According to the IEA, the spot price for ‘mono crystalline’ solar panels fell from 72¢/W to 45¢/W over 2017. That 27¢/W drop represents a 37.5% fall.
Mono crystalline solar panels offer at least 10% more efficiency than poly crystalline in the same hardware package/size/weight, and today – in key markets – are only 6% more expensive.
This price fall in high-efficiency mono crystalline (mono) is being driven by multiple factors. In general, higher efficiency has always been desired – but the price premium was often too much for many. Still though, US residential solar buyers have, for a long time, been pushing for higher efficiency panels to cover their higher than average energy usage. And now, China is pushing its “Top Runner” program – requiring higher efficiency panels to get state level incentives, and is actively financially punishing poly manufacturers.
There’s also a feedback loop developing right now as a result of the overall solar industry’s prices falling and capacity growing. We’re making higher efficiency more affordable which then drives more investment and scale that lowers pricing further – which then drives more demand toward mono, as ‘poly crystalline’ (poly) and mono prices converge.
The process to create mono was discovered in 1918, and the first solar cells were mono. Also, early on in the industry the mono silicon for solar cells were scraped from the computer chip industry. However, in the 1970s as the US was exploring solar power to during an oil crises, a researcher at Exxon discovered they could make poly solar cells significantly cheaper than mono solar cells.
This focus on poly spread through the industry as costly infrastructure was developed with staying power. This staying power has been upturned by recent growth in the solar industry, combined with the aforementioned falling prices overall for solar panels. Growth and pricing dynamics gave an opening for new manufacturing facilities to choose mono vs poly, and enough have chosen mono that it’s now getting a chance to scale further.
PV Tech had a great write-up on how/when this shift poly to mono shift is happening, and has created the great image above. In the article it talks about LONGi, one of my favorite solar companies these days, and how its development as a company is a main driver of mono’s resurgence.
We’re always going to want a higher efficiency solar panel on our house because it seems there is demand for electricity in our homes and adding electric cars to our houses will only increase this demand. However, we’ve not always wanted to pay for it. Part of the reason why SunPower is struggling is that their uber-efficient panels are so expensive. However, SunPower still existing shows truth that some are willing to spend for efficiency.
Now though, as a result of the industries extreme expansion in capacity over the last few years we’re seeing an evolution in available hardware. And it seems getting a small taste of more efficiency is driving huge investments toward mono. It might be this year that mono overtakes poly.
As we see the large-scale project developers start to get 30¢/W pricing on mono panels, it’s looking like a point of no return.
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