When it comes to solar panels, different types mean different price points, efficiency and necessary area for installation. Before adopting a solar lifestyle, it’s important to know which of the three main types fits your demands.
Single crystal silicon or Monocrystalline
Solar cells made of single-crystalline silicon (the original PV technology invented in 1955) have even coloring and a uniform look thanks to their high-purity silicon. These type of solar cells are made out of cylindrically-shaped silicon ingots. In order to optimize performance and lower costs of each cell, four sides are cut out of the ingots to make silicon wafers.
- Efficiency. The more perfectly aligned the silicon molecules are, the better the solar cell is at converting solar energy. Since single crystal silicon solar panels are made out of the highest-grade silicon, they have the highest efficiency rates (between 15-20%).
- Space requirement. With the highest power output yields (they produce up to 4x the amount of electricity as flexible solar panels), these panels require the least amount of space versus any other type.
- Longevity. Single-crystalline silicon panels typically carry a 25-year warranty.
- Low-light performance. These panels tend to perform better in low-light conditions than polycrystalline silicon solar panels with similar ratings.
- Visual appeal. Monocrystalline silicon panels typically display a uniform look of dark black which makes them very appealing. Similar to the look of a flat screen television, when it's off.
- Cost. Single crystal silicon panels are typically more costly on a per watt basis because the processes used to enhance the purity of silicon are expensive. This is typically made up when calculated on a cost / kWh (energy) produced over time.
- Waste. Cutting the four sides out of the ingots to make silicon wafers (called the Czochralski process) results in a good amount of silicon waste.
Polycrystalline silicon panels do not require the Czochralski process. The raw silicon is melted and poured into a square mold, which is cooled and cut into square wafers.
- Less cost and waste. The process used to make polycrystalline silicon is simpler, costs less and results in less waste.
- Good middle choice. With performance almost as good as single crystal silicon and efficiency better than thin film, this is a great middle tier option for many homeowners who want to avoid the highest cost but still maintain efficiency.
- Lower efficiency (13-16%) than single crystal silicon panels.
- Greater space requirement (lower space-efficiency). Utilizing polycrystalline silicon panels means you will likely need to cover a larger surface to output the same electrical power as with the single crystal panels.
- Visual appeal. Polycrystalline silicon solar panels have a speckled blue color which can be less aesthetically pleasing than the uniform look of single crystal silicon or thin film panels.
Flexible solar panels
Flexible, or thin-film, solar cells are manufactured by depositing one of several thin layers of photovoltaic material onto a substrate.
- Cost. Mass-production of thin-film cells is easy, making them less expensive than their crystalline-based counterparts.
- Visually appealing. They have a homogenous appearance that is appealing.
- Flexibility. Their flexibility opens up many new potential applications.
- Space requirements. Since they can produce ¼ less the amount of electricity of monocrystalline solar panels, the space requirement is much larger. This makes them less than ideal for most residential situations.
- Greater associated costs in the support structures and cables due to the required size.
- Faster degradation than crystalline panels. Thin film panels typically come with a shorter warranty.
If you decide to go solar, it is important you utilize the best materials to fit your needs. Contact Vinyasun for a free solar quote and analysis of your home. Our goal is to make going solar a positive experience.