What’s your type? Learning about the different types of solar panels can help you find the right fit for your roof

Have no idea how BIPVs differ from amorphous silicon panels? Never fear. Here’s a quick guide to the most common types of solar panels.

1. Monocrystalline silicon solar panels – The Most Efficient

Monocrystalline silicon solar panels

These are also known as “mono silicon” or “single silicon” panels and are the best in terms of efficiency. Because they’re more efficient than other types of panels, you don’t need as many panels to generate the same amount of electricity. That makes them especially useful in certain cases, like when part of your roof is shaded and you have a smaller surface area to work with.

2. Polycrystalline silicon panels – Less Efficient but Less Expensive

Polycrystalline silicon panels

This type of panel doesn’t contain as much silicon as monocrystalline panels (that isn’t at all apparent from the name, which means ‘many’ vs mono, which means one). They’re also called multi-silicon, multicrystalline, or ribbon panels. Since they don’t have as much silicon, they’re a little less efficient, though other aspects of their design can help improve efficiency. They’re usually a little less expensive than monocrystalline panels.

3. Building integrated photovoltaics (BIPVs) – The Most Expensive

Building integrated photovoltaics

These are designed to be part of a building, rather than something that’s added on. Solar shingles are one example of BIPVs; they’re made to look like regular roofing tiles (sometimes called ‘solar roofing tiles’), which some people prefer. Unfortunately, they’re very expensive, and much less efficient than other types of solar panels. They also don’t last as long. Because other types of solar panels are better options right now, BIPVs aren’t as widely available as the other types of solar panels.

4. Thin film panels – Prepare to cover everything.

Thin film panels

This type of panel uses thin, lightweight layers of a photovoltaic material (like cadmium telluride or amorphous silicon, for example). They’re cheaper than other types of solar panels and are better able to work in hot weather. The catch? They’re not efficient, so you’d need many, many more of them to make the same amount of electricity. They’re used in huge projects, like a 10MW plant in the desert near Las Vegas, but they’re not really the best option for your household roof.

5. Solar hot water

Solar hot water

Solar hot water is a different way to make use of sunshine– they actually don’t produce electricity, but can be used to heat water for your home or swimming pool.