Choosing Between Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline Solar Panels
How to select the right panels for your system
While shopping for solar panels, you may have noticed that there are two main aesthetic differences between panels: some are dark gray (almost black) and others are light blue. These darked panels are known as monocrystalline and the light blue panels are known as polycrystalline. There’s a few key differences between these panels, and like most things in solar installations, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to which is best.
Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels serve the same general function of collecting energy from the sun. Both are made from silicon, but the main difference is the type of silicon solar cell they use. Monocrystalline, as their name suggests, have cells made from a single crystal of silicon. Polycrystalline solar panels have solar cells made from many silicon fragments that are melted together.
How do solar panels work?
First it might be helpful to understand the basics of how solar energy is generated. Photovoltaic solar panels are made up of many solar cells made of silicon. When sunlight hits the panels, they create an electric current. Panels have both a positive and a negative layer, which creates an electric field.
The current collected by solar panels then feeds into a charge controller, which controls how much current goes into a battery and/or inverter.
What is a monocrystalline solar panel?
Monocrystalline panels, which are darker in color and made out of the highest-grade silicon, are more energy efficient than polycrystalline panels. This makes them more space-efficient than polycrystalline panels. You’ll have to use fewer solar panels on your roof to get the same level of output.
Monocrystalline panels also typically have the longest lifespan. Many manufacturers put a 25-year warranty on their monocrystalline solar panels.
To make monocrystalline panels, manufacturers shape the silicon into bars and cut them into different wafers. Each solar cell is composed of just one crystal. This makes it so the electrons that generate the flow of electricity are free to move around. As a result, they are more energy efficient than polycrystalline panels, but it also makes them more expensive to produce.
Additionally, the manufacturing process to create monocrystalline panels is also typically more wasteful than polycrystalline panels. Monocrystalline panels are cut from square silicon wafers and the corners are shaved off.
What is a polycrystalline solar panel?
Polycrystalline panels, which are light blue in color, are less efficient than monocrystalline panels, but they are also typically much cheaper.
To make polycrystalline panels, manufacturers melt many fragments of silicon together to form the different ‘wafers’ for the panel. Because there are many crystals in each cell, there is less breathing room for the electrons to move around. This makes them less efficient than monocrystalline panels. It’s important to note that manufacturers continue to research and develop new polycrystalline technology that is becoming more and more efficient every day. One day, efficiency rates for polycrystalline and monocrystalline panels may be equivalent.
So which solar panel should I purchase?
Deciding what is most important to you will help you navigate which panels to buy.
Aesthetic Preference: Many people prefer the look of the darker monocrystalline panels over the polycrystalline panels because they can blend in better with the dark shingles of a roof. So if aesthetics is the most important factor, monocrystalline may be the way to go.
Space Constraints: If space is an issue, say on the roof of a van, you may want to consider purchasing monocrystalline panels because they are more energy and space efficient. In many cases, you’ll need fewer solar panels to get the same solar output of polycrystalline panels.
Budget Constraints: If money is your main driving factor in making decisions around your solar panels, you may choose to go with the less expensive polycrystalline panels.
Where can I purchase monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels?
Renogy has a range of different solar panel kits available in both monocrystalline and polycrystalline options. However, you’ll find that the smaller kits are available in a polycrystalline option, while most of our larger kits for homes and cabins are only available in a monocrystalline option. Our flexible solar panels are only available in monocrystalline options.
Understanding these key aesthetic, efficiency, and cost differences between monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels will hopefully better equip you to make a smart purchase that you’ll love for years.