There are two main types of solar panels: monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels.
The names refer to the type of solar cells each panel uses. Each type of solar cell has different attributes that affect its appearance, efficiency and, price tag.
While there are two main types of residential solar panels their dozens of brands and versions of each type. In this guide, we will stick to discussing the types of panels, if you’re interested in a guide that deep dives into individual products and brand variants check out this guide for the best solar panels on the market today.
Each type of solar panel has its pros and cons. The difference of each type of solar panel refers to the method and materials from its production.
Sleek and efficient, monocrystalline (also called “mono”) solar panels are regarded as the premium option for home solar systems. Many people opt for their black modern look and superior efficiency.
While the efficiency of panels will differ by brand and other factors mono cells are regarded as 28% efficient. This means they are able to turn 28% of the sun's UV rays into energy. This is more than any other type of solar cell.
Although mono cells are the most efficient there is some loss inefficiency associated with the actual panel. Monocrystalline panes are only 17-22% efficient but are still more efficient than other types.
To manufacture monocrystalline solar cells a seed crystal is submerged in a liquid silicone bath. When the crystal is removed from the liquid silicon a cylindrical piece of silicon is formed - similar to the way candles are made.
After the cylindrical piece of silicon is formed it is cut into smaller round discs. The discs are then trimmed into squares and assembled on the panel. The wasted silicon from the cutting process is part of the reason mono is more expensive.
While not quite as efficient as their monocrystalline counterparts, Polycrystalline solar panels are cheaper and are still a good option depending on the goals of your solar system. Polycrystalline (or just “poly”) cells have an efficiency of about 23% compared to the 28% efficiency of mono cells.
Poly solar panels on the other hand have an efficiency of 20% compared to 22% of mono solar panels. But, as mentioned before monocrystalline have a slightly better performance in low irradiance.
Polycrystalline solar panels are made using a relatively simple process where silicon is melted down and poured into a rectangular mold to form wafers. The wafer is then assembled into a solar panel. There is little waste in comparison to the way monocrystalline solar panels are built.
If your goal is to have the most efficient solar panel then monocrystalline is the right choice. While you will most likely pay more mono panels can maximize your solar energy production. So if you have limited space or just want to generate as much power as possible go with a monocrystalline panel.
Polycrystalline panels are cheaper than their monocrystalline competitors and since there isn’t a huge difference in efficiency they can be the perfect choice for building a budget solar system. While you do sacrifice looks and efficiency poly panels are 15%-20% cheaper on average.
It’s important to calculate the difference in efficiency and cost to determine which solar panel makes the most sense to your application.