Types of Solar Panels: Mono vs. Poly vs. Thin-Film

If you’ve decided to install solar panels, you may be confused on which type to invest in. There are several variables to consider when choosing the type of solar panel that fits your needs.

Learning about each type of solar panel that’s currently available will enable you to decide which system is right for your home or business.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels

Solar panels rely on innovations related to photovoltaics (PV), or the branch of technology involving the production of electric current. Scientists base about 90% of the world’s PV on silicon. About 95% of residential solar panels use crystalline silicon, which takes many different forms. The purity of the silicon, or how well the silicon molecules align, decides its form. The purer the silicon, the better it can convert solar energy into electricity.

Monocrystalline solar cells, also called single-crystalline silicon, use high-purity silicon. You can recognize a monocrystalline solar power system by the external uniformity of the panels’ look and coloring. Scientists make these solar cells out of cylindrical-shaped silicon ingots. They cut four sides out of the ingots to make silicon “wafers,” which optimize performance and lower the costs of the solar cell. These wafers give monocrystalline solar panels their distinct look.

Monocrystalline solar panels operate at the highest efficiency, about 15%-20%, due to the purity of their silicon. These panels are also efficient space-wise, as they yield the greatest power output. They generate about four times the output of thin-film solar panels, and operate better in lower sunlight conditions. Therefore, homeowners don’t need to install as many panels to deliver the same electricity as other types of panels. They also have a long lifespan – about 25 years.

Some disadvantages of monocrystalline solar panels include the cost and the potential for the system breaking down. Monocrystalline solar panels cost more than the other types due to their greater efficiency. If your home’s location has shading issues, such as a large tree or dirt or snow, these solar panels may break down entirely. Opting for microinverters instead of central string inverters can help prevent the entire solar circuit from stopping when shade covers just one solar panel.

Polycrystalline Silicon Solar Cells

Back in 1981, scientists introduced the first solar panels. These panels consisted of polycrystalline silicon, also known as multi-crystalline silicon. Instead of using the process of cutting out silicon wafers (the Czochralski process), scientists melted raw silicon and poured it into a square mold to create polycrystalline solar cells. Then, they cooled the silicon and cut it into square wafers for the panels. This process was much simpler and produced less silicon waste than creating monocrystalline cells.

Polycrystalline solar panels operate at a lower efficiency than monocrystalline – typically at about 13%-16%. This results in lower space efficiency, although it does not necessarily mean every polycrystalline solar panel performs worse than monocrystalline solar panels. Their speckled blue color may not be as aesthetically pleasing as monocrystalline, but the price of purchase is cheaper for homeowners.

Thin-Film Solar Cells

One of the newer forms of PV, thin-film solar cells are not crystalline-based. Manufacturers can construct them using a variety of materials, including amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium gallium selenide. This technology is still emerging, and is cheaper than the other two types. It works best for locations that require lower amounts of power. Thin-film solar cells operate at average efficiencies of 7%-13%, but scientists expect this number to climb as technology advances.

This type of solar cell is more flexible than the other two types, which gives it the potential for applications such as building-integrated solar panels and solar windows – a technology Japanese solar panel manufacturers are already putting into effect today. As technology advances, companies are creating new types of solar panels available for consumer use. The solar panels of today are much more efficient and flexible than those used years ago, and the future only holds more room for improvement.