Choosing High-Quality Solar Panels for your Home
Solar panels are critical components of a solar power system and choosing the best ones can determine how well your energy installation works. However, the bewildering array of options makes the selection process quite a chore. Because while all solar panels convert sunlight into electricity, they vary in how efficiently they do the job. The technology and materials used in the modules make a big difference in their performance and their price.
Naturally, choosing the best solar panels on the market is the goal of potential solar consumers. In order to achieve this, they will need to invest some of their time researching and evaluating various solar panel brands and types to determine that will match their specific needs. It might take a while to come up with the right choice, but their effort will be worth it when they manage to find the most cost-effective solar system possible for their home.
Factors Affecting the Quality of Solar Panels
As the popularity of solar energy continues to rise, so does the number of solar panel brands. Although having a wide variety to choose from can be a good thing, it also complicates the selection process. To help with your search for the best solar panels within your budget, we stacked up the top solar panel manufacturers and brands against each other.
Solar panel efficiency is a measurement of how much sunlight a panel can transform into electricity. This means that if the sun shines for the same amount of time on two solar panels with different efficiency ratings, the more efficient solar panels produce more power than their less efficient counterparts.
Solar panel efficiencies range from a low 10% to a high 22%. Cheaper thin-film panels usually have the lowest efficiency rating, while most crystalline modules are rated at 14-15%. Of the two types of crystalline modules, monocrystalline solar panels are more efficient than polycrystalline ones. Outliers are those modules that use more modern technologies and can convert solar power into usable electricity at a higher than 22% efficiency.
Solar panels also have varying wattages or power ratings. The wattage indicates the amount of solar electricity they generate, ranging between 250-350 watts. Solar panels with higher wattages are generally more efficient, but they also cost more.
A solar panel with higher efficiency can produce more electricity than one with a lower efficiency rating. This is a factor to consider when you have limited roof space vis-a-vis your energy consumption.
Lab tests show that the temperature of solar panels generally runs between 15°C (59°F) and 35°C (95°F). At this range, the solar cells inside the modules perform at peak efficiency. As the panels heat up, solar panel efficiency drops, leading to a decrease in solar output.
Solar panel manufacturers rate how well their product handles heat or cold in the form of temperature coefficient. This refers to the percentage decrease or increase in the electricity produced by the system for every degree the temperature rises beyond 25°C, or for every degree it goes down below 25°C.
Solar panels usually experience a 0.05% drop in efficiency for every temperature rise above 25°C. It may not seem like much, but the power loss adds up, which lessens the savings you get from using solar energy.
A more efficient solar panel exhibits a lower reduction in efficiency when exposed to heat or cold, which boosts its performance in transforming sunlight into solar power.
The material warranty on a solar panel protects you against equipment breakdown resulting from manufacturing defects and environmental factors. Your PV power system has different components, such as batteries and inverters, and each has separate warranties.
If, for some reason, your panel stops producing electricity or its production falls way below the rated capacity, a materials warranty will ensure that the manufacturer will replace the module at no cost to you. Sometimes the warranty will even cover the shipping fee.
These warranties vary depending on equipment types and solar panel manufacturers, but they commonly cover 10-25 years. Examine the warranties offered by different companies to help you find the best solar panels for your budget.
In connection with the warranties provided by the solar panel manufacturer, you should also consider the bankability or reputation of the solar company. Years of warranty won’t do you any good if the solar company won’t be around to honor their warranties.
The materials warranty can also be a gauge in determining the durability of solar panels. Logic dictates that the more extended the warranty provided by solar panel manufacturers, the higher their confidence in their product.
Solar panels naturally degrade over time. This degradation means that they start to produce less electricity over the years, sometimes losing between 10-30% of their original production. The performance warranties guarantees that your PV panel’s generating capacity won’t fall below a certain level within the warranty period.
A typical guarantee among manufacturers is that the panels will generate electricity at 80%-90% up to the end of their 25-year lifespan.
The level of coverage, as well as the duration of the warranty, vary from each installer.
The average cost of a solar panel system continues to fall. But even as the price of a solar system becomes more affordable, evaluating the costs in relation to the durability, efficiency, and performance of the different modules should be one of your considerations.
Solar panels cost around $2.38 to $3.14 per watt. That means that the price for a 10 kilowatt PV system in the country may range between $17,612 to $23,236 after the federal investment tax credit (ITC).
Premium solar panels exist on the market but expect to pay a higher price. They do make sense in several situations, such as when you have limited roof space. Because premium solar panels are typically more efficient, they generate more energy, affecting how many solar panels you need to install to power your home
Solar Panels with the Highest Efficiency
Highly efficient solar panels produce more solar energy per square meter compared to PV modules with average efficiencies. That makes them ideal for homes with limited installation space for their solar panel system. By using the most efficient solar panels, you can reduce the number of modules you’ll need for your energy system.
Based on efficiency alone, the companies that make the best solar panels are:
- Sunpower (22.8% efficiency)
- LG (22%)
- REC Group (21.7%)
- China Sunergy or CSUN (21.2%) and Panasonic (21.2%)
- JA Solar (21%)
Solar Panels with the Best Warranty Services
The warranties covering the solar panels can help reduce out-of-pocket expenses when your solar panel system experiences some problems.
A ten-year warranty for a budget panel is pretty good. However, some of the best solar manufacturers offer warranties that last 25 years or longer. Based on the warranty coverage, here are what we deem the best solar panels made by the world’s leading manufacturers.
A Japanese corporation, Panasonic, is the manufacturer of the innovative heterojunction solar panel. This type of module combines a crystalline silicon cell and amorphous “thin-film” silicon. Using the two technologies allows the solar panel to capture more energy than using either technology alone.
Solar panel warranty: 25 years
Power/performance warranty: 25 years. The maximum degradation per year is 0.25%, with a guaranteed output of 90.76% after 25 years
This is an American company that manufactures a wide range of solar equipment. SunPower solar panels include the budget-friendly E-series, the high-end X-series, and the A-series, which are solar panels that come equipped with an integrated microinverter.
Solar panel warranty: 25 years
Power warranty: 25 years. With a maximum of 0.25% degradation per year and a guaranteed 92% output after 25 years.
This South Korean company manufactures all sorts of appliances and electronics. Among their solar products are the LG bifacial solar panels that generate solar energy from both sides of the module.
Solar panel warranty: 25 years
Power warranty: 25 years. The panels are guaranteed not to exceed 0.30-0.35% degradation per year. Their output after 25 years is guaranteed to remain at a range of 89.60-90.8%.
This Canadian solar panel company specializes in monocrystalline panels, but they also manufacture polycrystalline solar panels.
Solar panel warranty: 25 years
Power warranty: 30 years. Their panels carry a guaranteed maximum degradation of 0.5% per year for monocrystalline and 0.7% per year for polycrystalline. The warrantied output of their mono panels is 82.6% and 79.5% for polycrystalline modules at the end of 30 years.
Although the company is US-based, it also manufactures solar panels in South Korea. Their solar panel line includes all-black AC and DC modules that come with integrated microinverters.
Solar panel warranty: 25 years
Power warranty: 25 years. 0.5% is the maximum degradation per year, and the solar panels come with a guaranteed 86% output after 25 years.
Solar Panels with the Lowest Temperature Coefficient
A low-temperature coefficient is one of the measures of solar panel efficiency, and the companies that manufacture the best solar panels based on their temperature coefficient include:
- REC Group (-0.26%)
- SolarTech Universal (-0.26%)
- Panasonic (-0.26%)
- SunSpark Technology (-28%)
- SunPower (-29%)
Solar Panels with the Most Reasonable Cost
The price of a PV installation is one of the barriers to the adoption of solar energy. However, affordable solar panels make it easier for those who want to go solar to switch to this renewable energy.
The best solar panels when it comes to cost are:
- ReneSola JC255M-24/Bb: $173.40 per panel, $0.68 per watt
- Sharp ND245QCJ: $176.40 per panel, $0.72 per watt
- Sharp ND-F4Q300: $216.00 per panel, $0.72 per watt
- TrinaSolar TSM-PA05: $210.60 per panel, $0.78 per watt
- Jinko Solar JKM310P-72: $251.10 per panel, $.81 per watt
Overall Best Solar Panels
Taking all the factors that make a good solar panel, here’s our list of the best solar panels:
- SunPower Maxeon 3
- REC Alpha Series
- LG Energy Neon 2 Series
- Panasonic EverVolt
- Hanwha Q CELLS Peak Duo
Solar Panels with Special Features
As solar panel technology advances, we see more and better features in the newer solar panels on the market. The world’s leading solar panel manufacturers seek to address various issues associated with solar panel installations by producing more efficient modules, panels with low degradation rates, those with greater durability, and so on.
So now we see high wattage and high-efficiency solar panels that can withstand strong winds. Some PV modules on the market today can also generate energy on both sides of the module. There are clear solar panels as well as frameless and flexible ones. We expect the innovations to continue as we see more residential solar panels blossom atop more homes in America.
The best solar panels with added special features include the following:
- SunPower A Series: These are the world’s first 400-watt panels, and their efficiency rating goes over the standard 22%.
- Panasonic EverVolt: This solar panel line boasts of low degradation rates and a guaranteed power output of at least 92% after 25 years, one of the highest among the panels on the market.
- REC Alpha Pure Series: Using gapless cell technology makes this line one of the most efficient solar panels on the market. By eliminating gaps in the cell string, the PV modules can accommodate more solar cells, which boosts their efficiency.
- LG Solar Panels Neon Series: These solar panels utilize double-sided cell technology, which allows the modules to capture the sun’s power on both sides. This ability can produce up to 35% more energy.
- Hanwha Q CELLS Peak Duo: Strong winds and heavy snowfall can damage solar panels. The Hanwha Q CELLS Peak Duo can withstand wind loads of up to 2400 Pascals, which is similar to 140 mph winds and snow loads of up to 5400 Pascals.
Solar Panel Cell Types
Not all solar panels are the same. They vary depending on the cell type used. Here are the most common types of PV modules.
The solar cells in this type of PV module are made from pure silicon. The manufacturing process involves dipping the silicon crystal into a vat of molten silicon and then pulling it out slowly to allow the liquid silicon to harden and form a shell around the crystal.
The silicon-covered crystal, called an ingot, is sliced into a thin wafer and made into solar cells. Then, these are assembled to become solar panels. The purity of the silicon makes the monocrystalline panel more efficient than its counterparts, typically reaching a 20% efficiency rating. However, it is also the most expensive, with the price per watt ranging between $1 and $1.50 per panel.
Like monocrystalline panels, polycrystalline panels come from silicon. However, unlike in the production of monocrystalline modules where the silicon crystal is pulled slowly out of the vat of molten silicon, the crystal is allowed to break up into pieces in polycrystalline panels. Once the fragmented pieces cool, they are sliced to become solar wafers and then turned into solar panels.
Because they’re made from silicon fragments instead of from a whole crystal, they tend to be less efficient than monocrystalline modules. This module type reaches around 15-17% efficiency, but it also carries a lower price than monocrystalline ones. The cost per watt comes to approximately $0.70 to $1.
While monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels are made from silicon, the same isn’t always true with thin-film amorphous modules. Instead, they come from various materials, such as cadmium telluride, Copper Indium Gallium Selenide, and amorphous silicon.
Among the three types of solar panels, thin-film modules are the least efficient, reaching less than 11% efficiency. On the upside, they are also the cheapest type of solar panels on the market because they use only enough PV material to cover their surface.
Depending on the quality, the average cost per watt of thin-film amorphous panels is between $0.43 and $0.70.
How much do solar panels cost for a 1500 square foot house?
A typical 1500 square foot American home consumes around $100 worth of electricity a month. Powering this home with solar energy will usually require roughly around 15-18 solar modules. Depending on the PV modules’ wattage, quality, and type, the cost of installing solar panels on a home this size will land somewhere between $8,000 and $25,000.
How do I know which solar panel is best?
To get the best value for your solar installation, you need to evaluate several factors.
The solar panel efficiency: The industry average is 16-18%, and the higher the efficiency, the better.
The cost: This is relative to the watts of power the panel generates. Divide the number of watts by its price to get the cost.
The quality: Reading the reviews of the type and brand you’re considering will give you an idea of how the panels perform in real-life conditions.
The warranties: Most reputable solar manufacturers provide warranties of 10-25 years.
How long do polycrystalline solar panels last?
Correctly maintained, solar panels usually last for around 25 years. However, that doesn’t mean they’ll stop functioning in their 25th year. Some installations continue to generate solar energy long after their predicted lifespan is up, although at a reduced capacity.
Is Zero Down Solar worth it?
Zero down solar means you pay for your energy system through other financing means. This may be through a solar loan, lease, or solar power purchase agreement (PPA).
Although zero down solar can help those who can’t afford the price tag of a PV system, paying cash for your solar installation is the best way to go. By using the mentioned financing options, you’ll end up shelling out more money than if you purchased the panels upfront. You also won’t be able to claim the tax credits and rebates with solar leases and solar PPAs that will instead go to the leasing company.
Going solar involves a significant amount of money, so it’s essential to weigh your options carefully. The sheer number of solar panels and other equipment on the market make the selection process more challenging. But that shouldn’t discourage you from taking that big step that will lower your utility expenses and reduce your carbon footprint.
Like with most important decisions, coming up with the right course of action takes time and effort. Researching on the topic, reading reviews and experts’ opinions, and learning from the experience of those who have switched to solar will help make the process less daunting. Those steps can also bolster your chances of getting the best value for your money when it comes to your solar installation.
More innovations in solar technology are in the offing that can make your energy system more efficient, which, in turn, will lead to more savings from your power expenses.
Electricity prices aren’t likely to go down any time soon. The same holds for the earth’s temperature. But by using renewable energy sources like solar, you can help mitigate their impact on your budget and the environment.