What differentiates monocrystalline Solar Panels from other types of PV panels? Are they cheaper, more efficient, smaller or simply better looking? Why would people choose them over other types of panels? We unravel the concepts and give you all the answers.
From solar energy to electricity
Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic cells, also known as solar cells, and are used to convert light energy into electrical energy by the photovoltaic effect. The sun’s rays carry energy in photons. When sunlight strikes a semiconductor material, electrons are released by the energy of the impact. The solar cells direct these free electrons in a path or a circuit, producing electricity.
Photovoltaic cells have been around since the 1800s and the first one was built by French physicist A.E. Becquerel by using selenium as the base material. The first solid state photovoltaic cell was only 1% efficient but introduced the world into the possibility of harnessing and using the sun’s power. Scientists believe that the maximum efficiency possible for silicon based solar panels is 25%. The rest of the energy from the sun’s rays is lost due to sunlight’s wide spectrum of wavelengths. Recent advances in technology and material research have increased the efficiency to 21% with the use of silicon.
The use of monocrystalline silicon in solar cells
Monocrystalline silicon or Mono-Si is the base material of the semiconductor electronics industry. It’s made up of pure silicon grown into a cylindrical shape in which the crystal lattice remains unbroken by pulling a monocrystalline silicon seed crystal out of melted monocrystalline silicon using what is called the Czochralski method. Grain boundaries or breaks introduce imperfections in the microstructure of silicon and have negative effects on its conducting abilities. The crystalline perfection also makes it possible to combine billions of transistor-based circuits into one microchip, like for example a computer’s microprocessor.
Monocrystalline solar panels have cells that are made of monocrystalline silicon, also known as single crystalline silicon. They can easily be recognized by appearance and color. A monocrystalline solar cell is typically dark blue or black in color and the shading is uniform throughout the cell indicating purity of the silicon material. Corners of a monocrystalline solar cell are rounded as a result of the manufacturing process.
These features of Mono-Si make it the ideal component for manufacturing monocrystalline solar panels. The cells in monocrystalline panels are cut from monocrystalline silicon bars. The uniform arrangement of crystals in these cells makes them highly efficient especially under direct sunlight. They were first developed in 1955 and still are the most widely used type of solar panels in the world.
The extensive production method as well as costs of the materials used, makes monocrystalline panels expensive. That’s why they are mostly used in large industrial installations and only a few manufacturers sell their monocrystalline panels to the general public.
Key features and advantages of monocrystalline solar panels
1.) Higher efficiency
Monocrystalline panels inherit the features and properties of Mono-Si with regards to efficiency. This is due to the structure being pulled from one large crystal compare to several small ones. Monocrystalline panels also perform better than polycrystalline solar panels in higher temperatures making them more applicable and practical in locations with hot climates. They also perform slightly better under low light conditions, which mean better energy production during cloudy days.
2.) Smaller size
Because of the higher efficiency of monocrystalline panels, the sizes of its cells are smaller as opposed to polycrystalline solar panels. This is advantageous for those with limited space allotted for the installation of solar panels, like those who live in suburban homes. A monocrystalline panel can produce four times the amount of electricity compared to that of a thin-film solar panel.
3.) Longer life
Monocrystalline solar panels can last up to 50 years because of the stability of the material used and still keep a high efficiency rate. But even though they have such a long lifespan, manufacturers usually put only 25 years of warranty on their products. This longevity of monocrystalline panels makes them a more practical choice for long term installations.
4.) Looks better
The uniform shade of dark blue or black on monocrystalline cells make them aesthetically better compared to polycrystalline solar panels with their different shades of blue splattered in random. This is important for building designs, especially in urban areas.
5.) More mature technology
The first monocrystalline panels were developed in the 1950s and they have undergone a lot of development and advances through the years. Efficiency has increased a lot and some manufacturers claim to have 24 percent, which is only a notch away from the theoretical efficiency limit of 25 percent.
The future of monocrystalline solar panels
As the existence of monocrystalline panels turns 60 years, it has achieved if not passed its full potential. Although previously considered more expensive than other panel types, advances in the manufacturing methods have resulted in the production of these PV panels to come at a lower cost. In combination with a high output-to-size ratio and higher efficiency it has allowed monocrystalline solar panels to keep their popularity.
But other module types have also been sprouting and although they may not be as efficient as monocrystalline panels when it comes to harnessing solar energy, they are slowly but surely closing the gap. And they can be far cheaper to produce, so some solar panel manufactures are slowly shifting to these new technologies and closing down their silicon crystalline solar cell plants.
One such technology is thin film solar modules which uses cheaper materials like cadmium and copper instead of the expensive silicon. Current efficiency of thin film solar modules is at a low 4 to 12 percent but the technology is still at an infancy stage so there still a lot to improve on.
A silicon based panel type, the polycrystalline solar panel is getting more popular because it’s cheaper than its monocrystalline counterpart while keeping some of its features. The efficiency gap is also getting smaller with recent production methods making it practical for residential use at a lower cost.
Another technology reportedly has broken the 25% efficiency limit of monocrystalline solar panels. These panels called multi-junction solar modules are produced by combining four different elements into their construction. Tests results prove that they can reach more than a 40 percent efficiency rate under certain conditions.
We hope that after reading this article you now know exactly what a monocrystalline solar panel is made of, how it is made and what makes it so unique. Since we have also discussed the different features and advantages of monocrystalline panels you, will now be better positioned should you need to choose a specific type of solar panel for your home or project in the future.