In 2017, the price for high-efficiency solar panels dropped from 72¢/W to 45¢/W, representing a 37 percent decline in cost. The falling price point is driven by several factors, including American consumer demand for higher solar efficiency to compensate for the higher-than-average energy consumption of the average American, as well as Chinese state investment in high-efficiency solar panel production. The shift is also a result of technological change as poly crystalline solar panels switch to mono crystalline, which are at least 10 percent more efficient while only 6 percent more expensive. Meanwhile, the price continues to drop.
The primary difference between mono and poly solar panels is the structure by which silicon is shaped and molded into the panel. In mono crystalline solar panels, silicon is formed into bars, then cut into wafers, whereas poly crystalline solar panels are melted together to form wafers. The process to create mono solar panels was invented in 1918. As a result, the earliest solar panels were of the mono crystalline design. However, during an oil crisis-induced burst of solar energy research in the 1970s, an Exxon researcher discovered that poly panels could be manufactured more cheaply.
As we are seeing in the greater efficiency and steady decline in cost for mono panels as of late, the cheap manufacturing of poly had its own hidden costs. As 2018 rolls along, some analysts are predicting that this may be the year in which mono crystalline solar panels make up the majority of solar panels manufactured worldwide. The rapidly declining cost of solar energy, even in the face of resistance by the United States government, demonstrates the possibility that a rapid transition to renewable energy may not be as far-fetched as current reality may make it seem.