When it comes to buying solar panels for your home, there isn’t a lot that obviously differentiates one solar panel from another.
If you buy a car, there are dozens, if not hundreds of different features, styles, and add-on options that you can take into account. But in solar home, there are only a handful of characteristics that make one product different from another.
One of these is the type of material the individual solar cells are made of. Related to this, two terms you’ll come across are polycrystalline and monocrystalline, or simply poly and mono.
The vast majority of solar panels used in the residential market and are made from crystalline silicon, which will be either polycrystalline or monocrystalline.
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Crystalline silicon explained
Silicon is the 14th element on the periodic table and is the main ingredient in solar panels. The silicon for both mono and poly panels is crystalline silicon (meaning that the silicon atoms join together in a regular crystal lattice), but the manufacturing process differs between the two.
To make polycrystalline silicon, smaller chunks of silicon crystals are formed into larger ingots, which are then sliced into thin wafers to form solar cells.
Monocrystalline silicon, on the other hand, is made from a single large crystal. Growing a crystal large enough for solar cells involves a more difficult and expensive manufacturing process that uses higher purity silicon.
The end result is that monocrystalline cells are more efficient, generating more electricity with the same amount of sunlight compared to polycrystalline, but because the manufacturing process is more difficult, monocrystalline is more expensive.