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Monocrystalline Vs. Polycrystalline Solar Panels: What's Best?

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When installing a solar power system for a home or business, choosing between monocrystalline vs. polycrystalline solar panels is an important step in the planning process. But how do you decide which is right for you?

In this article, we'll break down similarities and differences between the two types of solar panels, going over costs, aesthetics, efficiency and more to help you determine the best choice for your solar installation.

What are Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline Solar Panels?

Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels are the two most common types of solar energy receptors. Both work using photovoltaic cells made of silicon — the same material that's used in chips for electronic gadgets. The difference between monocrystalline vs. polycrystalline solar cells is the configuration of the silicon:

  • Monocrystalline solar panels: Each solar PV cell is made of a single silicon crystal. These are sometimes referred to as "mono solar panels."
  • Polycrystalline solar panels: Each PV cell is made of multiple silicon crystal fragments that are melded together during manufacturing. You may see them called "multi-crystalline panels" or "poly panels."

Both types of solar panels have the same purpose: converting sunlight into electricity. However, the crystalline silicon structure of individual solar cells affects their performance and appearance. In fact, you can identify the type of panel by simply observing the shape and color of its solar cells.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Monocrystalline solar panels are characterized by their black PV cells with rounded edges. They have a higher conversion efficiency than polycrystalline panels, which means they produce more kilowatt-hours of electricity. If you want to install a solar panel system but your space is limited, monocrystalline panels will be more productive per square foot.

While they're the most efficient solar panels, they're also the most expensive, since the manufacturing process of single-crystal silicon cells is more complex.

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Polycrystalline solar panels have blue-hued PV cells with straight edges. They have a lower efficiency compared with monocrystalline cells, which means you need more panels to reach the same power output. However, polycrystalline panels also have a lower price, since their manufacturing process is simpler.

Polycrystalline panels are very durable, but they tend to last slightly less than monocrystalline panels. They are also affected more by high temperatures, which reduces their productivity on the hottest days.

Monocrystalline Vs. Polycrystalline Solar Panels: Key Differences

Now that you know the basics of monocrystalline vs. polycrystalline solar panels, let's discuss how each type of solar panel technology performs. The following table summarizes the most important differences between monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels:

Factor Monocrystalline Solar Panels Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Silicone Arrangement One pure silicon crystal Many silicon fragments melded together
Cost More expensive Less expensive
Appearance Panels have black hue Panels have blue hue
Efficiency More efficient Less efficient
Lifespan 25-40 years 20-35 years
Temperature Coefficient Lower temperature coefficient,
making them more efficient in heat
Higher temperature coefficient,
making them less efficient in heat

Solar Panel Cost

The silicon structure of each solar panel is the main factor that determines cost. To produce polycrystalline panels, manufacturers must simply pour molten silicon into square molds, then cut the resulting wafers into individual cells. On the other hand, to produce single-crystal solar cells, the solidification of silicon must be controlled very carefully. Because of this more complex manufacturing process, mono panels are more expensive.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind about the cost of solar panels:

  • Monocrystalline solar panels have a higher cost when comparing only the panels.
  • The cost of inverters, wiring, electrical protections, racking and labor is the same for both solar panel types.
  • Because monocrystalline panels are more efficient, you may get a better return on your investment.
  • Homeowners are eligible for the federal solar tax credit whether they choose mono or poly panels.

Efficiency and Temperature Coefficient

As mentioned above, monocrystalline solar panels have a higher efficiency. However, this does not mean that polycrystalline solar panels are inferior products — you can find high-quality solar panels of both types. Here are a few more facts about efficiency:

  • When a solar panel has a higher efficiency, it converts a larger percentage of sunlight into electricity.
  • As of 2021, polycrystalline panels have typical efficiencies below 20%, while the best monocrystalline panels are approaching 23%.
  • You will need more polycrystalline panels to reach a certain kilowatt-hour output per month, since their efficiency is lower.
  • All solar panels suffer a temporary efficiency drop when their temperature increases, but monocrystalline solar cells are less affected by heat.

The temperature coefficient indicates how much solar panels are affected by temperature. All solar panels are factory-tested under the same Standard Test Conditions (STC) to ensure a fair comparison.

In general, polycrystalline solar panels tend to have higher temperature coefficients, which means they lose more productivity when they heat up. However, as technology improves, there are now solar panels of both types with similarly low temperature coefficients.

Solar panel efficiency is not a critical factor when you have plenty of space available. Since polycrystalline panels have a lower price, installing more to compensate for the lower efficiency is not a problem. However, when you have limited space, installing more panels is not an option, so monocrystalline panels will maximize electricity production in the available area.

Appearance and Lifespan

The appearance of solar cells is also a result of their silicon structure, since it determines how they interact with sunlight and how they are perceived by human eyesight. The single-crystal structure of monocrystalline cells gives them a black color, while polycrystalline cells are blue.

Both solar panel types have a long lifespan, while their payback period is less than five years in many cases. Solar manufacturers normally offer a 25-year power production warranty, but some brands now come with 30-year warranty coverage.

Are Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline Solar Panels Best for You?

Each type of solar panel has advantages and disadvantages, and you can get an excellent return on investment with both. However, to make your choice easier, consider the following factors when picking the best solar panels for your home:

Do you want solar panels of a specific color? Keep in mind that monocrystalline panels are black, while polycrystalline panels are blue. If you prefer one over the other, you can buy solar panels to suit your taste.

How much space do you have for solar panels? The exact dimensions of home solar panels depend on their brand and manufacturer. The typical dimensions are 65 inches by 39 inches, equivalent to 17.6 square feet per panel, but monocrystalline panels offer more watts per square foot. Here's a simplified example of how you can install more kilowatts in a given area by using monocrystalline panels:

  • You may find that a polycrystalline panel produces 300W, while an equally-sized monocrystalline panel produces 350W.
  • If you have space for 20 of them, you will reach 7 kW with the monocrystalline panels, but only 6 kW with the polycrystalline panels.

What do your budget and financing options look like? Polycrystalline solar panels are more affordable, but monocrystalline panels are more productive. If you have access to a solar loan with favorable interest rates, you can finance your solar installation and pay the loan off with the money you save on utility bills. In this case, the extra cost of monocrystalline panels is not an issue.

Also, make sure you compare several solar quotes. Monocrystalline solar panels are more expensive individually, but you must also consider other system components and installation costs. There may be cases in which a completed installation with monocrystalline panels is actually cheaper, even if a single panel costs more.

To start comparing costs, you can get a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar installation company in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.

Other Types of Solar Panels

Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels are the most common, but they are not the only types available. You will also find thin-film solar panels, which have a completely different manufacturing process:

  • Instead of using crystalline solar cells, they use a photovoltaic material that is deposited in thin layers.
  • There are many subtypes of thin-film solar panels based on their PV material. The most common are cadmium telluride (CdTe), copper gallium indium diselenide (CIGS) and amorphous silicon.
  • Since thin-film solar panels are not divided into cells, they have a uniform surface without divisions.
  • Most flexible solar panels use thin-film solar cells.

The main disadvantage of thin-film solar panels is that they are much less efficient than polycrystalline or monocrystalline panels. This means you must cover a larger area with thin-film solar panels to reach a certain kilowatt-hour production.

FAQ: Monocrystalline Vs. Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Which solar panel type is better: monocrystalline or polycrystalline?

Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels have certain pros and cons, which means the better choice for you will depend on your specific project. Monocrystalline panels are recommended when space is limited and when you are willing to make a larger investment to achieve top efficiency. On the other hand, polycrystalline solar panels are recommended when you want to reduce upfront costs and space is not a limitation.

Is monocrystalline more expensive than polycrystalline?

When comparing the price of individual solar panels, monocrystalline products are more expensive. However, when comparing quotes for completed solar systems, you may find similar costs per kilowatt among both technologies. This is because, due to their high efficiency rates, you'll need to buy fewer mono panels overall.

What is the difference between polycrystalline and monocrystalline solar panels?

Polycrystalline solar panels have blue cells made of multiple silicon crystals, and they are less efficient but more affordable. Monocrystalline panels have black cells made of single crystals, and they offer a higher efficiency at a higher price.

What is the price difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels?

This price difference between monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels varies depending on the exact solar panel models being compared. However, in general, the price difference is comparable to the efficiency difference — monocrystalline panels are around 20% more efficient, but they also cost around 20% more.

Comparing quotes for complete solar power systems is recommended, since they include all other system components and their installation costs.

Leonardo David is an electromechanical engineer, MBA, energy consultant and technical writer. His energy-efficiency and solar consulting experience covers sectors including banking, textile manufacturing, plastics processing, pharmaceutics, education, food processing, fast food, real estate and retail. He has also been writing articles about energy and engineering topics since 2015.

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