelsExpensive and requires an external cooling systemNo
PERC20%High performance in low light conditionsExpensive maintenance requirementsYes
Bifacial27%Require less rooftop space for more power generationExpensive installation and maintenanceYes

How do you choose a solar panel?

As highlighted in the table above, each solar panel technology has advantages and disadvantages. The key to selecting the right solar panel is deciding what you want out of the installation. You can answer these questions to determine the right solar panel for you:

  • Where do you need to install a solar panel?
  • How much space do you have available for the installation?
  • How much energy do you need every day?
  • What are the weather conditions where you live?
  • What is your budget?

Once you have answered these questions, you will have an accurate understanding of your solar needs. There are many solar panel manufacturers in India and finding the right one can be confusing. For your comfort, we have created a list of the top 10 solar panel manufacturers in India to help you find the right solar panel for you. If you’ve understood what you need from the solar panel, you can approach one of these companies to find the right solar panel for your home.