Monocrystalline Solar Panel — Everything You Need To Know

In this day and age, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking about making the switch to a monocrystalline solar panel.

Although there’s nothing entirely wrong with polycrystalline solar panels, compared to mono solar panels, their efficiency is somewhat lacking.

This article aims to teach you all there is to know about these more efficient solar panels and why they’re the smarter choice for your solar home installation.

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What Is A Monocrystalline Solar Panel?

monocrystalline solar panel

Commonly viewed as a premium solar product, a monocrystalline solar panel is a panel consisting of smaller monocrystalline solar cells (60 to 72 cells).

Their superior aesthetics and efficiency make them the preferred choice for smart solar thinkers investing in the long term.

How Are Monocrystalline Solar Panels Made?

Melting silicon rocks — monocrystalline solar panels.
Melting silicon rocks

Each solar cell is made from a single silicon ingot, grown from some of the purest silicon.

These solar cells appear smooth and each silicon ingot is sliced into thin wafer formats to fit into the panel perfectly.

To make the ingot, the silicon rock is melted at 2500 °F (1371 °C), then a seed crystal is lowered into the melted silicon mush and slowly pulled up while rotating.

You could compare this process to making a hand-dipped candle, but instead of melting wax, you’re melting rocks (at a much higher temperature).

Because the silicon ingots have a rounded shape, a lot of material is lost when cutting it into the thinner required squared shape.

That is why most monocrystalline solar panels have rounded corners, to assist in minifying the overall silicon waste.

If you look at older mono solar panels, you’ll actually notice that they are made from round solar cells.

How Do Monocrystalline Solar Panels Work?

Solar panels are an amazing technology. But how do they work?

Silicon is a semi-conductor material. As it is named, it exhibits unique properties combining the one of a metal (conductor) and an insulant. But pure silicon doesn’t produce electricity when under the sun, it needs to be slightly transformed.

When the silicon rocks are melted, a little bit of positive chemical element, such as boron is added. This process is called doping. This additive makes sure that the resulting silicon ingot has a positive potential.

Once the silicon ingot has cooled for days and is sliced into thin wafers, it is then coated on one side with a negatively charged element such as phosphorus.

The combination of positive dopped silicon on one side and negative dopped silicon on the other creates what’s known as a positive and negative junction (PN junction).

This is where the magical photovoltaic effect occurs!

Thin wires painted onto a monocrystalline solar panel.
Thin wires painted onto a monocrystalline solar panel

Thin silver wires are painted onto the silicon wafers, providing a way to harness the flow of passing electricity.

At this point you may be asking yourself, how is the electricity generated in the first place?

When the sun shines down on the negative side of the monocrystalline solar panel, some of the negatively charged electrons are knocked loose from their atoms.

From here they travel across the PN junction to the positive side of the solar panel, where there are holes available for them to fit into.

Frequently Asked Questions | CSE
The photovoltaic effect

This process results in direct current (DC) being generated — it travels through the silver wiring system of the panel and into an appliance or most of the time into a storage device, such as a LiFePO4 Battery.

Why Is Monocrystalline More Efficient Than Polycrystalline?

Firstly, let’s understand the maximum theoretical performance of each solar panel.

  • Polycrystalline solar cells have an average efficiency of 18%, which means 18% of the sun hitting the cell is converted into electricity. Combine them in a solar panel and you’ll get around 17 % of efficiency.
  • Monocrystalline solar cells’ average efficiency is always higher — up to 23%. Resulting into a solar panel efficiency of 22%

Additionally, monocrystalline solar panels have a slight advantage (2%) over polycrystalline panels when it comes to low irradiance performance.

So, What’s the Reason?

Monocrystalline solar cells are more efficient than polycrystalline cells mainly because of their crystal arrangement. A single or mono crystal enables the electrons to move much faster than in polycrystalline solar cells.

Cell/Panel efficiency of monocrystalline and polycrystalline.
Cell/Panel efficiency of monocrystalline and polycrystalline.

How Long Do Monocrystalline Solar Panels Last?

You can expect your monocrystalline solar panel to have an average lifespan of between 25 to 30 years.

However, at the end of this time span, it doesn’t mean that your panels will stop producing electricity altogether.

Rather, it means that the solar panel’s electricity production/efficiency has declined substantially — according to their manufacturers. Usually down to 80% of its initial specs.

For example, a 22% efficiency monocrystalline solar panel will still have an efficiency of 17.6% after 30 years!

How Long Does It Take For Monocrystalline Solar Panel To Pay For Itself?

The amount of time it takes for your solar panel to pay for itself depends on the size, cost, and location of the panel. A 400-watt solar panel located in California would pay for itself in less than 2 years.

As of April 2022, in California, electricity costs $0.2559 per kWh, as one 400w panel is expected to produce 730 kWh per year. As such, you can expect to save $187 annually. 

Your average 400-watt monocrystalline solar panel costs roughly $290.

Taking into consideration the average life span of a solar panel being 25-30 years, you could expect to save about $5,000.

Note that this estimation doesn’t take into account the cost of installation.

Do Monocrystalline Solar Panels Need Maintenance?

Cleaning solar panels
Cleaning solar panels

Like all solar panels, monocrystalline panels need very little maintenance. Because there are no moving parts involved, there isn’t as much chance for wear and tear.

Our Recommendations

  1. Every 3 years you do a visual inspection of your solar panel’s mounting rails.
  2. Every few months give your monocrystalline solar panel a wipe down. Clear it from any debris such as fallen leaves or dust build-up.

That’s about it, solar panels require very little maintenance!

Are monocrystalline solar panels better looking than polycrystalline – Blue vs Black Solar panels?

You might have already noticed that some solar panels display a blue hue with multiple reflections (specially the older solar panels) and others have a uniform black color.  

The “blue solar panels” are made of polycrystalline silicon. Multiple silicon crystal arrangement confers this blue color to polycrystalline solar panels.

On the other hand, the “black solar panels” are made of monocrystalline silicon, which results in a uniform dark color.

Monocrystalline solar panels are widely considered as more attractive than blue polycrystalline panels. Architects can easily integrate them into buildings (Building Integrated PhotoVoltaics – BIPV) in the most elegant way, such as the solar roof developed by TESLA.

What Are The Best Monocrystalline Solar Panels?

Deciding on the best monocrystalline solar panel for your campervan or household comes down to your total energy requirements.

Here is a list of our 5 best monocrystalline solar panels in the 10 to 320-watt 12-volt category.

1. Renogy Eclipse 100 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel

The Eclipse is one of the preferred 100-watt solar panels on the market, and many van life travelers opt for them.

It’s made from the highest efficiency solar cells Renogy has to offer while weighing in at a mere 15 pounds (6 kg).

The solar cells are encased in a corrosion-resistant aluminum frame, people living close to the beach, here’s your answer.

2. ECO-WORTHY 120W Foldable Solar Panel

The 120 Watt monocrystalline solar panel from ECO-WORTHY is the perfect portable device for your camping trips.

This panel is able to generate about 500 Watt-hours a day under 4 hours of full sunlight.

This is enough energy to recharge your smartphone about 40 times, GoPro 50 times, laptop 4 times, and your drone 30 times.

Combining this with a portable solar generator is no doubt the best digital nomad solution.

3. TP-Solar 20W Solar Panel

Lightweight and affordable.

The perfect monocrystalline solar panel if you are looking to power small appliances such as courtyard lighting, solar gate openers, or water pumps in the backyard.

4. Goal Zero Nomad 10 Watt Foldable Monocrystalline Solar Panel

Weighs only 1.2lbs and fits almost anywhere.

Take it with you hiking, fishing, camping, or whatever adventure you feel it would come in handy.

The monocrystalline solar panel will charge phones, power banks, headlamps, fitness trackers, and lighthouse lanterns.

5. Renogy 320 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel

This solar panel is primarily used for residential and commercial purposes.

Rooftop solar systems are the ideal way to decrease your overall electric bill.

This particular panel from Renogy can withstand high winds, up to 2400 Pa, and snow loads of 5400 Pa.

Related Reading: Setting Up A Solar System

Final Thoughts

In our article, we have seen that monocrystalline solar panels are made of high purity perfectly oriented silicon crystals whereas polycrystalline panels are made of multiple individual silicon crystals.

This results in different properties for these two types of panels.

Monocrystalline solar panels are more efficient and better looking, but come at a higher price.

For decades, polycrystalline solar panels have been dominating the market. However, thanks to technical improvements, the leading technology in 2022 is monocrystalline solar panels. In the meantime, the sales of polycrystalline solar panels are expected to further decrease in the coming years.

Romain Metaye, PhD

Romain Metaye, PhD

Dr Metaye has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Ecole Polytechnique, France. He is a renewable energy expert with more than 11 years of experience within the research world. During his career, he supervised more than 150 projects on clean energy. Off-grid smart systems, solar energy, battery and the hydrogen economy are among his specialties.

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