Residential vs. Commercial Solar Panels: What’s the Difference?

When comparing different brands of solar panels, you will notice that some models are described as “residential”, while others are described as “commercial”. However, this is just a naming convention for different panel sizes, and both types are composed of the same building blocks: solar photovoltaic cells.

solar panels on a residential rooftop

via Berkshire Photovoltaic Services Inc

A residential solar panel will normally have 60 cells, while a commercial panel has 72 cells. 60-cell solar panels are preferred in home installations since they use roof space more efficiently thanks to their compact design.

On the other hand, 72-cell panels are preferred in commercial and industrial buildings with abundant roof area, where larger panels can be installed with ease. However, commercial panels will work just fine on some homes, and the same applies for residential panels used in commercial or industrial buildings.

As we discussed in a previous article, solar cells can be classified into monocrystalline or polycrystalline, depending on their material structure at the microscopic level.

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Solar Panel Pros and Cons – Are Solar Panels Worth the Cost?

If you are one of the many homeowners considering the installation of solar panels on your home’s rooftop, then undoubtedly one of the burning questions on your mind is whether the pros of solar energy outweigh the cons when it comes to solar panels for homes.

A new asphalt shingle roof with PV solar panels

Let’s examine the main benefits and drawbacks of residential solar energy systems to help you make a well-informed decision.

Advantages:

  1. Dramatic reduction in price per watt installed
  2. Short payback period
  3. Reduced reliance on power grid
  4. Electric energy price security
  5. Ample federal tax credits and local incentives
  6. Mandatory net metering rules
  7. Solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs)
  8. Clean renewable energy source
  9. Increased property values
  10. It’s easy to find a quality solar installer

Disadvantages:

  1. May not be suitable for some homes
  2. Won’t work during a blackout or power outage (unless…)
  3. Poor installation may lead to fire hazards
  4. Poor quality installation may lead to premature roof leaks
  5. The weight of solar panels can put excessive stress on the roof-frame
  6. Pollution and environmental hazards
  7. The “bulky” look of solar panels may turn off some people
  8. No energy production at night
  9. Solar battery storage is expensive
  10. Use of rare earth metals

Benefits and Advantages:

1. Dramatic reduction in the cost per installed watt

One of the strongest benefits of domestic solar power today is that the solar price per watt (PPV) installed has come down from almost $9.00 per watt installed in 2008, to the current average cost ranging from $2.80 to $3.50 per watt installed, before the 26% federal solar investment tax credits (ITC) that apply to the full amount paid for a new solar system.

Did you know? Homeowners going solar today are paying almost 66% less than they used to pay for solar energy just a little over a decade ago! That’s a very significant reduction in the upfront cost of investment, especially if you take into account the rate of inflation since 2008.

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Solar Panels vs. Thin-Film Laminates: Costs, Pros & Cons, Top Brands

This is an interesting time to consider adding a solar power system to your home because solar energy is no longer getting cheaper (due to a broader and ongoing price inflation), while the range of available solar options for homes is continuing to expand. Today, your options are no longer limited to the traditional photovoltaic (PV) solar panels.

Global Solar thin film panels on a standing seam metal roof. Source: Global Solar

Thanks to the advancements in solar technology, you can now opt for the so-called thin-film solar panel laminates designed to adhere to standing seam metal panels or to flat roof surfaces (membranes) like PVC, TPO, EPDM Rubber, without the need for any roof penetrations. Thin film panels feature peel-and-stick adhesive that eliminates the need to drill holes in the roof.

What’s in this guide: This guide compares innovative thin-film (TF) photovoltaic laminates to traditional PV solar panels with respect to balance of system (BOS) costs, pros and cons, available options, and more.

Did you know? The cost of residential solar energy panels has dropped by over 50% since 2010. The current average cost of a residential PV solar panel system hovers between $2.80 and $3.50 per installed watt. This is before the 26% tax credits from the federal government. Note that solar investment tax credits (ITC) will be reduced to 22% in 2023, the last year of the program.

US PV solar system pricing by market segment. Source: Wood Mackenzie 

For example, today, a typical 6kW PV solar panel system costs approximately $18,000-$19,440 before the applicable federal tax credits and local incentives are applied.

Before we break down residential PV solar system options, this table offers a quick comparison.

Type Cost per Watt Efficiency Average 6kW System Cost
Polycrystalline $2.80-$3.00 13% to 17% $17,400
Monocrystalline $3.00-$3.50 17% to 22% $19,000
Thin film Panels $2.00-$3.00 10% to 18% $17,000

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