Anastasia KravchukJune 8, 201714070
With the solar market’s explosive growth in recent years, many home and business owners who want to switch to solar power may be wondering how to find the best solar products among the multitude of solar companies all claiming they offer the best options.
When it comes to solar panels, there are over 100 different brands, not to mention the different options within each brand. Even the most research-focused consumer would be overwhelmed by the task of reviewing specifications for each of them. The good news is that you don’t need to feel overwhelmed because choosing solar panels is actually pretty straightforward. Because solar panel manufacturers follow the same standard, there are very minor variations across brands, which means that unless you have a particular dislike for a certain brand, you can get a good quality, well-functioning solar panel almost anywhere. Still, every buyer has different needs for his/her home so it is important to take a closer look at what makes solar panels stand out in the market.
Solar Panel Types
There are many types of solar panels, from basic thin film solar, to the fancy integrated solar roof tiles, but we will focus on the 2 that are overwhelmingly ruling the market today.
Monocrystalline: To make cells for monocrystalline solar panels, silicon is formed into bars and then cut into wafers. The modules are called “monocrystalline” to indicate that the silicon used is single-crystal silicon. Monocrystalline modules are very efficient, so you will get more power for the same surface area, but they are more expensive. Mono solar panels are ideal for smaller roofs, space-constrained projects, and those for whom cost isn’t an issued.
Polycrystalline: For polycrystalline modules, many fragments of silicon are melted together to form thin wafers. Polycrystalline solar panels are also referred to as “multi-crystalline.” Poly modules are the best choice for projects with large roof or ground space, as well as for consumers who are on a tighter budget.
So which one is better? The answer depends on the amount of available roof or ground space you have for your solar installation. Think of it this way: if you have a mono and a poly panel, both rated at 300W, they would generate the same amount of power, but the mono solar module would take up less space. In terms of technology and performance, there is no difference.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?
The cost of solar panels in the United States has greatly reduced in recent years. Today, you can get solar panels that are priced anywere from under a hundred dollars each to more than $500, depending on government subsidies and solar companies in your area.
The cost of a solar panel is determined in part by its rating (Wattage), the physical size, and the brand you choose to purchase. Because solar system manufacturers all follow the same standard, the variations in price among different brands have more to do with brand popularity than the performance of the panels. Remember, just as every car owner doesn’t drive a Mercedes, you don’t need to choose the most expensive solar panels, unless you really care about the brand.
Another factor to consider when it comes to price is the size of the system you want. As a general rule, the more modules in the system, the lower the cost per panel will be. If you are looking to buy a large system, definitely ask about any package deals your solar company can offer.
Solar Panel Quality
In addition to solar panel cost, it is important to consider how the panel was manufactured and what materials were used. Generally, in the solar market, manufacturers are classified into 3 tiers of quality:
Tier 1 : The top 2% of solar panel manufacturers. They control each stage of the manufacturing process, heavily invest into research and development, and use top-grade silicon for their solar cells.
Tier 2 : Companies that rely on both robotic and manual assembly, invest less into research, and have been in business 2-5 years.
Tier 3 : Mostly new manufacturers who do not produce their own materials (only assemble) and do not invest in research and development. These companies offer the cheapest prices and usually use human production lines which is not the best approach to achieve good quality panels.
Keep in mind that though tier rankings can be a good indicator of quality, they do not guarantee anything. Rankings are for the manufacturers themselves, not the panels; so, just because you’re getting panels from a Tier 1 manufacturer doesn’t mean that you’re not getting outdated or relatively low-quality product. Even if your solar company sells you products from a 1st Tier manufacturer, do your own independent research about the specific solar panels you will receive.
Size and Capacity of Solar Panels
The Wattage or the capacity of solar panels in Watts will directly affect the cost of your system. Watts are related to the output of each module; meaning a 200 Watt panel installed and operating under ideal conditions will generate 200 watt-hours of electricity each hour. Ususally, you can expect to pay up to double the price for a 200 Watt panel, compared to the purchase cost of a 100 Watt module.
The 2 key factors to consider are: Your system sizing is enough to power your home to the extent that you wish, and that the solar panels will physically fit into your chosen installation area.
To estimate the size and capacity of the system you will need to power your home, enter your monthly energy bill into our Price Checker tool.
Solar Panel Warranty
All good-quality solar panels from reputable manufacturers come with a standard 25 year warranty. A warranty is a good indicator of the manufacturer’s confidence in the products they sell, so if you see solar panels with a warranty that is shorter than 25 years, pass them by and keep looking.
Keep in mind that a warranty will only be honored as long as the solar company operates, which may be a good reason to go for that well known brand, rather than an unrecognizable company that might disappear within the year.
It’s best to choose an installation company that is a service agent for solar panel warranty work for the particular manufacturer you select. This is because if you do strike a problem, the turnaround time to a resolution will be far faster.
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