4 Types of Solar Panels: Which One Is Best for You?

If you’re new to the world of solar power, it can be daunting to take that first step. Massive leaps in innovation have pushed the industry forward, creating more accessible options for consumers than ever before. Thanks to increased adoption and economies of scale, solar technology is now an affordable, accessible, eco-friendly choice. But with so many options, it’s hard to know where to begin. 

The first step in switching to solar is identifying what type of solar panels you need. There are many different models of photovoltaic solar panels on the market today, each with unique benefits, downsides, and characteristics. Here’s a rundown of the four major types to help you make the right choice for your family’s energy needs.

Solar Energy, Solar Panels

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline photovoltaic panels are the most established option on the market and set the gold standard for solar panels. Due to their sleek, seamless look, they’re a desirable commodity for those who want to go solar without sacrificing their home’s aesthetics. 

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(Source: ASES)


Monocrystalline PV panels get their name from the design of the solar cells.

Monocrystalline photovoltaic cells are made from a single lab-grown crystal of purified silicon.

Manufacturers achieve this uninterrupted internal structure by processing polycrystalline silicon and shaping it into ingots.

The pure ingots of pure silicon are then sliced into wafers and precision cut into the desired size and shape.

After a lengthy manufacturing process, monocrystalline PV cells are combined and framed into a photovoltaic module such as a solar panel. 

A 400W rigid solar panel typically contains around 60 monocrystalline solar cells framed under a transparent surface like tempered glass and surrounded with a durable metal such as stainless steel or aluminum.

By eliminating impurities and optimizing the photovoltaic material, monocrystalline solar panels deliver much greater efficiency than cheaper polycrystalline panels. 

One downside of monocrystalline PV panels is that the production process generates more waste. Up to 50% of the raw materials like silicon are discarded to produce a single solar cell.

For some eco-minded people switching to solar energy, that may be a turn-off. However, because these panels boast higher efficiency than polycrystalline or thin film options — meaning they generate more electricity per square meter — many believe the trade-off is worthwhile. 

Over the long term, monocrystalline solar panels can reduce your reliance on utility grid electricity generated by fossil fuels and increase your solar return on investment.


Due to their design, monocrystalline panels are one of the most resource-intensive on the market today. They are also quite time-intensive to build. For these reasons, monocrystalline panels are typically more costly than other types. 

While size, features, and the manufacturer can influence price, a single panel typically ranges from $300 to $600. However, for many applications, the higher upfront investment will result in more significant savings on energy over time and a shorter solar payback period

Rated Power Output

The power output of monocrystalline panels per square meter may also justify their higher price tag. This type of panel has the achieves higher rated power output with fewer solar cells due to the single-crystal construction improving capacity. Many monocrystalline panels on the market today can achieve up to 400 watts of rated power.


Monocrystalline panels have a higher efficacy when compared to panels developed with multiple crystal segments. High-rated options like the EcoFlow 400W Rigid Solar Panels with the monocrystalline construction have a conversion efficiency of 23% — significantly higher than the industry standard of 15-20%. Conversion efficiency measures the amount of sunlight captured that’s turned into electricity per square meter of photovoltaic material.

Panel, Solar, Power, Energy, Environment

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Another common type of solar panel on the market today is the polycrystalline panel. This variety isn’t as aesthetically desirable or efficient as its monocrystalline counterpart. Because of its construction, it doesn’t have the signature all-black look of a monocrystalline panel. That said, it’s more affordable and still gets the job done. 

Polycrystalline panels are recognizable by their rectangular shape and blue finish. Because they contain many silicon crystals in every cell, they have a speckled, twinkling appearance when the sun reflects off them.


Polycrystalline panels are sometimes called multi-crystalline panels because of their construction. These PV panels use silicone, similar to monocrystalline cells. However, they consist of many polycrystalline fragments melted together, giving them their characteristic checkerboard appearance. 

During construction, manufacturers melt raw silicon and pour it into square moulds. The moulds remove the additional step required with monocrystalline cells to cut their ends. Polycrystalline panels come out of the moulds in their final shape. 

In the last step, manufacturers will assemble smaller individual squares into one larger panel. This process creates less waste and has a smaller footprint for material use, making them a more environmentally-friendly choice than monocrystalline panels — at least up front. 


Since the manufacturing uses smaller pieces of crystal, polycrystalline panels are typically less resource-intensive and, therefore, more affordable than other options on the market. They also take less time to produce than monocrystalline modules. Currently, it’s possible to find polycrystalline PV panels for as low as $100, with $300 being the high end of their typical cost. 

Power Capacity

Historically, polycrystalline modules haven’t had as high of a power capacity as their monocrystalline counterparts. However, recent solar technology advances have improved the power capacity of polycrystalline panels. 

A typical 60-cell polycrystalline panel can now produce between 240-300 watts. The power capacity is still not on par with monocrystalline per cell. Still, this improvement bodes well for the future of polycrystalline solar technology.


Polycrystalline panels are between 15-17% efficient. They’re in a lower tier than monocrystalline options when it comes to efficiency. They also have a shorter lifespan. Because there are many individual crystals in each cell, there is less freedom for electrons to move around. All this means that they don’t generate as much electricity or for as long.

While they can’t boast the high efficiency of monocrystalline panels, they’re still a decent option to get the most bang for your buck in the short term. Because their construction is less resource-intensive than monocrystalline models, they can be a cost-effective option for those trying to switch to solar on a budget.

Passive Emitter and Rear Contact (PERC)

Passive Emitter and Rear Contact (PERC) photovoltaic cells and solar panels can be made from monocrystalline or polycrystalline silicon. 

A passivation layer of antireflective material (silicon nitride) is applied to the rear surface of the PV cell to increase efficiency. 

Using laser and screenprinting techniques, the rear contact of the cell is “opened,” providing an additional performance enhancement. 

PERC PV cells are a newer technology that can sometimes improve solar panel efficiency.

Al-BSF PV cells use a similar techique.


The primary photovoltaic material used in PERC solar panels is the same as in monocrystalline and polycrystalline PV modules.

In PERC PV cells, a passivation layer of silicon nitride is added to the rear of structure.

Additional processing is done to open the rear of the cell.

PERC cells use the same type of silicon wafers as traditional crystalline silicon (cSi) solar cells with additional processing to improve efficiency.


PERC solar panels can be either monocrystalline or polycrystalline.

The additional processing and materials makes them slightly more expensive than their traditional mono and poly counterparts.

However, increased efficiency can make them a viable option — especially in low-light conditions or high temperatures.

Rated Power Output and Efficiency

The slight increase in efficiency provided by the additional steps and materials used in PERC solar panel manufacturing doesn’t impact the rated power output per square meter sufficiently to change the dimensions of residential PV modules.

The rated power output and efficiency is far more impacted by the use of monocrystalline or polycrystalline silicon wafers in PERC cell construction.

If you can get PERC monocrystalline solar panels for the same price or lower than traditional mono panels, it’s worth considering. 

Evaluate the rated power and efficiency of each module and use that plus any difference in cost to inform your purchase decision.

Solar Panel, Energy, Photovoltaic

Thin-Film Solar Panels

Researchers at the University of Delaware first developed thin-film solar cells in the 1970s at the Institute of Energy Conversion. While today, thin-film solar panels are not as efficient or powerful as the other common types, they maintain an important place in the solar industry. Their unique construction, low profile, and flexibility make them suitable for various applications. 


Thin-film panels apply sheets of photovoltaic material mounted atop a substrate. Believe it or not, they’re approximately 350 times thinner than monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules. 

Unlike other types of PV panels, thin-film uses various materials in their construction, including silicon, copper indium gallium selenide, and cadmium telluride. The silicon used in thin-film panels differs from that used in monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules. Instead of being solid, it is a non-crystalline type of silicon. 

In construction, manufacturers put a layer of glass on top to capture sunlight. Beneath it, there is a semiconductor layer between two layers of transparent conduit. 

The thing that sets thin-film panels apart from the pack is their flexibility. Unlike the rigid PV panels suited for rooftop installations, the ultra-thin construction of thin-film panels means they can bend and fit the surface that you fix them to without breaking. Because of this flexible construction, these panels are often mounted on RVs or other vehicles with curved surfaces or incorporated into wearable or handheld devices. 


Thin-film panels are typically on the higher end of the price spectrum and usually cost $1 to $1.50 per watt. The EcoFlow 100W Flexible Solar Panel is a great example. It’s lightweight, weatherproof, and affordable. You can mount it to the roof of a van or use it to expand an existing rooftop setup without requiring more flat surface area.

Power Capacity

Thin-film panels are available in a variety of sizes. This variety is one feature that draws people to thin-film panels, as it allows for their use in many different locations. However, the lack of standard sizing also makes it harder to quantify their power capacity. The size of the panel will largely determine the power capacity. 

That said, thin-film panels generally have a lower power capacity than monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules of the same size. While this is a downside for some buyers, the flexible application of these panels means it’s possible to harness solar energy in places that aren’t accessible to panels with rigid construction.


The efficiency of a thin-film solar panel is significantly lower than other crystalline panels. On average, efficiency gets up to around 11%. Because of this, you would need a large amount of surface area to generate a substantial amount of solar energy using thin-film panels alone. 

It’s also worth noting that thin-film tends to degrade faster than other types of panels because of their flexibility and thin construction. Unfortunately, this often means that products are not under warranty for as long. Before purchasing thin-film solar panels, ask the manufacturer or installation company about their warranty policy to ensure you can get the most out of your investment. 

Key Differences in Solar Panels: Design, Cost & Efficiency

While each panel type has many similarities, it’s their differences that will help you make the decision of which option is best for you. We put each type of panel head-to-head to compare how each one fares in terms of design, cost, and efficiency so you can choose which one will benefit you the most.


How each of the four types of solar panels are designed varies by model. Right off the bat, monocrystalline panels are designed to be much smaller than other options because they’re more efficient per area. 

In contrast, thin-film panels require a larger surface to offer efficiency. Monocrystalline panels are black and more uniform with sharp corners, while polycrystalline has a checkerboard look due to the crystal fragments melted together to form the shape. 

Thin-film panels also stand out with a uniform surface comprised of layers of solar photovoltaic material. Depending on the material composition, they can look blue, black, or grey.


Another key difference among the options is price. Polycrystalline panels are the cheapest, while both monocrystalline and thin-film panels are more expensive. Polycrystalline are cheaper and quicker to make, so they’re more affordable and fall in the range of $0.90 to $1.00 per watt produced.

Monocrystalline panels require more intensive materials and production, so they’re much more costly and cost in the range of $1.00 – $1.50 per watt produced. However, due to their increased efficiency, this higher cost up-front translates to more savings down the road.

Thin-film panels are also a high-end option, costing you around the same amount as monocrystalline panels, around $1.00 – $1.50 per watt produced.

While this tends to reflect general trends in pricing, there may be exceptions, especially if you find panel options on sale. Whatever panel you end up choosing, make sure you look into what government incentives are available! 


The efficiency of solar panels greatly impacts cost, especially for monocrystalline and polycrystalline options. Monocrystalline panels cost more because they work more efficiently (around 20%), while polycrystalline panels are a more affordable option because they won’t work quite as well (efficiency is typically between 10-15%). 

Thin-film panels, however, typically have efficiency ratings between 7-18% yet are still costly.

If you’re looking to save money on initial installation costs, polycrystalline can be a good option, but if you want the most energy-efficient choice, that would be monocrystalline panels, as they’ll save you more on electricity costs over time. 

Thin-film panels are best used to augment monocrystalline or polycrystalline arrays by affixing them to curved or irregular surfaces where rigid panels aren’t an option. While they do offer a lower efficiency, when you’re dealing with abnormal or irregular surfaces, they allow you to maximize your surface area.

Each panel type is constantly being researched and improved upon over time, and options today are more efficient, affordable, and aesthetically pleasing than ever. While thin-film options are still working toward efficiencies closer to those of poly and mono panels, their performance will certainly improve as more innovations are developed.

What Factors Should You Consider When Choosing a Solar Panel?

In addition to costs, efficiency, and design, you should also consider how factors such as temperature coefficient, durability, and degradation will impact the type of panel you choose. Understanding these factors can help guide your decision to select the best type of panel for you.

Temperature Coefficient

The percent decrease in your solar panel’s productivity for each degree (Celcius) increase in temperature over 25ºC (77ºF) is known as the temperature coefficient. The lower the coefficient, the less productive they’ll be as the temperature rises over this baseline level.

For instance, let’s say your solar panel has a temperature coefficient of -0.3%/ºC. In that case, your solar panels would become 0.3% less efficient for each increase of the temperature of one degree Celsius over 25ºC (77ºF).

The coefficient for monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels is around -0.3 and -0.5%/ºC. For thin-film panels, the temperature coefficient is only around -0.2%/ºC.

What does this mean? Thin-film solar panels will remain more efficient in hotter weather than either type of crystalline panel; however, most areas won’t be significantly impacted.


It’s important for your solar panels to be able to withstand the conditions they’ll be exposed to. Regarding durability and weather resistance, crystalline panels are the most withstanding, while thin-film panels are more likely to sustain damage from bad weather, especially hail. And between mono and poly, you can trust monocrystalline panels to be highly durable in nearly all weather conditions. Polycrystalline panels are still durable to weather, but they tend to have more sensitivity to heat.

You can often find special features or ratings to help determine whether the panels you’re considering are fire-, hail-, and hurricane-resistant.


When we say degradation, we’re specifically talking about Light-Induced Degradation (LID), which happens when solar panels drop in performance temporarily in their first few hours exposed to the sun. While the phenomenon is still being studied, here’s what we understand: Monocrystalline panels tend to have more LID than polycrystalline ones. Thin-film solar panels also experience a high level of LID, perhaps the highest of all panel types.

Which Solar Panel Type is Best For You?

Before you make a purchase, it’s essential to identify your unique needs and any circumstances that may influence the type of panel you choose. Here are a few ways each type of panel can shine, whether you want to build a Smart Home Ecosystem or get off-grid solar power to take on the road.

When to Use Monocrystalline Solar Panels

As discussed, these panels are durable, long-lasting, highly efficient, and boast a hefty power capacity. They also have a sleek, signature look. However, they’re typically more expensive than other options on the market.

Because of all this, monocrystalline panels are great for people who care about style and efficiency. If you want your panels to meld seamlessly into the design of your house, the sleek design will probably appeal to you. Due to their high efficiency, you also could opt to install fewer of them — and they’ll last longer too. 

Even though monocrystalline panels are pricier upfront, you can decrease the overall cost by using fewer of them and generating more electricity from available sunlight. They’re also a great option when you want to harness a lot of power with a relatively small footprint. 

When to Use Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline panels are a mid-level option that gives you decent efficiency, rated power, and durability at a competitive price. Polycrystalline PV panels can be appealing to shoppers who want to switch to residential solar energy on a budget — even if they save you less money on electricity in the long run. Plus, they’re less resource-intensive than monocrystalline panels, making them an appealing choice for those trying to reduce their environmental footprint in the short term.

When to Use PERC Solar Panels

The photovoltaic PERC solar panels are made from either monocrystalline or polycrystalline silicon.

Additional materials and processing are needed for a slight uptick in efficiency.

If you’re looking for the most efficient PV modules available, a mono-perc solar panel may offer a minimal increase in performance over a traditional monocrystalline panel.

However, a traditional monocrystalline solar panel will significantly outperform a PERC polycrystalline solar panel every time — unless the mono panel is of inferior manufacturing quality.

The minimal gain in performance with mono-PERC vs. monocrystalline solar panels may not justify the increased price. 

When to Use Thin-Film Panels

While not as efficient or powerful as other types, thin-film panels are unique due to their flexibility. Their applications are endless! Thin-film panels are an excellent option for RVs, tiny homes, or anywhere that doesn’t have a large amount of flat, stable surface. They’re also incredibly lightweight, making them a good option for weight-restricted buildings.

Solar Panels, Heating, Renewable Energy

Installation Costs

Another critical factor when deciding which type of solar panel is best for you is the installation cost. As this can increase the overall cost of converting to solar, it’s worth your careful consideration. 

On average, installation costs range from $15,000 and $25,000. Typically, hotter, sunnier climates have larger solar markets because there’s greater competition. The labour cost is often more affordable than in cold places with fewer peak sun hours where solar energy isn’t as plentiful.

Keep in mind that government incentives may be able to help you save substantially on equipment and installation costs.

Want to save some cash? One option to forgo installation and labour costs is to use portable solar panels. These don’t require expert installation; you merely set them up on the foldable kickstand that doubles as a case for easy transport and no-installation use anywhere there’s sunlight. 

Solar Panels, Placement, Green Energy

Frequently Asked Questions

Which of the 4 Main Types of Solar Panels Are the Most Efficient?

Monocrystalline panels are the most efficient option available compared to polycrystalline and thin-film options because of the materials and process used to manufacture them, polycrystalline panels are the second-most efficient option, and thin-film panels fall last. PERC PV modules also use crystalline silicon and may offer slightly higher efficiency than traditional silicon solar panels — at a higher price.

What Is the Most Effective Type of Solar Panel?

While all panel types are effective at generating solar energy, monocrystalline panels are the most efficient. Monocrystalline silicon photovoltaic modules are the best choice to maximize solar electricity production because they offer the highest rated power output per square meter (surface area) compared to polycrystalline and thin-film options.

What Are the Main 4 Types of Solar Panels?

The four main types of solar panels include monocrystalline, polycrystalline, thin-film, and PERC, which stands for Passive Emitter and Rear Cell. PERC panels are a newer option looking to make solar more efficient at a low cost.

Final Thoughts

Home solar power gives you autonomy over your energy in a way that the traditional electricity grid never can. Ultimately, only you can decide what type of panel will suit your needs. 

However, if you need some help, consulting with an expert at a solar installation company can ensure you make the best choice. When you pick the right type of solar panels for your needs, you’ll be ready to harness the sun’s power for years.

Finding the right panels for your needs at a price that fits your budget is the first step to realizing the benefits of solar. EcoFlow offers high-quality monocrystalline solar panel options at various wattages to meet your needs, whether you want solar power for on-the-go hikes, campouts, RV trips, outdoor events, or even to power your whole home. We even offer flexible panels that can be mounted on a range of surfaces, so you don’t have to sacrifice quality for the logistics of your setup.

Remember, panels are only the first step! You need a power station or solar generator to store captured solar energy for future use. EcoFlow Solar Generators let you bundle and save, combining the portable power station and solar panels for an all-inclusive investment.

If solar is the right fit for your home, EcoFlow is here to help. With efficient, convenient, and competitively-priced products, you’re sure to find your perfect fit. 

EcoFlow is a portable power and renewable energy solutions company. Since its founding in 2017, EcoFlow has provided peace-of-mind power to customers in over 85 markets through its DELTA and RIVER product lines of portable power stations and eco-friendly accessories.


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