There are 3 types of solar panels on the market, and in this informational guide, let's break down the difference among amorphous, monocrystalline, and polycrystalline based on their differences in specs, properties and performances.
The major differences among these solar panels are manufacturing processes, materials, durability and efficiency ratings.
To dig a little deeper, these panels have different physical properties such as flexibility, durability, aesthetics. and cost.
Amorphous VS Crystalline
To be clear, these 3 types look like they are 3 different things, but they are are divided into 2 families:
- Amporphous (Thin film)
Amporphous is constructed form thin silicon material that is lightweight, flexible and can withstand higher temperature than poly or mono crystalline cells. It's used for cost effective applications and where flexibility is required (The word amporphous means without shape to classify its non-crystalline form).
Crystalline is the commonly used semiconductor material for microchips and photovoltaic technology in solar cells. It's primarily used in power generating and harvesting applications where higher efficiency is required.
Now, let's break down their physical properties down in pros and cons below:
Amorphous has an average of just 7% efficiency.
Crystalline has much higher efficiency around 15- 30%.
Amorphous silicon material inherently has more tolerance for defects than crystalline, so it's much more long lasting when damages don't have a large effect on overall power output.
Crystalline on the other hand is much more brittle and if one part breaks, the entire thing breaks.
Amorphous is the lightest solar panel technologies on the market today. It's paper thin compared to others.
Amorphous works the best under low light or poor lighting condition, so that means it performs better in less than ideal sunlight environment compared to even the most efficient monocrystalline panels.
Because they can absorb a wider band of visible light spectrum due to the uni-solar triple junction cell technology, this means some special versions of the amorphous material can leverage indoor light sources for power.
Portability & Flexibility
Amorphous are the go to for flexible solar panels for RV or boat. Typically not used for residential applications
Crystalline is more stiff for heavy duty use such as rooftop solar panels for homes, RVs and facilities (What you see on the roofs of buildings is crystalline)
Amorphous (thin film) is less expensive to manufacture for cost effective option at a large scale ($0.5 - $1.00 / watt, Goal - remain under $0.7 / watt at peak performance )
Polycrystalline VS Monocrystalline
Polycrystalline and Monocrystalline solar panels (c-Si) are the most common solar panel types with a range of 15% - 28% efficiency (Mostly around 15% -18%)
They are both crystalline family cells.
Monocrystalline is slightly more efficient than polycrystalline and also performs better in high heat & low light environments.
Polycrystalline is blended with multiple pieces of silicon (less wasteful) to create the solar cells. It's efficiency is less than monocrystalline due to imperfections in the solar cells surface, but it's much cheaper to make.
Solar Cell Types
N Type VS P Type Cells are things that you usually don't hear too much about because they're related to how wafers are treated to turn them into functional solar cells to generate electrical current.
Here are the basics:
N Type Cells
N type cells are mixed with phosphorus to make one more electron than silicon for a negative charge.
They are not affected by boron oxygen defects (Light induced degradation LID). All that means is to make the solar panel last long
P Type Cells
Most solar panels are P cells and they work well for 30+ years.
P type cells are mixed with silicon wafer and boron as the most common treatment for solar cells, aka one less electron than silicon for a positive charge.
It's sensitive to light induced degradation which cause initial output drop due to light exposure.
How Do I Know What Type of Solar Panel I Need?
Need high efficiency for home? - Use monocrystalline for the highest efficiency
Need to install around curved surfaces? - Use amorphous panels for non-flat surfaces
Use for RV? -
Budget Availability: Price points on types of solar panels vary significantly. Your personal budget may play a factor in your final choice. If budget is an issue, you will usually be better off choosing a polycrystalline panel.
Light availability: Light conditions will also affect your choice of solar panel. Frequent low light conditions will always point you at an amorphous panel.
What Is the Best Solar Panel Type for Your Home?
Hope this guide helped you better understand how solar panel cell type affects efficiency. The best ones we recommend are monocrystalline panels for home rooftop use.
Please check out our best solar panel for home guide for more info
What Is the Best Solar Panel Type for Your RV?
To learn more about please check out Best Solar Panels for Camper Trailers guide for more info.
What Is the Best Application for Amorphous Solar Panels?
Amorphous panels are best used for solar panels that can curve and bend.
For example, some consumers use them to operate automatic gates or grow lights in nurseries. The only time this type of solar panel would be recommended for a home would be in a notoriously shady location. This type of panel would be more useful for tent camping and through hikers than for RV use.
Can You Mix Polycrystalline and Monocrystalline Panels in Series?
Mixing two different types of solar panels are not recommended even though you can configure them in ways to have the same electrical performance parameter.
In the theoretical world, it's possible to connect two different panels in series as long as they have the same voltage, wattage and amps.
However, we recommend sticking with the same type to avoid unnecessary problems.
How Can You Tell if a Solar Panel is Polycrystalline or Monocrystalline?
Polycrystalline panels have a bluish tint the glass looks like marble.
Monocrystalline panels are flat black and sleek.
What is the Difference Between Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 Solar Panels?
Tier level ratings are rated by Bloomberg New Energy Finance Corporation BNEF. The main goal is to communicate the bankability of solar panel manufacturers. They don't have direct relationship with how robust the warranties are, how long they last, nor how efficient they are.
Tier 1 solar panel - Products that are financed by 6 different (non-development) banks in the past 2 years. They are large scale projects sized at 1.5 megawatts and up. They also charge a premium for their products when they have earned the trust of the banks
Tier 2 & 3 solar panels - Not published by BNEF
- Monocrystalline cells are more efficiency
- Polycrystalline cells are blended from mutli silicon sources & less efficient
- Thin film technology costs less and mainly used in commercial applications
- Bifacial solar panels absorb light on both sides
- N Type cells are more resistant to light induced degradation than P Type cells