Which Type Of Solar Panel Is Best For You?

DISCLAIMER: Our partners no longer take appointments for homeowners looking to benefit from the Feed-in Tariff, which concluded on 31st March 2019

Doing the right thing can be difficult. In the sudden throes of environmental concern, you may have sat down and looked into the different types of solar panels, only to find yourself overwhelmed by all kinds of terms and statistics. You couldn’t be blamed for putting up a white flag and going back to traditional energy providers. That’s why we’re here to give you a solar panel types comparison, so you can find the best type of solar panel for you.

solar panels on white roofs at dusk

What are the three types of solar panel?

When it comes to choosing solar panels for your home, there are three main types that you can find on the market. These are:

• Monocrystalline

• Polycrystalline

• Thin film panels

These all come with their own pros and cons that we’ve simplified and visualised for you.

Type of panel
Thin film

Information last updated in May 2019.

If this table has helped you make your mind up about what kind of panel you might be interested in, use the form above to get a free solar panel quote.

However, if you’re interested in learning more about these stats and how each panel has earned its stars, continue reading to see more in-depth breakdowns of each panel.

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What is Thin Film?

If you are interested in installing solar panels on your roof you may have come across terms like Thin Film, Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline. There are very technical explanations for these terms and how they apply to solar panels. However, all that is really needed to understand these terms in relation to buying solar panels is that they relate to the material in the solar panel that takes in the sunlight.

Thin film relates to the semiconductor material in the solar panels. The semiconductor is the material that picks up the sun’s light and conducts it to the next stage in the process. Traditional solar panels use a layer of Monocrystalline silicon or Polycrystalline silicon. Thin film panels tend to use a thinner layer of a different material, most commonly Amorphous silicon.

Pros of Thin Film

+ Thin film is cheaper and easier to produce than traditional crystalline solar panels

+ This reduction in manufacturer costs means that they are also cheaper to buy and install

+ Thin film panels can work efficiently in low light or cloudy conditions

+ They also work better than crystalline panels in very hot conditions

+ Thin film manufacturers can make light, flexible panels which are self-adhesive and can be fitted onto a variety of surfaces including windows

+ The thinner, more uniform appearance of thin film panels can make them more aesthetically pleasing

And the cons

- Thin film solar panels generally have a lower output than traditional crystalline panels

- Thin film technology is newer and therefore it hasn’t yet reached its optimal efficiency. The quality of thin film panels are getting better but at the moment you can expect a thin film panel to be four times less efficient than crystalline panels of the same size

- This lower efficiency means that you could need up to four times more space for thin film panels to achieve the same output as crystalline panels, this could lead to higher installation costs

- Thin film panels currently degrade quicker than their crystalline counterparts so they will likely come with a shorter warranty

Polycrystalline vs Monocrystalline vs Thin Film

There are some advantages to choosing thin film solar panels over traditional crystalline panels. Thin film panels are up to 20% cheaper than similar crystalline systems. As solar panels still have quite high initial costs this saving could translate into £1000s. They also work efficiently in cloudy conditions - useful in our consistently bleak Summers.

Their ability to withstand much higher temperatures than traditional panels is well documented too, although unless you decide to move somewhere more appropriate this won't have any real impact.

Thank you blighty!

Thin film panels are arguably more aesthetically pleasing than crystalline panels due to their very sleek and thin look. This is especially apparent in comparison to polycrystalline panels, whose mottled blue colour has been known to put people off.

Traditional crystalline panels hold many advantages over thin film which is why they still comprise 80-90% of the market. It used to be the case that monocrystalline panels were held in much higher regard than polycrystalline ones. However, so much research has gone into crystalline solar power technology that there is not a lot of difference left in the price or efficiency of similar sized mono/polycrystalline systems.

Crystalline panels are currently up to four times more efficient than thin film panels in typical conditions. This means that they are also more space-efficient than thin film panels and require up to four times less roof space for the same output.

So unless you live in a house that's 90% roof, thin film probably isn't for you!

Crystalline solar panels currently have longer lifespans and therefore come with a longer warranty, typically 25 years. Most big brand solar panel installers still use crystalline technology which means you are more likely to find an established, trustworthy installer if you choose crystalline panels.

Due to their low manufacturing costs a lot of research is currently going into thin film technology. As efficiency rises and costs stay low thin film may well see a rise in the market share over the coming years, especially if big name brands start using thin film panels.

How much does each panel type cost?

One of the biggest barriers of entry to solar panels is the pricing. You can find out more in our complete guide to solar panel costs, but we’ll give you an estimated summary of costs behind each kind of panel here as well.

Size of property
Monocrystalline solar panels
Polycrystalline solar panels
Thin film solar panels
1 bedroom
£1,500 to £3,000
£1,200 to £2,700
£1,000 to £2,200
2 bedrooms
£3,000 to £5,000
£2,800 to £4,800
£2,300 to £3,100
3 bedrooms
£5,000 to £6,000
£4,900 to £5,800
£3,200 to £4,900
4 bedrooms
£6,000 to £8,000
£5,900 to £6,600
£5,000 to £6,000

Information last updated in May 2019.

As you can see, monocrystalline solar panels are the most expensive, with thin film solar panels being the kindest to your wallet. Why, then, would you ever buy monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panels instead of thin film?

The answer lies in our next section.

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The true measure of a solar panel’s quality is how well it can convert sunlight into energy. This is the easiest comparison point to make, as we can just find a generally accepted average for each kind of panel. For a more specific look at different solar panel models, take a look at the most efficient solar panels.

Monocrystalline solar panels
Polycrystalline solar panels
Thin film solar panels
Energy efficiency

Information last updated in May 2019.

Energy efficiency refers to the percentage of sunlight hitting a solar panel that is successfully converted into electricity for your house.

It should also be noted that, while thin film solar panels are flexible, they do generally require a good deal more space to fully optimize their output. This makes them ideal for roomier houses, but maybe not the best option for a house with less roof space.

As technology progresses, these efficiency ratings will no doubt improve for all three types of panels. There are even whisperings of a “hybrid solar panel”, which is reported to have around 80% efficiency.

How much could you save with Solar Panels? What's your average monthly electricity bill?

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Presentation is everything

While it’s definitely the most subjective aspect of solar panels, aesthetic is a crucial element of deciding whether to install a solar panel. If these things are going to be sitting on your roof for all to see, you’ll want it to look presentable. That’s why we’ve tried to assess how visually pleasing these three kinds of panels are.

Firstly, let’s look at monocrystalline panels. These might be what you visualize when you think of solar panels, with uniform navy blue octagons covering a white background. The contrast of the dark blue and white can look a bit jarring, and might not look great on a darker roof.

The difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels is that rather than being cut into octagons, these cells are cut into squares. This leaves less room for the white to show through, giving a more solid appearance. They generally have a more blue sheen to them, however, which is worth considering.

Finally: thin film solar panels. In an era when sleek, thin, and black is the route that all of our technology seems to be taking, thin film solar panels are following suit. They are slim bendable sheets of sheer black. Due to their flexibility, they can be fitted around curved surfaces, and don’t show any contrasting colours, therefore standing out the least.

If aesthetics are your biggest concern, you might want to consider solar roof tiles. These are usually monocrystalline panels that are layered as the roof tiles themselves. This style is space efficient and aesthetically pleasing.

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Last panel standing

Finally, how long do each of these things last? This statistic is the hardest to measure, as there are all sorts of variables that dictate how long a solar panel will last (weather, heat, overall usage, etc.)

For our final table, we’ll look at the average lifespan of each kind of solar panel.

Monocrystalline solar panels
Polycrystalline solar panels
Thin film solar panels
40-50 years
40-50 years
25 years

Information last updated in May 2019.

A few things to note:

• The lifespan of thin film solar panels is an estimate due to the fact that they are a relatively new technology, and we’ve actually never seen one reach the natural end of its life

• Most solar panels come with a 25 year warranty

• While they can survive for 50 years, after around 25 years, their performance can drop to about 80% as their life goes on, due to dust buildup and other general decay

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A new player emerges

As mentioned earlier, a new kind of solar panel is expected to join the fray sometime in the next few years. Known as a hybrid panel, this new form of solar panel turns its biggest weakness into its greatest strength.

Despite doing all their work in the sun, solar panels do not work well in extreme heat. When a solar panel gets too hot, its efficiency starts to drop drastically. However, hybrid panels propose a solution.

Hybrid panels are a combination (or hybrid) of a conventional solar panel and a solar thermal panel. In theory, hybrid panels will not only keep their efficiency under intense heat, but they will also be able to convert heat into energy. They use this heat to supply the house with hot water, saving more money on energy bills.

While hybrid panels are only just starting to roll out, they’re worth keeping an eye on if you are interested in optimizing a solar panel system for your house.

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So what's the best?

It was American basketball coach Pat Riley who once said: “Look for your choices, pick the best one, then go with it.”

As simple as this sounds, that’s really what this decision really boils down to. After seeing our star-based chart and reading through all our reasonings, which one do you think fits your lifestyle the best? Only you know your budget, aesthetic tastes, and energy needs.

If you'd like to find out how much solar panels will cost you, answer the question below, fill in our quick form, and our professional installers will be in touch. If you’d like to know more when discussing this topic with a supplier, it might be worth brushing up on the best solar panel manufacturers and what they offer.

How much could you save with Solar Panels? What's your average monthly electricity bill?

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