Buying a solar panel involves a lot of decision-making before you can be certain of the right one. You want a solar panel that’ll last at least a few years while it provides you with the highest power output consistently.
Below we’ll be comparing monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, seeing which of them performs better and which one is the best investment.
Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline Solar Panel
What Are They Made of?
Monocrystalline solar panels are named after the cells they’re made of: monocrystalline cells. Every cell is a slice from a single silicon crystal. These are grown specially to make solar panels.
The crystal is grown into an ingot. It’s then cut into thin discs. They’re also cut along the edges so that they make an octagon shape.
The octagonal shapes allow more solar cells to be fitted onto the solar panel. It also means there’s as little space between the cells as possible.
Monocrystalline solar panels’ typical range of efficiency is between 15% to 20% but some more recent models can even reach close to 50%. These newer models are still in their experimental phases, so it might still be some time before we actually get to see them.
Similar to monocrystalline cells, polycrystalline cells are also made from silicon crystals. The difference is that the silicon crystal is allowed to cool and create fragments on its own, instead of being cut into octagonal shapes.
The fragments are then melted inside of an oven and shaped into cubes. These cubes are cut into thin wafers. So, instead of being made from a single crystal, like monocrystalline cells, these are made with a lot of various crystals.
This process is much less precise than the monocrystalline type, which makes it possible for more solar cells to be made, quicker and cheaper.
Polycrystalline cells are square and fit side by side to eliminate as much space as possible between them. A way to distinguish polycrystalline solar cells from monocrystalline cells is their blue color.
Polycrystalline panels are less efficient than monocrystalline panels. This is because the melted silicone is made of fragmented crystals, which makes it difficult for electrons to move. The typical efficiency rating of a polycrystalline solar panel is usually between 10% and 15%.
Monocrystalline panels are ideal to use in areas where there’s not a lot of space. These panels can produce ample electricity on a smaller scale.
They’re able to get the most energy out of their surroundings, even at lower light levels. These panels are ideal when you’re trying to reach efficiency over costs.
Monocrystalline solar panels have a higher heat tolerance, which makes them suitable for areas where the weather can get hot, almost desert-like: Phoenix, Arizona, for example. Their main advantage does remain in low-light, however.
Many portable solar panels are made from monocrystalline cells.
Polycrystalline solar panels are value-orientated and cost around 5c per watt less than monocrystalline solar panels. The polycrystalline panels take up a lot more area, so you’ll have to keep in mind the space you want to use them in.
These panels are best suited for areas that have a lot of sunlight throughout the day. Polycrystalline solar panels deliver lower wattage than monocrystalline panels, which is why they need loads of light.
Polycrystalline solar panels, with their blueish tint and speckled appearance, aren’t to everyone’s taste especially when they’re installed in large quantities in residential areas.
Their design is only suited for rural or urban areas where their appearance can be blended into their surroundings, on rooftops, and the back of a property. They're best suited as commercial solar panels due to their size and efficiency.
Monocrystalline vs. Polycrystalline
The price for either panel type is primarily determined by the silicon structure they’re built with.
To make monocrystalline panels, a lot of control and accuracy is needed in the process of solidifying the silicon. It’s a complex process which is why the price is so high.
When making polycrystalline panels, molten silicon is poured into square molds. This results in silicon wafers that are then cut into individual solar cells.
Although, there’s still the cost of things like inverters, electrical protection, wiring, labor, and racking which still amount to the same prices for both solar panels.
On average, a monocrystalline solar panel can cost between $1 and $1.50 per watt. A standard 250W panel is usually priced between $250 or $375. This means an entire system of monocrystalline solar panels can reach a price range of $6,000 to $9,000.
Polycrystalline panels usually go for 90c to $1 per watt, which is about $230 to $250 for a 250W panel. An entire system of polycrystalline panels would then cost $5,400 to $6,000.
So, even though monocrystalline solar panels cost more, we’d say that for their exceptional build quality and high efficiency you’re going to have a better return on investment.
This is especially important when you don’t have enough space for a bunch of solar panels. Often, monocrystalline panels are the better option between the two.
Monocrystalline vs. Polycrystalline
The lifespan of a solar panel refers to how long they’re able to produce electricity while maintaining a certain level of efficiency.
While solar panels can last for several decades, their energy production declines steadily as time passes. Monocrystalline solar panels produce for longer periods at higher efficiencies than polycrystalline solar panels.
For monocrystalline panels, their annual degradation rate is usually between 0.3% to 0.5%.
The difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels is that polycrystalline panels tend to perform worse in their annual degradation with a percentage of 0.3% to 1%. Their actual lifespan is only 30 years, compared to monocrystalline panels which have a lifespan of 40 years.
The average lifespan of each solar panel can make a great difference when you take into account the initial installation costs and such.
The temperature coefficient refers to the effect that the solar panel’s temperature has on its overall productivity.
It has a direct influence on the panel’s ability to generate electricity due to thermodynamics and how heat reduces the ability of any electronics to generate power.
Solar panels express the temperature coefficient as a percentage decrease in power output per 1℃ increase in temperature starting from 25℃ or 77℉. Solar panels are typically tested at 25℃ which is why it’s used as the reference point.
The average solar panel has a TC somewhere between -0.3%/℃ to -0.5%/℃. This means that if your solar panel is at 30℃ (86℉) and has an efficiency rating of 15% then the actual number could be closer to 12.5%.
Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline
Monocrystalline solar panels have a better temperature coefficient than polycrystalline panels, especially in warmer weather. Monocrystalline solar panels perform best because of their well-suited temperature coefficient.
As the temperature rises, a monocrystalline panel’s output degradation will be lower. This makes it ideal to use in regions where the summer lasts longer and is much warmer.
Our advice is to make a point of checking the temperature coefficient of each solar panel you’re interested in to determine what type of solar panel is best for your needs.
Polycrystalline solar panels tend to lose more of their efficiency with the temperature rise, so the panel is suited for colder weather.
A Brief Look at Other Solar Panels
Flexible Solar Panels
Flexible solar panels or “thin-film panels” are constructed with silicon layers that are over 300 times smaller than the average solar panel, this makes them flexible while still retaining functionality.
One of the biggest problems that these kinds of solar panels face is efficiency. Unlike rigid solar panels, which usually have an efficiency rating that ranges from 16% to 20%, flexible solar panels’ efficiency lies only between 7% and 15%.
In a scenario where it’s flexible solar panel vs rigid solar panel, flexible solar panels won’t be enough for any large-scale rooftop energy production, although, they’re still a good option for a solar panel that’s both portable and lightweight.
It’s ideal for small and mobile applications like mounting them to your RV, or using it on a boat - anything that doesn’t need a lot of power.
Bifacial Solar Panels
Bifacial solar panels produce solar energy from both sides of the panel, the front and back. Normal solar panels are monofacial because they can use one side.
When installing the bifacial module, it has to be onto a highly reflective surface, something like a white roof or light-colored stones if it’s on the ground.
Bifacial solar panels can vary in their designs, some are frameless, others are dual-glass modules, and some use clear back sheets.
The majority of bifacial solar panels use monocrystalline cells, although there are a few that use polycrystalline cells, too.
Some panels expose the back of the solar cells, but these are not bifacial modules. The real bifacial modules make use of contacts or busbars on both sides of the solar cells.
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