Updated: Dec 27, 2019
There are three types of technology utilized in the manufacture of solar panels. In other words, the solar panels available in the alternative power industry market come in three different forms, namely, monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film amorphous. The main difference between the types are given in their names.
Almost 90% of solar panels in the world are made from silicon. Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline, as suggested by their names, are both types of solar cells that are made from crystalline silicon. The remaining 10%, otherwise the thin film amorphous, are made from the non-crystalline form of silicon.
For definition purposes, a crystalline solid has its particles arranged in a very orderly and repeating three-dimensional pattern. The best example of a crystalline solid is salt. On the other hand, amorphous solids rigid structures but they lack a well-defined shape or pattern. The most common example of an amorphous solid is glass. Gels, plastics, various polymers, wax and thin films are also good examples of amorphous solids.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
This is the oldest and most developed of the three technologies. They are generally regarded as as the premium in solar panels. Also described by industry practitioners and dealers as ‘mono’, monocrystalline panels, as the name prefix ‘mono’ implies, are created from a single crystal structure continuously repeated. They are thus regarded as pure.
There are fewer crystals in each cell and therefore more freedom for electron movement and higher electricity production.
Monocrystalline panels are sleek, look better than poly panels and have a deep black colour.
Monocrystalline solar panels have the highest efficiency rates since they are made out of the highest-grade silicon. The most efficient solar mono panels can convert more than 22.5% of sunlight into electricity.
Monocrystalline silicon require lesser amount of space compared to the poly panels.
They also have a long lifespan. Most solar panel manufacturers put a 25-year warranty on their monocrystalline solar panels.
With all solar cells, electricity production drops with increase in temperature. However, mono panels are generally more efficient in warm weather. Nevertheless, the difference in the drop of energy produced by mono panels, in practice, is very small from that of poly panels. The level to which each solar panels production falls as temperature increase is called the temperature coefficient and is published with the specifications for each panel. In other words, poly solar panels will have a higher temperature coefficient specified on the panels than mono panels.
They perform better in low light conditions.
Monocrystalline solar panels are relatively more expensive. Polycrystalline panels have become more common precisely for this reason and also because their manufacturing process is more cost-efficient.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
Polycrystalline solar panels are also made from silicon. However, instead of using a single crystal of silicon, many fragments of silicon crystals are melted together to form the wafers for the panel. Because there are many crystals in each cell, there is lesser freedom for the electrons move meaning that, in comparison with the mono panels, lesser electricity is produced.
Poly panel have a light blue colour. An even closer look will reveal some unevenness in the texture and colour due to the way the cells are arranged.
The process used to make polycrystalline silicon is simpler and cost less. The amount of wasted silicon is less compared to monocrystalline. This in turn means that poly panels are generally cheaper than mono panels.
Poly panels are now very close to mono panels in terms of efficiency.
They require more space.
The efficiency of a typical poly panels is typically 13-16%. However, poly panels are now very close to mono panels in terms of efficiency. The best poly panels have efficiencies up to 21%.
And for those who care, they look less sleek than mono panels.
Thin Film Solar Panels
The third is the Thin Film Solar Panels. They are manufactured by depositing one or several thin layers of photovoltaic material onto a substrate. Thin Film Solar Panels are the panels for the future.
They are flexible and can be folded or bent inwards or outwards. They look very appealing. While the poly and mono cells are constructed with anodized aluminum frames, thin film panels are frameless, sandwiched between glass; and thus weigh far lesser.
Mass-production is simple. This makes them and potentially cheaper to manufacture than crystalline-based solar cells.
They can be made to be flexible, which opens up many new potential applications.
High temperatures and shading have less impact on solar panel performance.
They are best for places where space is not a major consideration.
Thin-film solar panels are in general not very useful for in most residential situations.
They are cheap, but they also require a lot of space.
Low space-efficiency also means that the costs of installation equipment (e.g. support structures and cables) will increase.
Thin-film solar panels tend to degrade faster than mono-crystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, which is why they typically come with a shorter warranty.
Poly and mono panels are the staple in the Nigerian market for dealers and users. Our team of engineers at SolarKobo will help you identify the panels that best suits your needs and fits your budget.