Monocrystalline vs Amorphous Solar Panels

The main difference between Amorphous and Monocrystalline Solar Panels is that one is flexible and the other isn’t. Amorphous panels can be bent to match the lines of a surface with difficult-to-follow angles.

Unfortunately, these types of solar panels are inefficient, and more are required to produce a given electrical output compared to Monocrystalline panels.

🔑 Key Takeaways:

1️⃣ Monocrystalline panels are the de facto standard worldwide. With current technology levels, they represent the lowest cost per kW compared to Amorphous solar panels.

2️⃣ Amorphous solar cell panels should only be considered if you are restrained by the shape of the mounting surface (home, RV, or boat) and need to bend the panel to match the structure’s curves.

3️⃣ Amorphous solar panels use less silicon, and as a result, they are the most eco-friendly to manufacture of the two technologies.

💎 What Are Monocrystalline Solar Panels?

Monocrystalline Solar Panels are made up of rows of monocrystalline solar cells. These generate direct electrical current (DC), which is sent to your solar inverter

How Do Monocrystalline Solar Panels Work?

When the sunlight enters the Monocrystalline Solar Panels, the cells absorb the renewable energy, converting the solar power to electricity.

Each cell consists of P-type and N-type materials. 

  • P-type materials contain too few electrons. 
  • N-type materials contain free (excess) electrons.

To generate electricity, all that needs to happen is to control the flow of electrons on a path within the electric field.

When sunlight enters the solar cell panel, the electrons become excited and move from the N-type materials to the P-type materials, thus generating current.

How Are Monocrystalline Solar Panels Installed

The panels can be mounted on any surface with the correct angle to the sun. In the Northern hemisphere, panels will be mounted on south-facing roofs, and in the Southern hemisphere, on North-facing roofs.

A frame is mounted on the roof and attached to the rafters. The panels are mounted onto the frame.

If there is insufficient space to hold the panels, they can also be mounted on a separate frame away from the roof.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels are generally grouped into multiple “arrays” of solar cell panels. For example, a solar system with eight panels may be split into two arrays of four panels each.

Within each array, the solar panels are connected in series. These arrays are generally united in a parallel circuit.

How Are Monocrystalline Solar Panels Made?

The cells are manufactured from a single cylindrical unit of silicon called an ingot. A monocrystalline solar cell panel is made in the following process:

1️⃣ The ingots are sliced into circular wafers and cut into an eight-sided octagonal.
2️⃣ The surface of the wafers is roughened, which has the effect of reducing energy losses through reflection.
3️⃣ The cells are cleaned in acid (acid rinsing).
4️⃣ The wafers are covered in a thin “doping” material and are sent through a doping furnace.
5️⃣ The wafers’ front, sides, and back are etched to remove any current.
6️⃣ The wafers are washed to remove any remaining debris.
7️⃣ The cells are soldered together to form ribbons of 10 (the typical number) units.
8️⃣ Six ribbons are laid next to each other to form a solar panel with 60 cells.
9️⃣ The sixty cells are laminated onto anti-reflective, tempered glass with a plastic back sheet.
🔟 The assembly is placed in the frame, and the solar panel is completed together with the junction box.

Advantages Of Monocrystalline Solar Panels

  • Monocrystalline panels and their derivatives are the most solar efficient of the commercially available solar panels. 
  • Because they are more solar efficient than other technologies, less space is needed for a given output.
  • The cost per kilowatt of a Monocrystalline Solar Panel is generally lower than other technologies.
  • Monocrystalline Solar Panels are durable and can be expected to last at least 25 years.
  • The black finish of Monocrystalline Solar Panels does not fade or change color over time.

Disadvantages Of Monocrystalline Solar Panels

  • While the cost per kW is lower, the upfront acquisition cost is higher than other solar panel technologies.
  • They are rigid units and cannot be bent to match a roof shape.
  • The manufacturing process is not eco-friendly, and there is a substantial amount of waste.

Where Are Monocrystalline Solar Panels Used?

They will be used wherever possible. Monocrystalline is the preferred technology as long as the structure has a flat surface and the necessary components to attach the solar panels.

🦠 What to Know About Amorphous Solar Panels

Amorphous solar panels are essentially the opposite of Monocrystalline Solar Panels. They are a second-generation technology.

They are more commonly known as thin-film solar panels, made from a flexible thin film. They can be up to 300-350 times thinner than the layers of Monocrystalline Solar Panels.

This makes them suitable for use on boats, RVs, and pome roofs with sharp angles. 

The technology was first developed to power small electronic goods such as calculators and cell phones.

The difference between these uses is that the power required for small electronic gadgets is much lower than that needed to run a household.

How Do Amorphous Solar Panels Work?

Amorphous solar panels collect energy from the sun, from which it makes electrical energy via coated photovoltaic cells.

There are five types of Amorphous solar panels:

  • Hydrogenated Amorphous Silicon (a-Si: H)
  • Gallium Arsenide (GaAs)
  • Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) 
  • Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS)
  • Organic photovoltaic cells (OPV)

Amorphous solar panels are manufactured by depositing an extremely thin layer of photovoltaic silicon on top of the substrate. 

The layer of photovoltaic silicon is laser-cut into patterns and lais onto overlapping panels with the result that the amorphous panels are very bendable and light.

Each photovoltaic cell is made from one of the five materials listed above. Each cell consists of P-type and N-type materials. 

  • P-type materials contain too few electrons. 
  • N-type materials contain free (excess) electrons.

When sunlight enters the solar panel, the electrons become excited and move from the N-type materials to the P-type materials, which generate current.

How Are Amorphous Solar Panels Installed?

The benefit of thin film solar panels is that they can be installed anywhere.

Many are often manufactured with a peel-and-stick backing. This means that installing the panel is as simple as:

1️⃣ Peeling off the protective backing layer from the thin-film solar cells (TFSC) panel.
2️⃣ The TFSC can be stuck to any smooth surface, which then becomes the substrate.

How Are Amorphous Solar Panels Made?

Amorphous solar panels are made as silicon panels (A-SI) by depositing thin layers of photovoltaic silicon on a substrate (the backing material).

The substrates which can be used include the following:

  • Plastic
  • Stainless steel
  • Metal foils
  • Polyimide
  • Glass or another transparent material
  • Si wafer

Engineers have attempted to install photovoltaic silicon on paper, textiles, and rubber; however, these have proven unstable and deform at temperatures as low as 120°C.

Advantages Of Amorphous Solar Panels

  • Thin film solar panels are the lowest upfront cost solar collectors.
  • Being flexible means, they can be installed on uneven surfaces.
  • Thin film solar panels are very light compared to Monocrystalline Solar Panels.
  • They are less prone to cracks.
  • They are the most straightforward solar panels to install and lend themselves to DIY applications.
  • After an initial degradation period, they stabilize and experience minimal changes 
  • beyond that time.
  • Because they contain much less silicon than Monocrystalline Solar Panels, the manufacturing process is more eco-friendly.

Disadvantages Of Amorphous Solar Panels

  • This is the material with the lowest solar efficiency (between 7% and 15%)
  • Because they are less solar efficient, more amorphous solar panels are required than in a Monocrystalline installation.

Where Are Amorphous Solar Panels Used?

They will be used when the surface is not even or straight, and the most suitable material needs to be flexible. These would include:

1️⃣ Structures with ornate roofs
2️⃣ On boats with a curved surface (over a cabin or on top of the Bimini)
3️⃣ On RVs which do not have perfectly flat roofs. 

💯 Solar Panel Technology Rated By Efficiency

Solar panel efficiency is defined as the electrical energy produced by the solar panel as the percentage of the solar energy input into the panel. The solar efficiency of each panel type is listed below.

Although they are not the subject of this article, for comparison purposes, we have included the solar efficiency ratings of the following panel technology:

Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) panels.
Concentrated PV Cell (CPV).
Solar Roof Tile.
Polycrystalline solar panels.

Monocrystalline solar panelsRigid20% – 23%
Gallium Arsenide (GaAs)Thin-film13- 15%
Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS)Thin-film10-13%
Organic photovoltaic cells (OPV)Thin-film11%
Cadmium telluride (CdTe) Thin-film9-11%
Hydrogenated amorphous silicon (a-Si: H)Thin-film6-8%
Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) panelsRigid5% more than Monocrystalline
Concentrated PV Cell (CPV)Rigid46%
Solar Roof TileRoof Tile10–20%
Polycrystalline solar panelsRigid15-17%

💡 Recommended Article: Calculating Solar Panel Efficiency

❔ FAQs

How Long Do Amorphous Solar Panels Last? 

The general view is that Amorphous Solar Panels will last 15 to 25 years.

The top plastic layer of the Amorphous Solar Panels will deteriorate in the sun more quickly than a glass-covered panel.

Over time the plastic will discolor and gradually become more opaque. 

Thermal expansion and contraction may occur depending on the substrate used, which will place more stress as it changes position under the solar film. 

No air passes behind the solar panel, so they run hotter, affecting solar efficiency.

How Long Do Crystalline Solar Panels Last? 

Monocrystalline Solar Panels can be expected to last at least 25 years and probably much more than this.

They are resistant to weather, UV rays, and physical damage.

While the output will degrade by small percentage values annually, they should still produce sufficient capacity when they are replaced.

Which Are Better, Amorphous Or Monocrystalline Solar Panels?

There is no question that Monocrystalline Solar Panels outperform Amorphous solar panels in almost every metric.

The only time the performance loss would be tolerated is if the mounting surface required a flexible panel.

🔑 Key Takeaways

Searching for the best solar panels available can be a hassle as there is much information to digest.

You’re looking for panels with the highest efficiency that meet your specific needs. Let’s recap what you’ve read thus far:

1️⃣ Monocrystalline solar panels represent the most cost-effective solution in the solar industry with current commercially available solar technology. 

2️⃣ Amorphous solar panels are a great idea; where a flexible panel is needed, they provide an acceptable solution. The problem is that they produce less than half the capacity of a Monocrystalline solar panel of equal size.

Next, I’d recommend diving deeper into panel technology comparisons with some related topics below:

📖 Related Articles:
Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline Panels
Ground-mounted vs roof-mounted

I’m the website operator and editor here at ALTA Devices. The solar revolution is the most exciting thing to happen in a generation! I’ve written extensively on solar, electric vehicles, and the electrification of the marine industry. You can find out more on LinkedIn below: