Crystalline vs. Thin-Film Solar Panels

crystalline solar panels on a roof

Deciding to go solar is a big decision, and the choice between crystalline silicon and thin-film solar panels is a pivotal consideration. Both technologies harness the power of the sun to generate electricity. However, they diverge in their composition, efficiency, applications, and more.

Discover a comprehensive comparison of crystalline vs thin-film solar panels, shedding light on their distinct attributes and helping you make the best decision for your home. 

What Are Solar Panels?

Solar panels are key components of solar renewable energy systems and play an important role in harnessing the sun’s rays. They are a collection of solar cells, also known as photovoltaic PV cells, that harness the sun’s rays and convert them into electricity. There are two main types of solar panels

  • Crystalline silicon solar panels (c-Si)
  • Thin-film solar panels

How Do Solar Panels Work?

graphic showing how a solar power works
Photo Credit: Juan Rodriguez

Solar modules work using photovoltaic effects. The sun shines on the PV module, which absorbs the light through individual photovoltaic cells constructed from semiconductor materials like silicon. When hit with sunlight, the material energizes, creating an electric field. 

Installers arrange modules in arrays to capture as much sunlight as possible. Panels pair with an inverter. Solar systems generate direct currents. This current passes through the inverter and is converted into alternating current to be used by your home, stored in your solar battery bank, or fed back into the national electricity grid.

What Are Crystalline Solar Panels?

Crystalline solar panels with white background
Photo Credit: jordanmurph / Canva Pro / License

Crystalline silicon solar panels are the most commonly used solar panels thanks to their high efficiency and durability. They use thick layers of crystalline silicon to generate electric current when exposed to light. Photons strike the silicon crystals, knocking electrons loose and creating electricity. 

What Are Thin-Film Solar Panels?

closeup of thin film solar panel
Closeup view of Thin film solar panel
Photo Credit: jordanmurph / Canva Pro / License

Thin-film solar panels use thin layers of semiconductor materials deposited on substrates in place of crystalline silicon. Common semiconductor materials include amorphous silicon (a-SI), cadmium telluride (CdTe), and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS). They offer flexibility, lightweight designs, and easier manufacturing.  

What Are the Differences Between Crystalline and Thin-Film Solar Panels? 

All building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) convert energy from the sun into electricity. However, thin-film modules and crystalline solar panels differ in their composition and other characteristics.


The distinction in composition contributes to differences in efficiency, appearance, manufacturing processes, applications, and more. 

Crystalline Solar Panels

There are two main types of crystalline solar panels: monocrystalline silicon and polycrystalline silicon. Manufacturers cut silicon wafers from large silicon ingots, and the ingots comprise ordered and structured silicon crystal lattices.

The structure of crystalline solar panels creates rigid panels that require flat surfaces for installation. They cannot be easily bent or shaped to fit curved and irregular structures. 

Thin-Film Solar Panels

Solar panel manufacturers deposit thin layers of semiconductor materials onto substrates like glass, plastic, or metal to create thin-film technology. Materials vary depending on the type of thin-film panel and include cadmium telluride (CdTE), amorphous silicon (a-Si), and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS).

The thin layers that comprise thin-film solar cells allow for flexibility and more diverse designs, including solar tiles like Tesla’s Solar Roof or CertainTeed’s solar shingles. Thin-film panels adapt to curved rooftops, building facades, and portable solar devices. 


Cost differences vary depending on several factors, including cell technology, region, manufacturer, and the current market conditions of the solar industry. Generally, thin-film panels are lower cost than crystalline solar panels. 

The average U.S. home requires between 5 to 10 kilowatts (kW) of energy to cover household demand. You can expect to spend between $15,000 to $26,000 for the average solar panel installation before incentives. 

Crystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline solar cells are smaller and more energy efficient and often cost more than polycrystalline solar cells. Factors affecting the cost of your solar panel installation include size, roof complexity, brand, and more.

Crystalline silicon solar cells cost between $2,500 to $3,400 per kW for installation.  

Cost Per KilowattAverage Cost For a 5 kW System Before Tax Credit
*includes materials and labor
Average Cost Per 10 kW System Before Tax Credit
*includes materials and labor
Monocrystalline $2,700 to $3,400$13,500 – $17,000$27,000 – $34,000
Polycrystalline$2,500 – $3,000$12,500 – $15,000$25,000 – $30,000

Thin-Film Solar Panels

Thin-film PV panels are less expensive thanks to simple production processes that use fewer materials. You can expect to spend between $2,400 to $3,000 per kilowatt for thin-film solar panel installation. 

However, installation costs skyrocket to an average of $55,800 for thin-film solar shingle installation. Unlike solar panels, solar shingles are a roof replacement, not a roof upgrade.  

Cost Per KilowattAverage Cost Per 5 kW System Before Tax Credit
*includes materials and labor
Average Cost Per 10 kW System Before Tax Credit
*includes materials and labor
Thin-film solar panels$2,400 – $3,000$12,000 – $15,000$24,000 – $30,000
Thin-film solar shingles$3,650 – $8,500$18,250 – $42,500$36,500 – $85,000

Conversion Efficiency

Efficiency helps determine the amount of electricity a solar panel generates. Higher-efficiency panels produce more energy within the same amount of space, making them preferable for installations with limited space. 

Crystalline Solar Panels

Crystalline silicon modules have higher efficiency rates than other types, with monocrystalline outperforming polycrystalline by around 5 percent. Generally, monocrystalline solar panels have efficiency ratings between 15 percent to 25 percent, and polycrystalline panels have ratings between 14 percent to 17 percent.  

Thin-Film Solar Panels

Solar panel advancements have improved the efficiency of most solar panels. However, the flexible construction of thin-film panels allows versatile designs but sacrifices efficiency. Thin-film cells ‌have an efficiency rating between 13 percent to 15 percent

Shade Performance

Newer solar panels have increased shade performance, and solutions like bypass diodes and microinverters can further mitigate shade’s impact. However, it is important to consider any large-scale shading in your landscape when selecting the best solar panels for your home. 

Crystalline Solar Panels

Crystalline solar panels perform well in direct sunlight and are more sensitive to shading. Shade reduces the efficiency of your system. Shading even a small area of one crystalline solar panel drops the entire system’s output. 

Shading one cell on a silicon solar panel’s surface causes a noticeable decrease in energy production, leading to a 20% to 30% reduction in output. 

Thin-Film Solar Panels

Thin-film panels are less efficient compared to crystalline solar panels. However, they have better shade tolerance thanks to their interconnected solar PV cells. Shading one part of a thin-film panel does not affect the entire panel’s output. 

Temperature Sensitivity

Like shade, technology advancements have improved solar panel performance across a range of temperatures, but each technology has its own temperature coefficient. 

Crystalline Solar Panels

Crystalline panels operate more efficiently in cooler temperatures, but their performance decreases in high temperatures. However, performance impacts are smaller compared to the impacts on thin-film solar panels thanks to a lower temperature coefficient.

Thin-Film Solar Panels

Thin-film panels experience greater performance degradation in hot climates. They are more temperature-sensitive than crystalline panels and have a higher temperature coefficient. 


Factors like panel type, manufacturing quality, installation, and your environment affect the durability of your solar panel system. 

Longevity often depends on the manufacturer, and solar companies offer their own warranties. Be sure to check with your solar manufacturer to understand your warranty. 

Crystalline Solar Panels

Crystalline solar panels maintain their energy efficiency for 25 to 30 years. The solid silicon wafer construction lends to longer life spans and good weather resistance, standing up to rain, snow, and hail.

Thin-Film Solar Panels

The reduced energy efficiency of thin-film panels and flexible construction causes a reduced lifespan compared to crystalline varieties. These panels last between 20 to 25 years at maximum energy production. 

Thin-film solar panels have varying environmental resistance, with some types being more sensitive to temperature fluctuations or harsh weather. Cadmium telluride thin-film solar panels are the least sensitive to these fluctuations.


Appearance varies because of different manufacturing processes and materials. 

Crystalline Solar Panels

Crystalline panels have a uniform appearance with black or dark blue colors depending on the type. They typically have rounded or squared edges and a clean and organized appearance with uniform patterns.

Thin-Film Solar Panels

The appearance of thin-film panels varies. They are flexible, enabling creative integration into surfaces. These panels come in many colors and textures to match different architectural styles and roofing materials.


While both types work for residential solar systems, crystalline and thin-film solar panels have different applications because of their distinct characteristics. 

Crystalline Solar Panels

Installers use these solar panels for residential and commercial installations because of their energy efficiency and reliability. Applications include:

  • Rooftops: High-efficiency monocrystalline panels are a brilliant choice for maximizing energy production with limited space for residential and commercial rooftops.
  • Ground-mounted systems: Rigid crystalline solar panels provide reliable power generation for ground-mounted solar systems. 
  • Off-grid systems: Off-grid solar systems rely on battery banks or generators and require high-efficiency solar panels with high energy density and stable performance. 

Thin-Film Solar Panels

Professional solar installers use these flexible panels in specialized applications and unique designs such as curved surfaces. Other applications include:

  • Grid-tied systems: Grid-tied solar systems attach to the national electricity grid and include most residential and commercial setups.
  • Building integration: Flexible thin-film solar panels integrate with building materials like shingles, windows, and facades, allowing for seamless incorporation of solar power in a structure’s design. 
  • Portable devices: Because of their lightweight design, thin-film panels also integrate into portable solar devices, camping equipment, and emergency services infrastructures.  

Solar Incentives

Solar panels are eligible for the Investment Tax Credit (ITC). Systems installed between 2023 to 2032 are eligible for a 30% credit. There is no maximum amount a homeowner can claim and expenses include: 

  • Solar panels or cells 
  • Contractor labor costs, including permitting fees and inspection costs
  • Balancing equipment, including wiring, mounting equipment, and inverters
  • Energy storage devices with a capacity rating of 3 kilowatt-hours or greater
  • Sales tax on expenses

Tax incentives apply to residential and commercial installations to encourage solar adoption. It reduces the amount of federal income tax you owe, resulting in substantial savings when installing solar.  

What Are the Differences Between Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline Solar Panels? 

Polycrystalline Solar Panel
Photo Credit: samuiboy / Canva Pro / License

Crystalline solar panels, made from silicon, include both monocrystalline and polycrystalline varieties. The major differences include: 

Monocrystalline Solar PanelsPolycrystalline Solar Panels
CompositionSingle-crystal silicon ingots with uniform structureMultiple silicon fragments melted together with a less uniform structure
Cost$2,700 to $3,400 per kW*includes labor$2,500 – $3,000*includes labor
Efficiency15% – 25%14% – 17%
Durability25 – 30 yearsUp to 25 years
Temperature performanceSteady efficiency in high temperaturesLose efficiency in high temperatures
AppearanceUniform black appearanceBluish hue

Pros and Cons of Crystalline Solar Panels 

Crystalline solar panels offer high efficiency, durability, and stable performance. However, they have high upfront costs and their rigid construction creates installation limitations. 

Stable performance
Lower temperature coefficient
Poor design aesthetics
Space requirements

Pros and Cons of Thin-Film Solar Panels

Thin-film solar panels are flexible, versatile, low-cost, and shade-tolerant, but their reduced efficiency and shorter lifespans could be a concern for projects that need to meet long-term goals. 

Flexible and versatile
Higher shade tolerance
Lower upfront costs
Lower efficiency
Shorter lifespan
Longer installation time
Temperature sensitivity

When to Use Crystalline vs. Thin-Film Solar Panels

workers fixing thin film solar panels
Photo Credit: Ken Fields / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding between crystalline and thin-film solar panels.

Use crystalline solar panels when: 

  • Efficiency is important: Maximize your energy production with high-efficiency monocrystalline solar panels.
  • Standard rooftop or ground installation: Save money with traditional installation where space is not a constraint.
  • Durability matters: Prioritize crystalline panels with longer lifespans and high durability. 
  • Temperature variations: Crystalline panels are a good choice for areas with seasonal weather variations. Their performance is less impacted by temperature changes.

Use thin-film solar panels when: 

  • Flexible integration is needed: Thin-film panels integrate into unconventional surfaces like curved roofs, windows, and facades. 
  • Shade tolerance is important: Shading from trees, structures, and roof protrusions affects performance. Thin-film panels maintain higher performance thanks to their interconnected cells. 
  • Aesthetics is a priority: Thin-film solar panels offer seamless visual integration customized to match the colors and textures of your home
  • Low-light conditions: Thin-film panels perform better in low-light conditions compared to crystalline panels.

Your decision depends on your goals, site, available space, desired aesthetics, budget, and local climate. Consult a solar expert and consider the long-term production, installation costs, and maintenance needs to select the best type of solar panel for your home. 

FAQ About the Difference Between Crystalline and Thin-Film Solar Panels

Are there environmental considerations for crystalline vs. thin-film solar panels?

Solar energy production offsets most environmental considerations. However, crystalline panels require more energy-intensive manufacturing processes compared to thin-film panels, making them less environmentally friendly. 

What are bifacial solar panels?

Bifacial solar panels are solar modules that generate energy from both the front and rear sides of the panel. They capture reflected and diffused sunlight to increase energy output compared to standard one-sided panels. Like traditional panels, bifacial panels comprise both crystalline and thin-film technologies.

Can I DIY install crystalline or thin-film solar panels?

No. Solar panels need to be installed by a professional solar provider. While some manufacturers make DIY solar panel installation kits, these kits differ from professional solar panel installation and do not hook up to the national electricity grid or qualify for incentives. 

How to Decide Between Crystalline and Thin-Film Solar Panels

As solar technology advances and bridges the efficiency gap between crystalline and thin-film solar panels, the decision comes down to your landscape and application. Crystalline panels offer high efficiency and a well-established track record of reliability, while thin-film panels bring flexibility, versatility, and the potential for seamless architectural integration. 

If you’re ready to learn more and understand the unique advantages of each type, let RoofGnome connect you with a local solar expert, so you can harness the sun’s energy and start saving on your electricity bills. 

Main Image Credit: visdia / Canva Pro / License

Kimberly Magerl

Kimberly Magerl is a writer and data analyst specializing in home improvement, DIY, roofing, and solar technologies. She enjoys growing vegetables in her garden, getting outdoors, and transforming her space with DIY projects. A resident of Texas, when she isn't gardening, Kimberly enjoys trying new recipes and cooking with her home-grown herbs.