Polycrystalline vs. Monocrystalline Solar Panels for an RV

poly vs mono solar RV lg

RVs are not cheap to run. They require so much fuel to run their engines, generators, and other devices that a lot of RV owners are now looking for more cost-effective and sustainable ways to power their RVs, including solar. Let’s review polycrystalline vs. monocrystalline solar panels for an RV.

Monocrystalline solar panels work better for RVs located in locations with high temperatures such as the southwestern United States. All solar panels become less efficient when temperatures reach 90 degrees or above, but polycrystalline solar panels are even more affected by the heat and will have a shorter lifespan.

But polycrystalline panels, while having lower efficiency, also come at a lower price. So they are a great option for RV’ers on a budget.

Solar panels are therefore becoming really popular, but with so many types of solar panels on the market, it can be hard to decide which type is best for you.

So, in this article, I’m going to explain monocrystalline solar cells and polycrystalline solar cells, what they are, the main difference between them, and which ones you should get.

But we’ll also compare the key differences between those rigid solar panels, thin-film solar panels, and other flexible panels.

What are monocrystalline RV solar panels?

Solar panels are made of lots of little solar cells that are adhered to a panel. The solar cells are made individually.

Monocrystalline solar panels are solar panels that have been cut from a single crystalline piece of silicone. The tiny squares you see on solar panels are called cells, and each cell of a monocrystalline solar panel is made of one piece of silicone.

Because of this, the silicone is very pure in monocrystalline solar panels, and they are very efficient.

Monocrystalline solar panels are more effective than polycrystalline solar panels in high heat, and they even work in low-light situations. So, if you are going to use your RV in the higher temperatures of the desert or in humid conditions, monocrystalline solar panels are a good idea.

Then you simply use a charge controller to convert the direct sunlight into the RVs power system, so a complete solar system.

Also, if you are going to be parking your RV under shade, such as near a forest or in the shade of a mountain, then monocrystalline solar panels are what you need.

Monocrystalline cells look better than other solar panels because the silicone is so pure and clear. They have a distinct black color.

Monocrystalline solar panels also last up to 25 years!

There is a downside to monocrystalline solar panels though. Because each cell of the solar panel is made only from one piece of silicone, a lot of silicone is scrapped and wasted because the small pieces of silicone can be used on the solar panel.

What are polycrystalline RV solar panels?

Polycrystalline cells have solar cells that are cut from fragments of silicone. These small pieces of silicone are then molded together using heat into silicon wafers, and some additives are added to the silicone in the process.

Polycrystalline solar panels are much more eco-friendly to produce than traditional solar panels like monocrystalline solar panels because they use small scraps of silicone. Therefore, there is less waste than with monocrystalline cells.

The downside to polycrystalline solar panels is that they are less efficient because the silicone has a lower purity.

In addition to that, the solar cells on the solar panel can have patches of blue on them, and it almost looks like algae are growing underneath them or something.

Most people that use polycrystalline solar panels on their RV do so as a supplement to the power from their generator. Polycrystalline solar panels are mainly used by people that travel infrequently for holidays and don’t use their RVs that much.

If you are a regular RV traveler and are planning to spend weeks or even months traveling, then you should consider investing in better solar panels.

Is polycrystalline or monocrystalline better for RVs?

The type of solar panel you get for your RV depends heavily on how you intend to use the RV, how much you want to use it, what environment you will use your solar panels in, and the size of your RV roof.

If you are going to use the RV infrequently, then you should get polycrystalline solar panels as they are overall the best solar panels for an RV. Polycrystalline solar panels will have a huge payback time if you are spending less than one month of the year traveling in your RV.

If you travel frequently – say more than 2 months of the year, you may actually save a lot of money by using solar panels instead of burning fuel for your generator.

Also, if you use your RV at campsites only, then you probably don’t need solar panels. After all, you are paying to be there, so you might as well use the shore power you get at the campsite instead of investing thousands of dollars on solar panels.

Solar panels are great for off-grid living or those who are super eco-friendly and don’t want to burn fuel in a generator.

If you plan to put solar panels on your RV, you need to have solar charge controllers to help regulate voltage and ensure your expensive RV batteries don’t get damaged. Check out this recent article on my site which concisely guides you through which charge controllers are the best and easiest to use for your RV.

Do polycrystalline or monocrystalline RV solar panels cost more?

Monocrystalline RV solar panels cost more than polycrystalline panels, as more silicone gets wasted in the manufacturing process. Polycrystalline RV solar panels are made from small pieces of silicone that don’t necessarily have to have been cut from the same block.

But you’re also paying for higher efficiency with monocrystalline cells.

So much silicone gets wasted when making monocrystalline solar panels, and you as the customer will have to pay for that waste, even though that material did not end up in your solar panels.

I looked around and found that polycrystalline solar panels for RVs cost on average $210 per panel. Monocrystalline RV solar panels come in slightly more at about $250 per panel. A $40 price difference may not seem like much, but if you have a huge class A motor home and need 10 solar panels, then monocrystalline panels will cost you about $400 more to install!

What are the most efficient solar panels for RVs?

There are four main types of solar panels used on RVs and they are concentrated PV panels, monocrystalline panels, polycrystalline panels, and thin-film panels.

  • PV panels – these panels use mirrors to focus the sunlight more intensely on the solar panel, and as a result, they are over 35% efficient. They are also very difficult to make and the most expensive.
  • Monocrystalline panels – these are about 20% efficient
  • Polycrystalline panels – these are less than 15% efficient
  • Thin film panels – these are about 7% efficient and the cheapest of them all.

If you have a small RV, you won’t have as much space on your roof.

Therefore you will need to use more energy-efficient solar panels to capture more solar energy. If you have a larger RV with a lot of space on the roof, you can use less efficient solar panels to save energy, as you have more space to use to capture the solar energy.

What are amorphous panels and are they better?

Amorphous panels, similar to thin film panels, are flexible types of panels that roll out like a roll of fabric.

While these flexible solar panels are considerably cheaper and can withstand high temperatures, they are far less efficient, have a lower power output, and have a much shorter lifespan.

So in most cases, flexible panels will not be a great option for an RV.

Currently, since they are newer, they are also harder to find. Amorphous solar panels are also most likely to be seen in such lower  energy needs places as:

  • Yard lighting
  • In clothing
  • On windows
  • Buildings with low energy needs

But if you have a very low square foot RV such as a Class B or a Camper Van, they could be good choices.

Monocrystalline Vs. Polycrystalline solar panels: A Clear and Simple Comparison

Conclusion

Monocrystalline solar panels are solar panels that are cut from one piece of silicone and are the most efficient and aesthetic solar panels; especially in high temperature locations. However, a lot of material gets wasted in their production.

Polycrystalline solar panels are solar panels that are cut from multiple pieces of silicone, so they are cheaper but less efficient.

When selecting solar panels for your RV, you have to consider your budget, where you intend to use your RV, how often you will use your RV, and the amount of space you have on the roof of your RV to capture solar energy.

If you are a regular or full-time RVer and plan to use your RV off-grid, in the cold, in low light, or if you have a small roof, you will need the most efficient solar panels you can find.

If you don’t use your RV that much, usually go to a campsite with shore power, use the RV in well-lit conditions, and have a lot of roof space, you don’t need the most efficient monocrystalline solar panels.

If you want to learn whether or not it is even feasible to run an RV on solar power, check out this recent article on my site. I talked about some important yet overlooked considerations you need to think about before splurging on solar panels.


Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

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