If you have considered getting solar panels for your home or business, you will be aware of the three different types of panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and amorphous solar panels. It can be a challenge for consumers to understand the difference between these solar cell types, their pros and cons, and which is best for their needs.
Solar panels come in three types: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and amorphous. All function the same way, containing photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight to energy and heat, but have different compositions. This means that efficiency and cost vary between the three types.
Solar panels can be a convenient way to lower your carbon output and your household energy bills without compromising your lifestyle. It can be tricky to find the best home solar panels for you, so we’ve put together this article to help you make an informed decision.
This guide will explain the difference between monocrystalline, polycrystalline and amorphous solar panels. We’ll also cover the pros and cons of each type and which type of solar panels are best for home use. Let’s get started!
What Are the Different Types of Solar Panels?
The three types of solar panels are monocrystalline, polycrystalline and amorphous solar panels. The key difference between these solar panels is the materials they’re made of and how they’re constructed, impacting cost and efficiency.
Monocrystalline solar panels have silicon sheets pleated, cut into wafers and assembled into panels. Polycrystalline solar panels are composed of melted down fragments of silicon that are melted and made into wafers. Amorphous solar panels, on the other hand, are composed of a thin sheet of silicon across the surface instead of individually created cells.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Monocrystalline solar panels have a distinct appearance. A solar monocrystalline ingot is created in a cylindrical fashion. This ingot is sliced and then stacked before being appended into a ‘wafer’ shape.
However, to become a photovoltaic device, these panels must go through chemical treatments and printing processes to create a functional solar panel. The end product is a cell panel with rounded corners and ingots squared off slightly to create the cells that capture sunlight.
Their higher efficiency means monocrystalline solar panels can also be used to create solar shingles.
How Do Monocrystalline Solar Panels Work?
Monocrystalline solar panels go through a variety of processes to make them functional photovoltaic devices: texturing, diffusion, coating and printing. Through texturing, the surface area of the solar panel is increased for higher light absorption.
The diffusion process infuses the wafers of the solar panel with phosphorus, allowing for a negative charge, polar to the bottom of the wafer. Coating lowers the rate of reflection, increasing the amount of light absorbed by the panel. The printing process etches metal into panels to ensure that the electricity produced is collected by the panel.
The finished cells are soldered together to form ‘ribbons’ and then covered with an anti-reflective glass surface. This panel is then connected to a semiconductor and rerouted for your access, or to a power storage device such as a battery.
Many of the leading brands of solar panels in the world, like Q-CELL solar panels, are monocrystalline.
Pros of Monocrystalline Solar Panels
The advantages of monocrystalline solar panels include:
- High efficiency – A higher surface area allows for a wider collection of solar energy. Monocrystalline solar panels consistently output about 15% to 20% per square metre.
- Less space is required – With high-efficiency monocrystalline panels, less space is required to set them up and satisfy your energy consumption needs.
- Perform well in higher temperatures and low levels of sunlight – Supporting your quality of life even on days without sun. Monocrystalline solar panels will also work in cold weather, so long as there is no snow blocking the panels or clouds blocking the light.
Cons of Monocrystalline Solar Panels
Some disadvantages of monocrystalline solar panels include:
- More expensive – Due to the intensive process it takes to shape the cells and panels, monocrystalline solar panels are more expensive, and this cost can be prohibitive.
- Performance is affected by cleanliness – Solar panels take heat from the sunlight, not from warmth, and any impediment to access to light diminishes energy production. Shade, snow and dirt will reduce the panel’s efficiency. Additionally, monocrystalline solar panels drop in performance at lower temperatures.
- Appearance – Though the solar cells are black, the shape of the panels allows for a lot of white space between them, which could disrupt the sleek appearance of the panel. Some companies offer an all-black solar panel construct for a higher price.
- Lower performance in cooler temperatures – Though solar panels do not use heat from the sun to produce energy, only light, monocrystalline solar panels may have lower performance in cold weather.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline solar panels are made of several fragments of silicon melted together to create individual cells. These cells are then cut into wafers to create the panels. This configuration of solar panels doesn’t allow optimal movement of electrons, resulting in a lower power generation and output.
Though the finishing processes of polycrystalline solar panels mirror those of monocrystalline panels, the appearance is different. Polycrystalline solar panels have a marbled dark blue effect on the cells and are square rather than octagonal. This colouring and panel shape change how energy is captured, the efficacy of the panels and the surface area.
How Do Polycrystalline Solar Panels Work?
Polycrystalline solar panels have a marbled appearance and a larger surface area than monocrystalline panels. The efficacy of polycrystalline solar panels can be lower than that of monocrystalline panel due to the marbled surface.
The surface area is larger than that of monocrystalline panels due to the squared-off shape and may require more space to set up a PV system.
Pros of Polycrystalline Solar Panels
The pros of polycrystalline solar panels include:
- Cost-effective – If you have enough space to install a polycrystalline solar panel system, it may prove to be the more economically beneficial option. Additionally, this system is cheaper to install than monocrystalline solar PV systems.
- Wider surface area – Though rigid panels, the larger surface area of the set-up means more power production for you for the space it takes up.
- Low-waste option – Though bulky, the use of sharper composite panels lessens the waste in the solar panel manufacturing process, so you can feel even more sustainable and eco-conscious for switching to solar power!
Cons of Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Downsides of polycrystalline solar panels are:
- Less efficient – Polycrystalline solar panels do have a wider surface area. However, the silicon is multi-crystalline rather than being extracted from a monocrystalline ingot, so poly solar panels are less efficient.
- Larger space is needed – Unless you have a large roof or a large yard to foster a polycrystalline set-up, these solar panels are cumbersome and take up a large surface area.
- Composed of less pure silicon – Being composed of melted down fragments, electrons do not have enough space to move as freely as they do within monocrystalline cells. This lessens efficiency and power generation, and increases the number of panels you need to support your power supply.
Amorphous Solar Panels
Amorphous solar panels are solar panels composed of a thin sheet of silicon. Also called ‘thin-sheet panels’ these are lightweight and relatively new to the market. These solar panels require less equipment than the other two setups and have lower performance per solar cell.
Amorphous solar panels are flexible and similar in texture to a sheet of rubber. The individual ‘cells’ are less visible and can blend into a rooftop easily, with less white space visible, making for a more aesthetically pleasing presentation.
How Do Amorphous Solar Panels Work?
Unlike the other types of solar panels, amorphous solar panels do not have individual photovoltaic cells. Instead, the entire panel is optimised by using n-i-p (or p-i-n) configuration and facilitates electron movement throughout the film. This provides a viable option for large areas that isn’t bulky in appearance.
This is made possible because amorphous silicon has better light absorption than crystalline silicon; the configuration of the panels increases the optical absorption of sunlight. Amorphous solar panels are made with several techniques: silicon evaporation and Plasma-Enhanced Chemical Vapour Deposition. A thin film of silicon is stretched over a substrate material such as stainless steel or plastic.
Pros of Amorphous Solar Panels
Some key advantages of amorphous solar panels are:
- Low initial cost: Requiring less equipment to install and fewer materials, these are inexpensive options from both a manufacturing standpoint and an installation standpoint.
- Aesthetically pleasing: Boasting an all-black, sleek design, amorphous solar panels easily blend in with roofing
- Low-temperature co-efficient: If you live in a hot area, performance with amorphous solar panels will not be an issue for you. Amorphous panels are known for their ability to produce electricity even in warmer temperatures, with the performance declining at around -0.2°C compared to monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels that range from -0.3% and -0.5%°C comparatively.
- Work in low lighting: If you live in an area that has low lighting several days of the year, these solar panels will not drop in performance. The arrangement of cells on amorphous solar panels differ from monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. Amorphous solar panels have long rows of cells, rather than individual squares.
Cons of Amorphous Solar Panels
The downsides of amorphous solar panels include:
- Requires a large amount of surface area: Amorphous solar panels have low overall performance capacity compared to the other types. It is likely that the entire roof of a residential building would have to be covered in these solar panels to match electricit generation of other panel types.
- Not durable: Though projected to last around 25 years, amorphous solar panels are prone to wear and tear and are sensitive to adverse weather conditions such as storms, hail and sleet. These solar panels may require consistent maintenance and upkeep to retain premium energy output.
- Low performance: For the amount of surface area required to meet performance metrics compared to other solar panels, the overall performance of these solar panels is lacking.
What’s the Difference Between Amorphous and Mono & Poly Solar Panels?
Amorphous solar panels are made from very thin sheets of silicon, and don’t have individual solar cells like the other types. This makes them less efficient and less durable. Monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels have individual solar cells and a less sleek appearance, but are more efficient.
Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels require more equipment and cost more, but offer better performance and higher durability. Amorphous solar panels require a larger surface area to meet the outputs of the other two types.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels vs Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Monocrystalline solar panels are created by slicing a solar monocrystalline ingot into cells and fashioning the cells into octagonal wafers. These solar panels require a larger initial investment but offer higher performance and durability.
Polycrystalline solar panels are composed of melted down silicon shaped into wafers. These panels are less expensive than monocrystalline solar panels, offer strong performance and durability, but require more space and are less aesthetically pleasing.
Monocrystalline solar panels are more expensive due to the pure-silicon content and labour intensive manufacturing process, allowing for more mileage per panel and increased optical access. Monocrystalline solar panels are able to perform in a variety of weather conditions, temperatures and low lighting without sacrificing much in the way of power generation, though some performance does drop.
Polycrystalline solar panels are not used often in residential areas, as they have a bulky design and are not as aesthetically pleasing as their counterparts.
What’s the Difference Between Polycrystalline and Monocrystalline Solar Panels?
The difference between poly and monocrystalline solar panels are the cells within the panels, with monocrystalline solar panels using black cells containing a single crystal each, and poly solar panels having blue cells containing many silicon crystals within.
When comparing monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, there are three categories to consider: quality, surface area and performance.
Monocrystalline solar panels are black, durable and recommended for residential areas given their inoffensive design and efficacy. Polycrystalline solar panels are a marbled blue, offer decent energy per square metre of panel, require more space to install and are less expensive than monocrystalline solar panels.
Are Monocrystalline Solar Panels More Efficient Than Polycrystalline Solar Panels?
Monocrystalline solar panels have a higher efficiency compared to polycrystalline solar panels. The distance between these two types of panels is slowly decreasing as technology advances. Monocrystalline solar panels are structured in such a way to allow for maximum input per square metre of cell.
Do Mono or Poly Solar Panels Work Better in Low Light?
Mono solar panels perform better than poly solar panels in low light conditions, though both options will work decently in low lighting conditions. Due to the higher pure-silicone content in mono solar panels, this allows for more efficient collection of both direct and indirect light to generate power with.
Do Monocrystalline Solar Panels Last Longer Than Polycrystalline Solar Panels?
Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels last anywhere between 25 to 30 years. After about 25 years, the silicone begins to deteriorate and the efficiency of the solar panels declines. This does not mean that they stop generating electricity, however.
Are Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline Solar Panels Cheaper?
Polycrystalline solar panels are cheaper than monocrystalline solar panels due to the quality of the silicone used to create the cells. Polycrystalline solar panels have less pure-silicone per square metre than monocrystalline solar panels do.
Which Is Better Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline Solar Panels?
Monocrystalline solar panels offer better performance than polycrystalline solar panels. Monocrystalline panels deliver top-tier efficiency for a higher initial price tag. With advances in technology, polycrystalline solar panels are slowly closing performance gaps with a more budget-friendly option for homeowners.
What Type of Solar Panel is Best for Home Use?
Monocrystalline solar panels are better for home use if budget is not a concern, as they have better performance and generate more energy, at the cost of being more expensive. Poly solar panels are also good for home use, however they are less efficient that mono panels.
Monocrystalline solar panels offer stronger performance in lower light conditions and better energy production for a smoother design scheme with less panel installation. Polycrystalline solar panels are the more affordable option with a slight drop in efficiency from monocrystalline panels.
Depending on your energy consumption, weather conditions in your area, and your household size, the best solar panel for your residence is one that meets your needs and fits into your budget.
Polycrystalline solar panels are made of composite silicon material, which is less expensive to produce and install initially. Overall, monocrystalline solar panels are the more efficient option and require less surface area wherein polycrystalline solar panels require more surface area to balance out the performance gaps between monocrystalline and polycrystalline set-ups.
In cases of areas prone to severe weather, monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels are more durable than amorphous solar panels. Amorphous solar panels have lower efficiency per square metre of panel that may make the initial investment more trouble than it is worth.
The best way to find out which solar panel type is best for your home is to contact a professional. A local solar installer like JFK Electrical, Solar & Air can perform an energy audit and provide a recommendation for what solar panels would be the most-effective for your home.
Why Are Monocrystalline Solar Panels So Expensive?
Monocrystalline solar panels are more expensive due to a higher cost of production. The process to create monocrystalline solar panels is labour-intensive, requiring chemical treatments and extraction of pure-silicon from solar ingots.
This higher pure-silicon content delivers higher efficiency, requires less surface area to install and is viable in a number of light conditions. However, it does mean a higher upfront cost to install monocrystalline solar panels.
Are Black Solar Panels Better?
The black colour of monocrystalline solar panels does allow for more availability of usable light, but it’s not the colour alone that makes them perform well – the composition also plays a role in solar panel efficiency. Monocrystalline solar cells are composed of ingot, which gives them their black appearance.
This article is published in good faith and for general informational purposes only. JFK Electrical does not make any warranties about the ongoing completeness and reliability of this information. Always seek personalised advice on solar energy to ensure any recommendations suit your property and scenario.
John Lyons, the owner of JFK Electrical Solar & Air, started his career in the electrical industry in 1997. With years of experience gained in the industry across multiple continents, he relocated to Australia and decided to specialise in solar and air conditioning. After deciding he wanted to be closer to his family, John began his own local electrical business in Mandurah, using his extensive knowledge and training in the industry. At JFK, John’s number one goal is to provide tailored solutions to his customers. And thanks to his experience and commitment to his customers, JFK Electrical is now one of the most trusted local businesses in Mandurah for solar and electrical services.