The appearance of rooftop solar panels has evolved with advances in technology, and modern solar panels have a sleek design to maximize curb appeal. Older solar panels had bluish or greyish hues that were not uniform and didn’t look great on roofs, but today’s panels are all black with a low profile design.
Solar panel design can vary based on the make and model. There are broadly two types of conventional solar panels: polycrystalline panels which have a blue-grey color, and black monocrystalline panels. In addition to the cell type of the panel, the backsheet, the frame and presence of bus-bars, can affect the final aesthetics of installed panels.
Earlier generations of solar panels were predominantly polycrystalline. As the name suggests, polycrystalline panels are made from a substrate composed of many different silicon crystals. Due to the multiple crystals, the color of these panels is typically not uniform and can have bluish and greyish tones. Monocrystalline solar panels are made from a process that uses a single silicon crystal. This makes the color uniform and black, making the panels look great on a roof.
Solar panels are made by stringing together many (usually 60) solar cells sandwiched between a glass front sheet and a laminate polymer backsheet. As there are gaps between the solar cells, you can still a portion of the backsheet from the front. Therefore the color of backsheet is important for the aesthetics of solar panels. A black backsheet, which blends in with the black monocrystalline solar cells, is usually preferable to a white backsheet which sticks out against the dark solar cells.
Solar panels are usually either designed with a visible external frame or one that is hidden beneath the cells. Frameless solar panels or solar panels with black frames usually look nicer than solar panels with white frames.
Busbars are thin strips that are stuck on solar cells to collect the electricity that is generated by the cells. Busbars which are usually silver, can stick out against black solar cells. Solar cells with back contact technology collect electricity differently and do not require busbars. Panels made with these solar cells can be fully black, providing more aesthetic appeal.
Black-on-black-on-black panels (black solar cells with black back sheet with a black frame) usually have the best aesthetics and are rapidly becoming the industry standard.
Tesla recently announced a new product called Solar Shingles (also known as the solar roof), where the shingles have embedded solar cells. This removes the necessity of having separate solar panels, as the roof itself directly generates electricity. Solar shingles come in four flavors: Tuscan, Slate, Textured and Smooth and look great. This product is expected to be available in early 2018.