When you evaluate solar panels for your photovoltaic (PV) system, you will encounter two main categories of panel options: monocrystalline solar panels (mono) and polycrystalline solar panels (poly). Both types of panels produce energy from the sun, but there are some key differences to be aware of.
Key takeaways: monocrystalline vs. polycrystalline
- Monocrystalline solar panels have black-colored solar cells made of a single silicon crystal, and they usually have a higher efficiency rating. However, these panels often come at a higher price.
- Polycrystalline solar panels have blue-colored cells made of multiple silicon crystals melted together. These panels are often a bit less efficient, but are more affordable.
- Homeowners can receive the federal solar tax credit no matter what type of solar panels they choose.
- When comparing mono vs poly solar panels, both will save you money on electricity. The choice comes down to your personal preference, space constraints, and the best financing option for you.
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What’s in this article?
- What are monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels?
- How do monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels compare on key metrics
- Monocrystalline vs. polycrystalline solar panels: which are right for you?
- What other solar cell technologies are there?
What are monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels?
Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels serve the same function in the overall solar PV system, and the science behind them is simple: they capture energy from the sun (solar energy) and turn it into electricity. They are also both made from silicon, which is used for solar panels because it is an abundant, very durable element. Many solar panel manufacturers produce both monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels.
Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels can be good choices for your home, but there are key differences that you should understand before making your final solar purchase decision. The main difference between the two technologies is the type of silicon solar cell they use: monocrystalline solar panels have solar cells made from a single crystal of silicon, while polycrystalline solar panels have solar cells made from many silicon fragments melted together.
Monocrystalline solar panels
A monocrystalline solar panel is simply a solar panel made from monocrystalline solar cells or “wafers.” Monocrystalline wafers are made from a single silicon crystal that is formed into a cylindrical silicon ingot. Although these panels are generally thought of as a premium solar product, the main advantages of monocrystalline panels are higher efficiencies and sleeker aesthetics.Because a monocrystalline cell is composed of a single crystal, the electrons that generate a flow of electricity have more room to move. As a result, monocrystalline solar cells are more efficient than their polycrystalline solar cell counterparts. You will need less monocrystalline panels for your roof to produce more kWh of electricity than other types of panels, but they are more expensive per panel.
Because a monocrystalline cell is composed of a single crystal, the electrons that generate a flow of electricity have more room to move. As a result, monocrystalline solar cells are more efficient than their polycrystalline solar cell counterparts.
Polycrystalline solar panels
Polycrystalline solar panels are also made from silicon. However, instead of using a single crystal of silicon, manufacturers melt many fragments of silicon together to form the wafers for the panel. Polycrystalline solar cells are also referred to as “multi-crystalline,” or many-crystal silicon.
Polycrystalline solar panels generally have lower efficiencies than monocrystalline cell options because there are many more crystals in each cell meaning less freedom for the electrons to move. Due to the easier manufacturer process, these panels have a lower price point on average. In addition, polycrystalline solar panels tend to have a blue hue instead of the black hue of monocrystalline solar panels. Because they are less efficient than other types of panels, you will need more to provide electricity for your home but their individual cost is lower.
How do monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels compare on key metrics?
At the end of the day, it’s all about the metrics. Here’s how monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels stack up against each other in a few key areas:
Mono vs. poly solar panels: key metrics
|Monocrystalline panels||Polycrystalline panels|
|Cost||More expensive||Less expensive|
|Efficiency||More efficient||Less efficient|
|Aesthetics||Solar cells are a black hue||Solar cells have a blue-ish hue|
|Lifespan||25+ years||25+ years|
|Temperature coefficient||Lower temperature coefficient/more effective when temperature changes||Higher temperature coefficient/less effective when temperature changes
Monocrystalline solar panels are more expensive than polycrystalline solar panels when comparing panels alone. However, that doesn’t mean they may not be the best option for you. The main factor that determines the cost difference between these two solar panel types is the silicon structure. To produce polycrystalline panels, manufacturers pour molten silicon into square molds, then cut the resulting wafers into individual cells. Conversely, to produce monocrystalline panels, the solidification of silicon must be controlled very carefully, which is a more complex process—this makes single-crystal solar cells more expensive.
When comparing the price of both panel types, keep in mind that monocrystalline solar panels have a higher cost. Meanwhile, the cost of inverters, wiring, electrical protections, racking, and labor is the same for both. Also consider that since monocrystalline panels are more efficient, you might see a better return on your investment if you have limited space for a solar panel installation. Lastly, remember that both types of solar panels are still eligible for the federal solar tax credit.
In general, monocrystalline solar panels are more efficient than polycrystalline solar panels – this is because monocrystalline panels are cut from a single crystal of silicon, which makes it easier for the highest amount of electricity to move throughout the panel. Monocrystalline solar panels can reach efficiencies of over 23% in some instances, while most polycrystalline models top out below 20%.
The main difference in aesthetics between the two types of solar panels is their color: monocrystalline panels are usually black, while polycrystalline panels can appear to have a blue hue to them.
The type of silicon cell that makes up your solar panels usually has no impact on the panels’ lifespan. Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels will produce electricity efficiently for 25 years or more.
Like efficiency, monocrystalline solar panels tend to outperform polycrystalline models when it comes to temperature coefficient. A panel’s temperature coefficient is essentially a measure of how well it performs in warm temperatures (with percentages closer to zero being better), so it follows that monocrystalline solar panels have a better track record in high temperatures.
Why you shouldn’t rule out polycrystalline panels
While monocrystalline panels have a higher efficiency, polycrystalline panels can still make sense depending on your situation. While, as we’ve discussed, they are less efficient than monocrystalline panels, if you have a ton of space to work with, this may not be a big issue. Because their price point is lower, it could be cost-effective for you to install more polycrystalline panels on your property to meet your energy demands.
Polycrystalline panels may also be worth it for you depending on where you live. Generally speaking, polycrystalline solar panels have a higher temperature coefficient which means they lose more productivity when they heat up – but, if you live in an area with a cooler climate, this won’t impact you as much! Additionally, technology is rapidly improving and there are thin-film polycrystalline solar panels being developed that have improved performance and reduced costs.
Monocrystalline vs. polycrystalline solar panels: How to find the best solar panels for you
Saving money is one of the best reasons to go solar, and whether you choose mono or poly solar panels, you’ll be decreasing your electricity bills. The option you choose comes down to your personal preferences, space constraints, and the financing option you choose.
If the color of your solar panels is important to you, remember that monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels tend to appear differently on your roof. The typical mono solar panel will tend to have a darker black color, while the typical polycrystalline panel will typically come in a bluer color. Also, if where your panels were manufactured is important to you, then ensure you know enough about the company that made your mono or poly solar panels.
Higher efficiency solar panels are preferable if your PV system size is limited by the amount of space available on your roof. This is also true of applications with less space and less energy requirements like RVs and powering small devices. Because of this, paying the extra cost for more efficient monocrystalline panels that can help you maximize your electricity production will make more sense in the long run. Alternatively, if you have a lot of roof space or are installing ground-mounted solar, then lower-efficiency polycrystalline panels can be a more economic option.
How you finance your system can also play a part in determining which type of panel you choose. For example, if you choose a power purchase agreement (PPA), you pay per kilowatt-hour for the electricity produced by the system. This means that, above any type of equipment you’re being offered, your monthly payments will determine your savings. By contrast, if you are buying your system, paying more for high-efficiency monocrystalline solar panels can result in higher returns on your solar investment.
What other solar cell technologies are there?
Although they make up a significantly smaller percentage of the solar panel market (residential and commercial panels in particular), there are other solar panel options available besides monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar cells. One technology you may have heard of is thin-film solar, which includes panels made from a variety of materials that tend to be more lightweight and flexible than typical silicon panels. However, thin-film technology lags behind crystalline silicon technology in terms of efficiency and performance. To learn more, read our article about the different types of solar panels.
Frequently asked questions related to monocrystalline vs. polycrystalline solar cells
When you’re evaluating the similarities and differences between mono and poly solar, it’s easy to get confused by scientific terms and industry jargon—check out a few more frequently asked questions about these solar technologies:
Yes, many scientists are currently working on ways to make solar cells even more efficient. For example, the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is a leader in high-efficiency solar cell research.
Technically, yes. You can mix polycrystalline with monocrystalline solar cells, but it’s not recommended because of the different electrical characteristics the different cells give each panel. If you’re interested in mixing them due to a special circumstance, it’s best to get in touch with an electrician or professional installer. Factors for each type of panel like voltage, wattage, and amps will need to be carefully considered.
Monocrystalline cells and panels usually have the highest efficiency rates, typically in the 15 to 20 percent range (and sometimes higher!). Additionally, they have a higher power output per square foot than polycrystalline options, which makes them very space efficient. They also tend to be more efficient in warm weather, so this is ideal if you live in a more moderate to warm climate. Finally, since they perform better in heat, monocrystalline panels have a longer projected lifespan and usually come with a 25-year warranty. For more information on life expectancy for various panel types, read our article about how long solar panels last.
Due to higher solar panel efficiency ratings and overall ability to produce more solar power per square foot, monocrystalline solar panels are generally seen as the most effective and efficient type of solar panel. However, polycrystalline solar panels are a great option if you need to save a bit of money on upfront costs, or if you prefer panels that have a blue-ish tint. At the end of the day, both types will help you save on your electricity bill.
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