Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels: what you need to know
Last updated 7/15/2020
When you evaluate solar panels for your photovoltaic (PV) system, you will encounter two main categories of panel options: monocrystalline solar panels (mono) and polycrystalline solar panels (poly). Both types of panels produce energy from the sun, but there are some key differences to be aware of.
Monocrystalline solar panels and polycrystalline solar panels: it's all about the cells
Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels serve the same function in the overall solar PV system: they capture energy from the sun and turn it into electricity. They are also both made from silicon, which is used for solar panels because it is an abundant, very durable element. Many solar panel manufacturers produce both monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels.
Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels can be good choices for your home, but there are key differences between the two types of technology that you should understand before making your final solar purchase decision. The main difference between the two technologies is the type of silicon solar cell they use: monocrystalline solar panels have solar cells made from a single crystal of silicon, while polycrystalline solar panels have solar cells made from many silicon fragments melted together.
Monocrystalline solar panels
Monocrystalline solar panels are generally thought of as a premium solar product. The main advantages of moncrystalline panels are higher efficiencies and sleeker aesthetics.
To make solar cells for monocrystalline solar panels, silicon is formed into bars and cut into wafers. These types of panels are called “monocrystalline” to indicate that the silicon used is single-crystal silicon. Because the cell is composed of a single crystal, the electrons that generate a flow of electricity have more room to move. As a result, monocrystalline panels are more efficient than their polycrystalline counterparts.
Polycrystalline solar panels
Polycrystalline solar panels generally have lower efficiencies than monocrystalline options, but their advantage is a lower price point. In addition, polycrystalline solar panels tend to have a blue hue instead of the black hue of monocrystalline panels.
Polycrystalline solar panels are also made from silicon. However, instead of using a single crystal of silicon, manufacturers melt many fragments of silicon together to form the wafers for the panel. Polycrystalline solar panels are also referred to as “multi-crystalline,” or many-crystal silicon. Because there are many crystals in each cell, there is less freedom for the electrons to move. As a result, polycrystalline solar panels have lower efficiency ratings than monocrystalline panels.
How do monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels compare on key metrics?
|Monocrystalline solar panels||Polycrystalline solar panels|
|Cost||More expensive||Less expensive|
|Efficiency||More efficient||Less efficient|
|Aesthetics||Solar cells are a black hue||Solar cells have a blue-ish hue|
|Longevity||25+ years||25+ years|
Monocrystalline vs. polycrystalline solar panels: which are right for you?
Saving money is one of the best reasons to solar, and whether you choose mono or poly solar panels, you’ll be decreasing your electricity bills. The option you choose comes down to your personal preferences, space constraints, and the financing option you choose.
- Personal preferences: If the color of your solar panels is important to you, remember that monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels tend to appear differently on your roof. The typical monocrystalline panel will tend to have a darker black color, while the typical polycrystalline panel will tend to have a bluer color. If where your panels were manufactured is important to you, then ensure you know enough about company that made your mono or poly solar panels.
- Space constraints: You should prefer higher-efficiency solar panels if your PV system size is limited by the amount of space available on your roof. Because of this, paying the extra cost for more efficient monocrystalline panels that can help you maximize your electricity production will make more sense in these scenarios. Alternatively, if you have a lot of roof space or are installing ground-mounted solar, then lower-efficiency polycrystalline can be a more economic option.
- Solar financing: How you finance your system can also play a part in determining which type of panel you choose. For example, if you choose a power purchase agreement (PPA), you pay per kilowatt-hour for the electricity produced by the system. This means that, above any type of equipment you’re being offered, your monthly payments will determine your savings. By contrast, if you are buying your system, paying more for high-efficiency monocrystalline panels can result in higher returns on your solar investment.
Although they make up a significantly smaller percentage of the solar panel market (residential and commercial panels in particular), there are other solar panel options available besides moncrystalline and polycrystalline. One technology you may have heard of is thin-film solar, which includes panels made from a variety of materials that tend to be more lightweight and flexibe than typical silicon panels. However, thin-film technology lags behind crystalline silicon technology in terms of efficiency and performance.
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