Most Efficient Solar Panels for Home: Buyers Guide (3 Things To Consider)

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Solar Panels | April 1, 2024

Woman confused while looking at types of solar panels wonders what are the most efficient solar panels and how to choose in comparison of solar panels, such as what are the best types of solar panels for home and which are high efficiency solar panels?

The comparison of solar panels can be tricky, because the most efficient solar panels for home might not be the best for your shed or outbuilding.

However, there are three things to consider before buying solar panels.

#1. Your Specific Energy Needs
#2. Your Budget
#3. Your Goals

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Each of these considerations will impact how you determine the solar panel purchase. There are various types of solar panels and options to choose from, but instead of approaching the task based on brands, using the main considerations can help you narrow down the field of choice, and find the best solar energy system for your intended goals.

Want to disconnect from the power grid? Want to lower your electricity bill? Looking to power your recreational vehicle or provide electricity cleanly for specific appliances in your home? Looking to take advantage of tax breaks while also lowering your carbon emissions?

All of these things are possible.

Some of the information you’ll find about solar panel home installation covers topics such as the variety of materials used in their construction, the differences in installation costs, and how climate can affect their efficiency.

An image summarizing the key characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages of each type of solar panel.

Regardless of your answer to the top three things to consider, there is a solar energy system for you home that will meet your specific needs.

This complete guide performs a comparison of solar panels so you can find the most efficient solar panels for your goals.

#1. Outline Your Specific Energy Needs

Are you choosing solar panels so that you can power your Air conditioner using clean electricity? Are you looking for ways to naturally power your greenhouse or outdoor building?

Having a clear outline of what you plan to use solar energy for can help you find the most efficient solar panels for those energy needs.

#2. Outline Your Budget Constraints

Solar panels for home are a big investment. Of course, there are some federal tax breaks that you can take advantage of by installing them, but for the average home, the cost to completely disconnect from the power grid can be anywhere from $10,000-$30,000, depending on the size of your home.

You can easily determine how many solar panels you’ll need using this Solar Panel Calculator:

#3. Determine Your Goals

Knowing what you hope to gain by a solar panel installation for your home is crucial for choosing the best, most efficient solar panels.

For example, if your goals for your home solar system are to power your Electric Vehicle, then the number of panels you need and they types will be different than if you plan to enter a hybrid arrangement that allows the local power grid to draw from your system (a method that many homeowners use to help lower their additional utility bills).

When you understand your goals, the following information can be used to do a comparison of solar panels so that you can choose the most efficient solar panels for home use.

Types of Solar Panel

The varying types of solar panels can be classified by the materials they’re made from. These materials all boast their own pros and cons, and the differences between them can affect their overall ratings as well as how you can use them.

For example, the types of solar panel you choose have considerations such as:

  • Weight: heavy panels won’t work on small structures that can’t safely bear the load.
  • Performance: certain types of solar panels work better in areas that have limited sunlight hours each day.
  • Application: if your design application requires flexibility or a stabilized, mounted structure, the types of solar panels you can utilize will vary.

The three main kinds of solar panels are monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film.

The monocrystalline panels are created by a singular crystal lattice that allows for maximum light absorption, and therefore, energy production.

The second type of solar panel is polycrystalline. This panel is less expensive, but also less efficient.1

The least efficient but most affordable is the thin film, which is made of a flexible plastic casing housing the photovoltaic cells.

Monocrystalline panels have the traditional uniform black color which blends well with most roofing. The design process involves growing a single layer of silicone crystal into a cylinder called an ingot, then cutting that ingot into discs.

These discs are then arranged into an octagonal shape which differs from the polycrystalline’ square or rectangular cell.

Monocrystalline panels reign supreme as the de facto standard for residential and commercial installations, as they boast the highest power output, longest lifespan, and are the toughest.2

The polycrystalline panels differ from the monocrystalline panels, in that they’re composed of multiple silicon crystals. This design introduces inefficiencies that reduce their power output, but also reduce the cost.

The polycrystalline panel has a speckled blue appearance that can stand out on your rooftop, and tend to be larger than their monocrystalline counterpart.

Two men installing thin film photovoltaics solar panels on the roof of a residence.

(Image: Ken Fields27)

Thin-film solar panels are made from razor thin layers of conductive material placed upon glass, plastic, or metal. These are the kinds you might find in more unconventional locations, such as on moving trains, buses, or freight trucks.

Though they may be less efficient than the other two types, their flexibility and lightweight attributes make them far easier to install.3

Bifacial solar panels have the unique ability to generate energy from either side of the panel which increases their productivity, but also their weight.

If you have a high albedo around your home (reflection of light), then this style can be a great option.

Making an informed decision regarding the comparison of solar panels starts with learning the types, but this is only the beginning.

Most Efficient Solar Panels: Solar Panel Comparison

What are the most efficient solar panels exactly? Solar panel efficiency refers to the amount of sunlight that can be converted into electricity.

Many factors play a large role in determining how efficient a solar panel is, including the type of panel, its age, and even where it’s installed.

Monocrystalline solar panels are regarded as the most efficient panel that is commercially available, with some of the highest efficiency ratings that can produce an upper limit of 22% conversion to electricity.4 The polycrystalline panels have a slightly lower rating, with an upper limit of 17%.5

While the lowest efficiency rating is given to thin film solar panels,6 their true appeal comes from their material characteristics which give them the ability to bend and contour.

Bifacial solar panels are harder to rate, as their efficiency is entirely determined by the albedo of their location, but have been recorded as high as 30% efficiency.7 Solar panels installed in areas with high levels of sunlight tend to have higher efficiency ratings compared to those installed in areas with less.

Furthermore, when properly comparing solar panels take note that their efficiency decreases over time as wear and tear, weather, and obsolescence sets in. Proper maintenance is crucial to keep your panels running properly.

What Are Solar Panels Made Of?

There are a variety of solar panel materials, each of which varies in efficiency and durability. The main components of solar panels are their solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity, whereas the other components help protect and support the cells.

Commonly used materials include silicone(Si) and cadmium telluride (CdTe).8 The abundance of silicon coupled with its high efficiency makes it the most widely used material for solar cells, whereas CdTe is less commonly used but has a lower overall cost.

Other materials In addition to the solar cells are the back material, which provides structural support, and the encapsulant, which protects the cells from moisture. Some more modern-day materials in development include perovskite and organic solar cells.

A view of solar panels from under it.

(Image: charlemagne28)

Perovskite cells are a contender for monocrystalline silicon cells, having an efficiency rating as high as 25%.9 Organic solar cells, made from carbon-based materials such as fullerenes,10 are still in the early stages of development but have the potential to be more flexible and lightweight.

With so many different materials on the market, it can be difficult to choose which one is right for your home. Be sure to take your time and do your research concerning efficiency, durability, and cost-effectiveness.

High-Efficiency Solar Panel

What makes a high-efficiency solar panel? High efficiency is simply a result of converging characteristics that best allow the conversion of sunlight into electricity.

A panel’s ability to convert sunlight to electricity begins with its photovoltaic cell (PV), the part of the solar panel that takes in sunlight, which is where it all begins. The amount of light reflected away from the PV cells hinders absorption, and in turn, energy output.

Scientists are constantly on the search for newer and better materials, and while silicone has remained ubiquitous throughout commercial installations, there is a promising nascent technology that could usurp its position.

Another hallmark of a high-efficiency solar panel is its ability to weather hot temperatures. You might think that a hotter sun means an increase in efficiency, but it’s actually the opposite.

PV cells are sensitive to heat, and as the temperature increases and heat builds up, their ability to conduct electricity is reduced.

Comparison of Solar Panels: Solar Panel Ratings

Solar panel ratings are crucial to the comparison of solar panels. Things such as wattage, efficiency, temperature coefficient, and power tolerance play a factor in determining each panel’s rating.11

The main component of the solar panel is the photovoltaic cell, which is in charge of converting sunlight into electricity. The higher the efficiency, the more energy it can produce, and this bring us to wattage.

Wattage is the measure of power in watts and is used as a rating metric to show how efficient your panel is. The temperature coefficient is a fancy way of saying how well your solar panel can handle the heat, with a lower rating meaning more loss of power output as the temperature rises.

Most solar panels lose efficiency as the temperature increases. Power tolerance is the true output of power, measured in percentages that differ from its rated capacity.12

The number can be above or below the given rating, with higher-quality panels tending to have higher power tolerances.

It’s important to get a better understanding of these ratings when purchasing your solar panel system. Though the ratings can guide your decisions, it’s ultimately up to you and your preferences.

Most Efficient Solar Panels for Home Options

Not all panels are made equal. The comparison of solar panels should be considered before any installation and is prudent in ensuring you make the right decision for your home or business.

Each panel comes with a list of pros and cons that should be considered before making your purchase.

Solar panels installed on the roof of a huge warehouse.

(Image: Daniel Ramirez29)

As previously discussed, the three major types of solar panels are monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film, in order of decreasing efficiency.13 The reason monocrystalline is considered the most efficient solar panel is due to crystal purity, as they’re made with a single crystal element14

Being more efficient means they take up less space, so if you’re low on roof real estate, or you have higher energy requirements, then this could be the right panel to choose.

Polycrystalline panels are made from several silicone fragments that have been fused. Think of it like looking out of a window made from a single sheet of glass, or made from multiple fragments melted together.15

The fragmented window will host impurities that may not be immediately noticeable, but when taking precise measurements, these impurities add up to a loss of efficiency.

Thin film, while being the least efficient, offers unique attributes that neither monocrystalline or polycrystalline have. They’re lightweight, flexible, and less expensive to produce. You can even use thin-film solar panels on vehicles, such as buses and trucks, allowing for on-the-move solar energy.13

Best Solar Panels

The best solar panels are really determined by your needs. If you’re going off the grid, then the most efficient solar panel might be what’s best.

If you’re converting a van into a livable home, then thin-film solar panels with their ability to flex and conform would be the best. Determining your needs is where you need to start when finding out what’s objectively best.

When we think of solar panels, we usually picture the monocrystalline panel. Its dark black, large square panels lining rooftops, can be found almost anywhere.

These are one of, if not the best, solar panels found on the market.

Polycrystalline is another option if your energy needs are not extensive, as their energy output is less than the monocrystalline, but also considerably cheaper. They sport a dark-blue aesthetic and are better suited for colder climates.

If you’re looking to convert for mobile living, then the thin film would be considered the best option. These solar panels are made from flexible plastics that, while still considered brittle, won’t shatter if hit by rocks and debris from other vehicles.

The most efficient solar panels for home installation will genuinely depend on your needs and budget, though monocrystalline is considered to currently be the highest. One last thing, you should choose a panel with a warranty that covers at least 25 years, the expected lifespan of a solar panel.16

While the “best solar panel” is subjective to your needs, determining what those needs are your first step in finding out what suits you. Monocrystalline panels are the most efficient solar panel, whereas a thin film can be a solution when installed in uncommon spaces.

Solar Panels for Home: (Residential Solar Panels)

Solar panels for home can save money, lower your carbon footprint, add energy to the existing grid, or simply become less reliant on conventional power sources.

Residential solar panels have become a widely popular option as their cost has gone down over the past few decades.

A man in working gear installs solar panels on the roof of a house.

(Image: Wayne National Fores30)

Unless you have an abnormally shaped home, with rounded roofs or steep angles, the likelihood is that you’ll be looking for either monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels. This is because a flat or slanted roof can properly support the larger and heavier solar panel systems, giving you far higher energy output than the thin-film counterpart.

When trying to determine which panel is right for you, ask yourself what you’re looking to achieve, and what factors will affect those decisions. For instance, if you live in a warmer climate, then a monocrystalline panel would be where to start looking.

Their higher temperature coefficient means that during the hotter summer months, your panels won’t lose as much conversion efficiency as their polycrystalline counterparts.

Do remember to check the warranty before any purchase, as the installation process and where it’s installed can void your warranty.

What To Consider When Planning To Install Flat Roof Solar Panel?

A flat-roof solar panel is viable, though there are a few things you need to watch out for. The buildup of debris, and also water, can quickly deteriorate your solar panels.

Double-check to ensure you won’t void your warranty by installing it on a flat roof.

Adding Panels To Auxiliary Structures

Adding panels to auxiliary structures can be a smart way to make use of your space.17 Whether it’s a shed, a carport, or even your greenhouse if you need more available room to meet your energy needs, then a solar panel pergola could be the perfect solution.

Additionally, it can help offset the energy use of those structures, further reducing both your environmental impact and your energy bills. Another thing to note is ensuring your structure is capable of supporting the additional weight of solar panels.

They can weigh up to 40 lbs each, and if you’re in need of multiples, that can quickly sink any structure not sturdy enough to hold them up.

Bear in mind that not all spaces are created equal. If your pergola is shaded by your backyard trees, or the carport is facing north when it should be facing south, then it may not be worth the expenditure.18

Solar Panels for a Business

When installing solar panels for a business there are factors that one needs to consider. Many businesses have different energy needs than residential homes.

The installation costs of a residential can be drastically different than say a business, with a higher energy consumption requiring more panels to meet the need.19,20

One of the major differences will be the installation process. Scaling a solar panel installation to suit a business can be a monumental task.

Solar engineers will work with you to determine the exact kind of setup required to meet your consumption rates and help you achieve a return on your investment as soon as possible.

A popular building with solar panels installed as its part of the windows.

(Image: Tokumeigakarinoaoshima31)

Net metering is a system where you generate an overabundance of energy throughout the day,21 and sell the surplus to your local provider, something both residential and commercial systems can take advantage of.

When it comes to which solar panel is right for a business, spending the money upfront for the most efficient system can be the most prudent route.

Commercial Solar Panel Installation

Commercial solar panel installation is one of the best investments a business can make, especially if you’re looking to save on your energy bills. There are some differences when setting up for commercial as opposed to residential that you should keep in mind.

One key difference is the size of your system, as many commercial businesses have much larger energy requirements, you will need an adequate solar array. The cost of this installation will tend to be much higher, as not only will it be larger, but will be more complex than a residential counterpart.22

With that being said, reducing your carbon footprint, lowering energy bills, and even net metering energy back into the system, are all great reasons to go plan a solar panel installation.

If you’re wondering how much solar panels cost in your state, you should look into local law, as there may be a multitude of tax credits, rebates, or other incentives available for a commercial solar panel installation. While the cost of installation may be high, these incentives can help offset the bill and can provide ongoing benefits as well.

How Long Do Solar Panels Last?

Many of you are wondering how long do solar panels last. You’re making a big decision with financial ramifications, so the longevity of the installation should come into consideration.

While their lifespan is limited, a properly installed solar panel system should last you roughly 25 years,16 while with fastidious care, they’ve been known to survive for up to 35 years.23

Maintaining your solar panels is essential to increasing their lifespan, there is no substitution for proper care. Supervised installation is your first step to reducing the risk of damage or malfunction.

Doing this will ensure you keep your panels’ warranty valid, which could help alleviate any unforeseen damage. Following this, routine cleaning and inspections should be scheduled to check any damage or potential problems.

If properly maintained your solar panels should last you decades. The manufacturing process can also determine your solar panel’s longevity, as some panels are simply designed to last longer.

Perhaps they’re made of more durable materials or have higher resistance to the temperature and won’t wear as fast. Buying the most expensive solar panel isn’t always the right option, but it may end up saving you money in the long run.

Comparison of Solar Panels: Used vs New

You might be considering if a used solar panel is a right choice, as it cuts down on the initial cost and helps with the conservation of materials.

Saving a solar panel from a landfill can be a consideration for the right person, so long as you’re aware of the risks and complications.

Close up image of smaller solar panels installed on the ground.

(Image: David Monniaux32)

When purchasing used solar panels, be aware of the possibility of reduced efficiency as a result of aging or wear and tear. If possible, it’s best to check the performance history before sealing the deal.24

As solar panels age their ability to conduct electricity can diminish through numerous factors, including rain, snow, high temperatures, and corrosion. Buying a used solar panel from Alaska may be riskier than buying one from Illinois.

With that being said, a higher-quality panel will be designed to be more resistant to these types of damage.

Ensuring that your solar panels match will be a challenge when buying used, as you’re at the mercy of what’s on the market. Be sure to check the current ratings, otherwise, you will end up with a loss of potential power.25

Finding the right used panels can be a worthwhile endeavor so long as you consider the comparison of solar panels and don’t rush the purchase. Do your due diligence and save yourself a headache in the long run.

If you find yourself asking why are solar panels so expensive, relatively speaking, they’ve gone down in price and are continuing to decrease as manufacturing becomes cheaper. With the current state of climate change, we’re approaching a point of no return, and every step towards offsetting your carbon footprint can make all the difference.

While the most efficient solar panels for home aren’t always a clear decision, after reading this article the comparison of solar panels should become more clear.

Frequently Asked Questions About Most Efficient Solar Panels

 

Why Is the Comparison of Solar Panels Important? How Does a Solar Panel Size Chart Help?

Solar panel sizes can vary from brand to brand and change depending on the materials used. Using a solar panel size chart will help you to determine how many panels you can fit within your available space.

 

What Is the Highest Efficiency Solar Panels?

While technically the highest efficiency solar panel is created with a quantum, triple junction, solar cell,26 with a whopping 39.2% efficiency, it may be some time before we get commercial access. For the average consumer, the monocrystalline silicon solar panel is the highest efficiency solar panel available.

 

Read More About Comparison of Solar Panels


References

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27Thin Film Flexible Solar PV Wire Management Photo by Ken Fields / Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA 2.0). Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr   <https://www.flickr.com/photos/kenfields/4783040834>

28Photo by charlemagne. Pixabay, Retrieved from   <https://pixabay.com/photos/solar-panels-structures-architecture-6295334/>

29Solar Panels @ Ala Moana Photo by Daniel Ramirez / Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). Resized and Changed Format. From Flickr   <https://flic.kr/p/C8DyiD>

30Wayne National Forest Solar Panel Construction Photo by Wayne National Forest / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). Resized and Changed Format   <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wayne_National_Forest_Solar_Panel_Construction_%283725847300%29.jpg>

31Solar panel of AEON MALL Photo by Tokumeigakarinoaoshima / CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. From Wikimedia Commons   <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Solar_panel_of_AEON_MALL_Itami-Koya_2.JPG>

32Mafate Marla solar panel Photo by David Monniaux / Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0). Resized and Changed Format. From Wikimedia Commons   <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mafate_Marla_solar_panel_dsc00633.jpg>