When choosing solar panels for your solar power system, it's wise to understand that not all solar panels are built the same.
It's well understood that installing solar panels will play a big part in reducing your energy bills, as well as helping the environment and offering a great return on investment.
What type of solar panels will be best suited for your home or business? Before we go through all of this, I want to make one significant statement: Types of solar panels have a minimal difference. The type of panel should not be a priority buying factor. Solar panel efficiency is not the most important thing to consider when buying a solar power system.
To get the best value from the solar system you choose to install, you should keep in mind that not all solar panels are built the same. This, in turn, poses the question of which type of solar panel should you choose? Do you go for monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels?
This article covers everything you need to know about the different types of solar panels, including construction, performance, cost and the strengths and weaknesses of each type.
I’m going to run through the difference between these solar panel types; however, in the end, it's up to you to decide which kind is best for you.
If you’re still at the research phase of your system planning and unsure where to start, read this guide: Buying the Best Solar Panels for Your Home and Should I Install Solar Now or Wait? Energy Expert Reveals All.
Monocrystalline solar panels are currently the most popular and most utilised in rooftop installations.
The very first thing that sets monocrystalline solar panels apart from other types is their aesthetics. They’re composed of flat, black-coloured, single cells that are visually appealing, making this type of solar panel quite popular among homeowners.
Another reason why monocrystalline solar panels are so popular is that they’re highly efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. This is why panel manufacturing companies like SunPower and LONGi Solar are using them.
Take a close look at the silicon wafers. If they’re shaped like squares with the corners cut off, you’re looking at a monocrystalline panel. Polycrystalline panels have wafers with the corners intact.
The Czochralski method entails placing a seed crystal into pure molten silicon at a high temperature. After that, the seed is drawn up, and the pure silicon is formed around it, creating a single large crystal known as an ingot. From there, the ingot is sliced into thin portions or wafers that make up the solar cells.
Monocrystalline solar panels typically have 60 or 72 individual solar cells. The size of the panel governs the number of solar cells a monocrystalline panel has. Monocrystalline solar panels intended for residential use are typically made up of 60-cell models.
When it comes to efficiency, monocrystalline panels are superior to polycrystalline, having efficiency ranges from 17% to 22%. Not only are they more efficient than all other types of solar panels, but they also have the highest power capacity.
JinkoSolar has recently released a top-rated panel, the Tiger N-Type Solar Panel (check out this article: Tiger vs Cheetah comparison). This is made from monocrystalline technology. It’s sitting high around 21% efficiency.
What makes monocrystalline solar panels so efficient, you’re probably wondering? Quite simply, their construction. Monocrystalline panels are made from a single silicon crystal, which allows the electronics to flow easily, and, in turn, boosts the panel’s efficiency.
Thanks to their high efficiency, monocrystalline solar panels tend to take up less space than other types of solar panels. Suppose you have a monocrystalline set-up with a certain power capacity and another polycrystalline set-up with the same capacity. In that case, you’ll notice that the monocrystalline set-up is notably smaller in scale.
That being said, if you’re someone looking to install a solar power system and you have limited roof space, a monocrystalline set-up will be your best bet considering it will produce a great deal of power without taking up too much space.
Seeing as they're the most efficient and have the highest power ratings, monocrystalline solar panels are typically a little more expensive than their polycrystalline counterparts. Not to mention that it's harder to produce a monocrystalline panel than it is a polycrystalline panel, so of course, that factor comes in as well.
Suppose you research some of the most popular solar panels available for sale. In that case, you'll notice that the more premium ones are all monocrystalline. Examples include LG NeON and SunPower panels. However, these days, Longi is doing this and Jinko as well.
The Australian solar market is changing; however, solar companies are starting to make the market more and more affordable every year. The industry is booming with quality products for a reasonable price! Who would have thought?
Monocrystalline is becoming more and more affordable every year. If you're looking for quality, it's best to pay the higher price. Just make sure you don't get a bad solar installation.
It goes back to that old saying: you get what you pay for.
Polycrystalline (multi-crystalline) solar panels are perfect for those looking to implement a solar energy set-up without breaking the bank. As mentioned previously, they’re just a small amount cheaper than monocrystalline cells, but honestly, there’s not much in it.
In terms of efficiency, polycrystalline panels fall short compared to monocrystalline panels due to their manufacturing process, which we’ll cover shortly. Again, there isn’t much in it.
Also, they’re not as aesthetically pleasing as monocrystalline solar panels, seeing as their blue colour and the lack of white spaces (due to the corners not being cut off) can be a bit displeasing for some. They’re going on the roof and not exactly going to be looked at every day, but it might be something to consider.
The manufacturing process for polycrystalline solar panels shares a lot in common with that for monocrystalline panels in the sense that it entails the dipping of a seed crystal into the pure molten silicon.
The difference, however, is that the seed crystal isn’t pulled out of the silicon vat. Instead, it’s left in there until the whole vat cools down, which, in turn, allows for a multitude of crystals to form. This multitude of crystals is what gives polycrystalline panels their blue appearance.
Polycrystalline panels, like their monocrystalline counterparts, are featured in 60-cell and 72-cell models. Both variants are suitable for residential use, but the difference in size and capacity will be a deciding factor for people with limited roof space.
Unlike monocrystalline solar panels, the construction of polycrystalline panels slightly lowers (just a little bit), seeing as the presence of several silicon crystals makes for a harder flow of electrons. That said, polycrystalline solar panels tend to have efficiency rates that range from 16% to 18-19%.
The best advice: to not let solar panel efficiency dictate whether you buy a panel or not. There is a good article published on why solar panel efficiency doesn’t matter as much as you think here.
In recent times, several advancements and new technologies have been introduced in the panel industry, which has helped boost the efficiency of premium polycrystalline panels to be close to that of monocrystalline panels.
In earlier years, polycrystalline panels with 60 cells had a power rating of 240 watts. Today you can find polycrystalline solar panels with power ratings greater than 300 watts! Now that’s changing quicker than you can say solar!
As we already established, polycrystalline solar panels are cheaper than their monocrystalline counterparts, but not by very much. As mentioned above, monocrystalline cells are becoming more and more affordable.
Big brands like JinkoSolar and LongiSolar are leading the way. Even Sunpower are becoming more affordable.
Between 2012 and 2016, polycrystalline panels were notably cheaper than their counterparts, which is why they were more prevalent among homeowners at the time. Nowadays, monocrystalline panels are catching up fast.
Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels may be the most popular and most suitable for residential use, but they’re not the only types available; thin-film solar panels and solar roof shingles are also available. so, let’s briefly touch on each class.
Thin-film solar panels are relatively new compared to monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels, and they’re not all that popular among homeowners. They are, however, growing in popularity and may eventually have a larger market share.
Thin-film solar panels are built from semiconductor materials like amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium gallium selenide. The material is rolled out on a given surface.
In terms of efficiency, thin-film solar panels are notably less efficient than crystalline solar panels. Their efficiency range is between 10% and 13%. They also require a great deal of space. They tend to lack in terms of durability, which is why they come with comparatively short warranties.
On the bright side, thin-film solar panels are more affordable and flexible than their crystalline counterparts. Moreover, they’re more aesthetically appealing compared to polycrystalline panels, and they’re more lightweight.
Solar roof shingles or roof tiles are the latest introduction in the world of solar panels. They combine a range of strengths. Essentially they are overlapping solar cells and maximise a higher performance.
Another benefit that shingled solar cells offer is durability. They also pack a good amount of power. When combined with polycrystalline or monocrystalline, you can get an excellent solar panel.
Polycrystalline is more cost-effective. If you’re on a tight budget, then it's going to be the best choice for you.
If you do have the money, then, of course, monocrystalline cells will be a winner. Usually, with these panels comes a more extended warranty as well.
It's advisable not to spend too much time focusing on this factor. Both panel types are going to be great for your home. If you choose a reputable solar brand with a good warranty coupled with a quality installation, then you will be fine!
Make sure that you choose the right installer. A bad solar installation can make your system fail in under two years. That’s more worrying.
The many benefits of harnessing solar energy are enough to justify the hassle of getting your very own set-up. From vast availability and reduced bills to minimal maintenance, solar panels are nothing but fruitful.