What are the best solar panels for your home?
Published on 20 Sep, 2018 by Michael Bishop
Categories: Solar panels
Let’s start with the question: What motivates you to get solar panels? Here are a few possibilities:
• I want to own best-in-class technology
• I want the best looking solar panels
• I want to make a great financial investment
As with any other technology product, there's a range of pricing and quality among available solar panels. Let's consider the options in the context of the three motivators above.
I want to own best-in-class technology
It’s nice to be surrounded by well-crafted products, designed by people who really care. What sets apart the best-in-class solar panels from the rest?
What are the most efficient solar panels: Different solar panels will do better or worse jobs at converting sunlight to electricity. This is because of subtle differences in their design and source materials (for example, the purity of the silicon used). While typical solar panels have an average efficiency around 16.5%, the most efficient solar panel on the market (that isn't outrageously expensive) has an average efficiency of 21.5%. It's made by SunPower (see solar-panel specs here). Your prospective installer should be able to provide the average efficiency rating for any solar panel they propose.
Impact of Higher Temperatures: One might assume that solar panels make more energy as it gets hotter (and sunnier). But physics can be tricky — the solar panel's voltage (and therefore energy output) goes down as it heats up. This effect varies by solar panel model — each solar panel has a related high-temperature efficiency rating (geek term: "temperature coefficient").
No surprise: better-designed solar panels have a better high-temperature efficiency (in other words, they're not as affected by higher temperatures). The record holder here is Panasonic, with about a quarter-percent drop in energy per degree Celsius increase over the baseline 25° (-0.258%/°C temperature coefficient).
Durability: It's one thing for solar panels to perform correctly their first day on the roof. It's another thing for them to perform correctly their third decade on the roof. Better-made solar panels will endure weather and time better than shoddily-made solar panels. One reason is that they're more tightly sealed off from the elements.
Alas, there's no official rating system for long-term durability. The best proxy is the solar panel warranty offered by its maker. Do they guarantee that each solar panel will still generate a percentage of its originally-rated power a number of years later? Most well-vetted solar panel makers guarantee at least 80% of original power output 25 years later. Better solar panel makers also guarantee the solar panel will be free from defects for between 10 and 25 years (some defects may surface years down the road).
What are the 3 highest-quality solar panel makers?
I want the best-looking solar panels
A bright-blue solar panel array with criss-crossing white lines can clash with your home's colors and general aesthetic. Some solar panel makers offer clean looking jet-black solar panels, without the white lines. These might look nicer on your home. A tradeoff is that they're a bit less efficient than blue solar panels. One well-known provider of jet-black panels is SunPower.
To go to the extreme, consider Tesla's "solar shingles." Instead of being installed on top of your roof tiles, they are your roof tiles. They'll blend in so seamlessly that your uninformed neighbors won't even know they're there! Unfortunately, thye don't come cheap. You can learn more about the Tesla solar shingles here.
I want to make a great financial investment
While some solar-panel makers stand out as exceptional, there are a lot of quality panel makers in the market. So many that standard solar panels have become “commoditized” — meaning they're all more-or-less the same product, and the major differentiator is price.
If your priority is making the best solar financial investment and you have the roof space for a less efficient (and bigger) system, consider opting for a less-expensive "economy" solar panel. True, they'll generate less energy over time given the bigger high-temperature loss and lower design/material durability. But, financially speaking, the lower up-front cost will typically win the day.
With that said, we still recommend that you choose a recognized and reputable brand — ideally a company that's been in business for at least 10 years. Also, a company that offers other products such as cars and computers, for example LG or Mitsubishi, will be in a better position to ride out potential solar-industry downturns. These companies have a proven track record for quality, and you can be reasonably confident they'll be around to honor the warranty if the solar panels fail.
A few examples of quality affordable solar panel makers are LG and Canadian Solar. You can learn more here.
We hope this article will help you strike the right balance between quality and cost when choosing between solar panels. It can be overwhelming with so many options on the market, but a well-reviewed installer should be able to help you quickly identify the best option (and get you the best deal). You can find the best-reviewed installers in your area here.