Despite the fact that Monocrystalline solar panels, Polycrystalline solar panels, and Amorphous solar panels all feature silicon as its principal component for harnessing the energy from the sun, there are two major differences between them that are important for the consumer to note because they affect both cost and efficiency.
To put it simply:
- Monocrystalline panels are more efficient at converting the sun’s rays into electricity, but cost more to process into the modules and therefore are more expensive for the consumer to buy.
- Polycrystalline panels are similar to Monocrystalline in that the cells within the modules are composed of crystal, but this type of panel is less efficient and therefore slightly cheaper to purchase.
- Amorphous (or Thin-Film) panels use silicon that is not cut from crystallised form but are laid within the modules in thinner composites (like strips of film), which is an easier less costly process and therefore cheaper to buy – however the efficiency is much poorer than both Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline.
But What Is Silicon Anyway?
It’s useful to know that silicon is a metalloid – a chemistry term to describe something that is a chemical element but which has metallic properties or in other words an element that is hard to characterise and can be both non-metal and metal.
It is the second most abundant element after oxygen in the Earth’s crust and makes up 27.7% of it by mass. Silicon is the principal component of most devices requiring semiconductors, such as microchips and integrated circuits found in many modern-day appliances.
In solar panels, silicon is the key component because of its ability to function as a semiconductor at high temperatures.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
These are basically wafers cut from one single continuous cylindrical silicon crystal. Because the process involved in turning these circular wafers into solar modules/panels is more complicated the cost of each panel is therefore higher for the home owner investor. But the efficiency of the panel is higher than the other two types with some top-of-the-range models having a capacity of around 19%.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
A slightly different crystallisation process is used here with many wafers being cut from “ingots” of molten silicon which are then arranged in a kind of scattered mosaic within the module. Because the process is less demanding than Monocrystalline, these Polycrystalline panels are cheaper. However, their efficiency is a lot less with most models reaching between 13%-15%.
Amorphous Solar Panels
Thinner than the silicon wafers used in the crystallised solar panels, the amorphous “film” of silicon is layered in each module which makes them far more flexible that the other types. The efficiency is the poorest of the three, though, with ratings of between 6%-10%. But going amorphous can be an advantage for people who have cost in mind and maybe don’t want to go all-out solar.
As with many things in life the old adage applies here – you get what you pay for.
For the would-be investor in solar panels the question to ask yourself is; how much free electricity do you want to harness? But how much are you willing to spend to obtain it?