Category - Solar
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Ryan Gill, Engineer

18 Feb : Updated 26 Mar ● 10 min read

Types of solar panels: A complete guide for 2024

Solar panel technologies are becoming more affordable and efficient with each year that passes, meaning increasing numbers of homeowners are considering solar panel systems as a way to reduce their carbon footprints, save energy and reduce their electricity bills.

In fact, our research shows that if you live in a standard semi-detached house with a 10-panel system, you could save nearly £900 on your electricity bills every year.

Before you commit to having solar panels installed, though, it’s good to know which types of solar panels will be most suitable for your home. 

So, to help you decide what’s right for you, we’re looking at the three main types of panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film solar panels. 

Here, we explore how these types of solar panels work, how efficient they are, how much they cost, what the panels look like, and evaluate the pros and cons of each.

What are the different types of solar panels? 

The three main types of solar panels are monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin-film, with each type offering different benefits. The most suitable type of solar panel for you and your home will depend on several factors, like your budget and property type. 

Whatever your priority is, whether it’s buying the most efficient solar panel or the most cost-effective, we have the answers you need below...

Monocrystalline solar panels

Monocrystalline solar panels can offer a good return on investment during their lifespan and are typically used by businesses due to their impressive levels of efficiency.

How do monocrystalline solar panels work? 

Monocrystalline panels get their name from the single silicon crystal structure that they’re made from. The production process involves forming a large silicon crystal, which is cut into solid silicon wafers. Although this method is more expensive, the wafers are very efficient due to their uniform structure. 

How much do monocrystalline solar panels cost? 

While the manufacturing process ensures a high-quality product, this comes at a cost. Monocrystalline solar panels are more expensive than polycrystalline and thin-film solar cells. 

How efficient are monocrystalline solar panels? 

Monocrystalline solar panels benefit from being around 20% efficient. These solar cells have a higher capacity, too, with most cells providing over 300 watts of power. 

The uniform structure of monocrystalline panels means they’re more robust than polycrystalline and thin-film panels, meaning they typically have a longer lifespan. 

With this being said, because solar cells are made from a single piece of silicon, the size of monocrystalline panels is limited, and larger installations can require more panels and space as a result.  

What do monocrystalline solar panels look like?

The cells of monocrystalline solar panels tend to appear black because of how sunlight reacts with the pure silicon crystal. 

The pros and cons of monocrystalline solar panels

Pros of monocrystalline solar panels
  • High efficiency: monocrystalline solar panels are very efficient due to their single silicon structure.
  • High quality: monocrystalline panels have a long lifespan and are durable enough to withstand harsh weather conditions.
  • Good performance in low light: compared to other types of solar panels, monocrystalline can offer good performance in shaded and low-light conditions. 
Cons of monocrystalline solar panels
  • The cost: with a more complex production process, monocrystalline panels are more expensive to produce, making them more expensive to buy.
  • Energy payback times: due to their inflated prices, it can take you longer to see a return on your investment than with other panels. This being said, they will generate more solar power, which can help to reduce your energy bills and carbon footprint more than other solar panel types.
  • Performance suffers in high temperatures: although this may not be too much of a concern in the UK, it is important to note that monocrystalline panels will see a small decrease in efficiency in high temperatures. 


Polycrystalline solar panels

These panels are made up of multiple crystals of silicon in a single photovoltaic cell. The silicon used to form the cells can include fragments leftover from the monocrystalline manufacturing process, as well, thus minimising waste. 

How do polycrystalline solar panels work? 

Monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels work in the same way. When sunlight hits the panel, the photons of light transfer energy to the silicon panels, awakening the electrons within them and freeing them from their atomic bonds. The solar cells then collect the free electrons to generate an electrical current. 

The resulting electricity is in the form of direct current (DC), which is passed through an inverter and converted into alternating current (AC) to be used in our homes. 

How much do polycrystalline solar panels cost?

Polycrystalline solar cells are cheaper than their monocrystalline equivalents due to the fact they are produced from silicon fragments as opposed to one crystal. This essentially means the manufacturing process is more straightforward and cheaper, and the consumer ultimately sees the benefit, too.  

How efficient are polycrystalline solar panels? 

The relative downside to the more cost-effective manufacturing process is that polycrystalline cells are slightly less efficient - with levels at around 15-17%. Additionally, polycrystalline panels tend to have lower wattage capacities, so they produce less electricity. 

The difference in wattage, however, does not mean that polycrystalline cells are smaller physically. In fact, monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels do have the same number of cells, but monocrystalline cells work more effectively. 

With regards to the temperature coefficient, which measures how a solar panel performs in warm temperatures, a monocrystalline solar cell performs better.  

What do polycrystalline solar panels look like?

Polycrystalline cells look more blue than monocrystalline solar cells. This is because light reflects off the silicon fragments in a different way than it does on a monocrystalline wafer. 

The pros and cons of polycrystalline solar panels

Pros of polycrystalline solar panels
  • Cost-effective: polycrystalline solar panels are cheaper to manufacture and produce than monocrystalline panels.
  • Good performance in high temperatures: while this may not be too much of a concern in the UK, it is good to know that when it does get hot, the performance of polycrystalline panels won’t suffer too much.
  • Good levels of efficiency: although not as efficient as monocrystalline panels, polycrystalline panels still provide a decent level of performance, so you won’t wait too long to see a return on your investment. 
Cons of polycrystalline solar panels
  • Not as efficient as monocrystalline panels: polycrystalline solar panels are slightly less efficient than monocrystalline panels. Although the gap in efficiency isn’t too significant, you will need more polycrystalline panels to generate the same amount of electricity that you would get from monocrystalline panels.
  • Environmental impact: if you’re keen on reducing your carbon footprint, you need to know that the production of polycrystalline panels involves melting silicon, which consumes a lot of energy. Of course, nearly all manufacturing processes have some kind of environmental impact, but we can't ignore the fact that certain ones generate more greenhouse emissions than others.

Thin-film solar panels

Thin-film solar panels are usually made from copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and are around 350 times thinner than a crystalline solar cell. Despite this, the actual solar panel may be a similar thickness depending on the frame used. 

How do thin-film solar panels work?

A thin-film panel works in the same ways as a monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panel - absorbing the sun’s light to free electrons from their atomic bond. 

Unlike the other panels in this guide, however, thin-film solar panels can be made from different materials, including cadmium telluride, the CIGS mentioned above, and amorphous silicon. 

How much do thin-film solar panels cost?

The cost of thin-film solar panels will vary based on the type of material - CIGS panels are much more expensive than cadmium telluride or amorphous silicon panels. Compared to monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels, thin-film panels can be a more cost-effective alternative. 

The cost of having thin-film solar panels installed may be lower than the crystalline equivalents, too. This is due to the fact that thin-film panels are lighter and easier to carry onto roofs - making the solar installation process faster and more straightforward.  

How efficient are thin-film solar panels? 

Thin-film panels tend to be less efficient and have lower wattage capacities than crystalline solar panels, offering efficiency levels of around 11%. 

Where monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels come in standard sizes, thin-film panels don’t. So, the ability of thin-film panels to generate electricity will largely depend on the size of the panel - the larger your panel, the more energy you’re able to generate (in theory).

What do thin-film solar panels look like?

As the name suggests, a thin-film solar panel has a slimmer appearance than the two crystalline solar panels. In terms of colour, thin-film panels can be either blue or black, depending on what they’re made from. 

The pros and cons of thin-film solar panels

Pros of thin-film solar panels
  • Cost-effective production: the manufacturing process for thin-film panels is relatively cheap as they use less material and are more straightforward to make than crystalline panels. These reduced costs are passed on to the consumer, too, making them a cost-effective purchase.
  • They’re lightweight and flexible: compared to crystalline silicon panels, thin-film panels are much less cumbersome. This means they are easier to install and can be manipulated to fit into shapes and onto surfaces that other solar panels cannot.
  • Good performance in low light: thin-film panels can generate electricity in partially shaded and cloudy conditions and even outperform crystalline panels in these environments.
  • Resilient to high temperatures: compared to crystalline panels, thin-film solar cells can maintain their efficiency levels better in hot climates. 

Cons of thin-film solar panels

  • Lower efficiency levels: crystalline panels have better levels of efficiency than their thin-film equivalents.
  • More panels required: as they’re less efficient than other panels, you’ll need more thin-film panels to generate the same amounts of electricity, meaning you’ll need more roof space too. 
  • Faster degradation: thin-film panels degrade slightly faster than monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels - this degradation will affect the efficiency of the panels, too. 


Solar panel prices

How much do solar panels cost in 2024?

How much do solar panels cost in 2024?

Read our solar expert's updated guide on the prices of solar panels, battery storage systems and profession­al installati­on fees to learn how much you could expect to pay all-in.

Read more

Which type of solar panel is best?

The best type of solar panel really depends on your situation and what’s going to be most suitable for your property, budget and preference. 

  • The best for homes with limited roof space: monocrystalline panels usually prove to be the best option for properties with smaller roofs or limited outside installation space, as their high levels of efficiency still allow for excellent energy-saving potential.
  • The best budget option: polycrystalline panels are less efficient but less expensive than their single-crystalline counterparts, making them an ideal budget option.
  • The best for commercial buildings: thin-film panels are typically best for commercial properties, such as office buildings, apartment blocks or warehouses.

A quick side-by-side comparison of solar panel types

Type of solar panelEfficiency rating*ProsCons
  • High levels of efficiency
  • The highest size-to-energy output ratio
  • Good performance in low light (i.e. on cloudier days)
  • Longer lifespans than other types (dependent on proper maintenance)
  • Works on a small roof space
  • More expensive to buy
  • It may take longer to get a return on your investment
  • Performance suffers in higher temperatures
  • Manufacturing currently produces quite a lot of waste silicon
  • Good levels of efficiency
  • Cost-effective to produce, meaning more affordable to purchase
  • Good performance in higher temperatures
  • Not quite as efficient as monocrystalline panels
  • Needs more roof installation space
  • Cheaper to produce than mono and poly panels
  • Manufacturing processes have lower environmental impacts by using less silicon
  • Good performance in low light
  • Good tolerance to high temperatures
  • Lower efficiency levels
  • More panels and installation space are required to meet energy needs
  • Can degrade faster than other panel types, meaning reduced efficiency over time

*The actual efficiency levels you achieve with your solar panels will depend on several factors, including the weather, the time of year, how well the panels are maintained and cleaned, and the angle at which they are installed.

More from BOXT

Here at BOXT, we’re working to support people across the country to make their homes cheaper, greener and easier to run. Whether it’s with a new boiler, a hybrid heat pump system, a home EV charger or a domestic solar panel system, our teams will offer expert advice on the best solution for your property. 

For solar panel quotes tailored to your energy and installation needs, simply fill out our easy online form with a few details about your property. We’ll provide you with a range of options, guide you through the selection process, and install your new system within 2 weeks.

Solar panels from BOXT

Solar panels from BOXT

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