Which Type Of Solar Panel Is Best For Home Use?

Which type of solar panel is best for home use?

Installing solar panels on your home can provide numerous benefits, including lower electricity bills, energy independence, and a smaller carbon footprint. However, solar panels also require a significant upfront investment and ongoing maintenance. When considering home solar panels, one of the most important decisions is which type of solar panel to install.

There are three main types of solar panels for residential use: silicon panels, thin film panels, and hybrid panels. Each has advantages and disadvantages in terms of efficiency, costs, appearance, and durability. This article provides an overview of the different panel types and key factors to consider when deciding which is best for your home.

Types of Solar Panels

There are three main types of solar panels used for residential installations: crystalline silicon panels, thin film panels, and hybrid panels.

Crystalline Silicon Panels

Crystalline silicon panels, which include both monocrystalline and polycrystalline technologies, are the most common type of solar panel on the market today. According to Solarmagazine.com, crystalline silicon panels accounted for over 90% of global PV installations in 2022 [1].

Monocrystalline panels are made from a single crystal of silicon, giving them a distinctive black appearance and higher efficiency ratings of 15-22%. However, they tend to be more expensive than polycrystalline alternatives.

Polycrystalline panels are made from fragments of silicon crystals melted together. They have a slightly lower efficiency of 13-18% but also a lower price point. Polycrystalline panels have a speckled blue color appearance.

Thin Film Panels

Thin film panels use cadmium telluride (CdTe) or copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) instead of silicon. They have lower efficiency ratings of 7-13% but their flexibility allows for unique installations and limited weight loads.

Hybrid Panels

Hybrid solar panels combine thin film technology with mono- or polycrystalline silicon cells to improve efficiency. They are a relatively new technology that comes at a higher cost, but hybrid panels can achieve efficiencies over 20%.

Silicon Panels

Silicon panels are the most common type of solar panel installed on homes today. They consist of photovoltaic cells made from silicon wafers that convert sunlight into electricity (Mesquita et al., 2018). Silicon panels have a typical efficiency range of 15-22%, meaning they convert 15-22% of the sunlight that hits them into usable electricity.

Their high efficiency and proven technology make silicon panels a popular choice. However, silicon is more expensive than other materials, so these panels tend to have a higher upfront cost. But for homeowners looking to maximize efficiency and minimize hassle, silicon panels may be worth the extra investment.

According to one analysis, monocrystalline silicon panels had the highest efficiency at 22.1%, compared to polycrystalline (18.1%) and thin film panels (15.7-16.9%) (Figueroa, 2022). So for those prioritizing efficiency, monocrystalline silicon panels are often the best option.

Thin Film Panels

Thin film solar panels are made by depositing one or more thin layers of photovoltaic material onto a substrate like glass, plastic or metal. They are cheaper than silicon panels but also less efficient. According to Energysage, thin film panels are typically around 7-15% efficient, compared to 15-22% for silicon panels [1]. However, thin film panels perform better than silicon in low light conditions.

The most common thin film materials are amorphous silicon (a-Si), cadmium telluride (CdTe), and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS). Thin film panels tend to have a blue or black color compared to the blue-black appearance of silicon panels. They can be made flexible and molded to curved surfaces unlike silicon panels.

Overall, thin film panels are a cheaper option but have lower efficiency ratings. They can be a good choice for homes where space is limited or collectors need to be curved. Thin film performs well in low light conditions. But for maximum energy production per square foot, silicon panels are superior.

Hybrid Panels

Hybrid solar panels combine the benefits of both silicon and thin film technologies (source). They are made by layering thin film materials like amorphous silicon on top of mono- or polycrystalline silicon cells. This allows them to absorb more of the solar spectrum.

The advantages of hybrid panels include higher efficiency than thin film alone, typically around 15-18%. They perform better in low light and high temperatures. They are lightweight and flexible. Hybrids are less expensive than pure silicon panels while more efficient than pure thin film (source).

The main disadvantage is that hybrid panels are more expensive than thin film, but less efficient than mono- or polycrystalline silicon. They may degrade faster than pure silicon over time. Hybrid solar only makes up about 5% of the total market currently (source).

Size and Orientation

When deciding which solar panels to install on your home, it’s important to consider the roof space needed and how to optimize sun exposure. The size of solar panels can vary greatly, with typical residential systems ranging anywhere from 4-8 panels for a small system to 20+ panels for a large system. Standard solar panels are usually around 65 inches long by 39 inches wide.

To maximize production, solar panels should be installed facing south (for northern hemisphere locations) with no shading or obstruction throughout the day. Panels can be mounted flush on the roof or tilted at an angle. Tilting the panels typically increases efficiency, with the optimal tilt angle equaling your latitude. However, flush mounted systems require less space and may be preferable if you have limited suitable roof area. Always leave sufficient space between panels and around the edges of the roof for access and maintenance.

Carefully measure your usable roof space and map out the panel layout before purchasing a system. Consult with installers to determine how many panels can realistically fit on your roof while maintaining proper spacing and orientation. Having this information ahead of time will help you select the right system size and avoid issues down the road.

Source: https://amarrealtor.com/real-estate-news/what-homeowners-need-to-know-about-installing-solar-panels/

Upfront Costs

The total upfront cost of installing a solar system includes the purchase and installation of the solar panels and other equipment. According to MarketWatch, a residential solar system can cost upwards of $25,000 per installation. However solar panel costs have been steadily declining, with the average cost per watt now between $0.90 and $1.50 for materials.

When factoring in installation costs, which can add approximately 25% more to the total, NerdWallet estimates the range for a full solar panel system installation to be $18,000 to $36,000. The final cost depends on system size, panel efficiency, location and installer. Larger systems for bigger homes generally cost more overall, but may achieve greater long-term savings.

Ongoing Maintenance

Proper maintenance is crucial for solar panels to operate efficiently over their lifespan of 25-30 years. The main maintenance tasks involve cleaning the panels and repairing any damages or faults.

Solar panels need to be cleaned regularly, as dirt, dust, bird droppings, pollen, and other debris can build up over time and reduce the panels’ energy production. Cleaning frequency depends on environmental factors, but typically panels are cleaned 2-4 times per year. Cleaning can cost around $100-$250 each time, bringing annual cleaning costs to several hundred dollars.

Repairs may be needed over the years for any cracked/broken panels, loose wiring, inverter issues, etc. The cost of repairs can vary greatly based on the specific problem. Replacing a broken panel may cost $200-$600, while a faulty inverter could cost $500-$2000 to replace. The inverter, which converts the panels’ DC output to usable AC power, has a lifespan around 10-15 years and will likely need replaced once over the system’s lifetime.

Overall, expect to budget $300-$700 per year for maintenance costs, depending on your system size and local rates.

Savings and Payback Time

The main savings from installing solar panels comes from reduced electricity bills. Solar panels generate electricity from sunlight, allowing homeowners to rely less on the grid. The more a home’s energy use is offset by solar production, the greater the savings.

According to EnergySage, most homeowners see a 50% – 80% reduction in their electricity bills after going solar. The exact savings depends on system size, electricity rates, sunlight availability, and financing method.

Payback period refers to how long it takes for the upfront costs of a solar system to be recouped through electricity bill savings. The average payback period for solar panels is 6-7 years as of 2023, but can be as short as 3-4 years in states with high electricity costs like California and Hawaii.

One way to calculate payback time is to divide total system cost by the expected first year savings. For example, a $15,000 system that saves $2,500 in year one would have a 6 year payback period ($15,000 / $2,500 = 6 years). After the payback period, the system produces free electricity.

Payback periods have decreased over time as solar panel costs fall and electricity rates rise. Solar is considered a good long-term investment in most parts of the U.S. today. After payback, panels can continue producing for 25+ more years.


When selecting solar panels for home use, there are a few key factors to consider. The main types of solar panels available for residential installations are silicon panels, thin film panels, and hybrid panels. Silicon panels, such as monocrystalline and polycrystalline, have the highest efficiency but come at a higher upfront cost. Thin film panels, like cadmium telluride, are less expensive but require more physical space for the same output. Hybrid panels combine technologies to balance efficiency and costs. Other considerations are panel size, orientation and roof space, ongoing maintenance needs, energy savings and return on investment.

Overall, for most homeowners looking to go solar, monocrystalline silicon panels are often the best option. Though more expensive initially, monocrystalline panels have the highest efficiency ratings and will produce more energy per square foot over their lifetime. Their high efficiency also allows homeowners to meet energy needs with fewer panels. While thin film and hybrid panels can make sense for some situations, monocrystalline silicon offers the best combination of value and performance in residential solar installations.

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