Published on November 26th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan


What Are The Best Solar Panels?

November 26th, 2013 by  

Originally published on Cost of Solar.

It’s time to answer another one of the common questions that people ask when they first start considering the lucrative and enticing prospect of going solar — “What are the best solar panels?”

In the real world, there’s no such thing as “the best solar panels” — the closest thing would be “the best solar panels for this application.”

In other words, the best solar panels for your home are not the best solar panels for a solar farm in the desert or even the best solar panels for a Walmart solar roof. And they certainly aren’t the same as the best solar panels for a NASA satellite.

best solar panels

In every application, you want to buy solar panels that provide the optimum balance between efficiency, durability, and cost per watt of power capacity. As I wrote when discussing the most efficient solar panels in the world:

“If you’ve got space for 10 solar panels on your roof and you have an option between solar panels ‘ABEfficient’ that are a bit more efficient but twice the price of solar panels ‘CDCheap,’ chances are, you are going to make a much bigger savings by going with CDCheap. Of course, the important thing would be to see what’s available in your situation and simply run the numbers (or, if you are allergic to math, have a friend who can do math run the numbers for you).”

Other important factors to consider when trying to determine the best solar panels for your situation might also include the durability of the solar panels. However, there isn’t a lot of information out there yet about the durability of different solar panels. With solar panels just becoming cost competitive, we definitely don’t have enough real-world data to make a conclusion on this matter for any of the solar panels on the market.

In any case, I think the biggest factors to consider when deciding which are the best solar panels for your needs are simply cost per watt, efficiency, and the amount of free space you have on your roof for the solar panels. From all that, it’s simply a bit of uncomplicated math.

The first step in this process for most of you is probably getting connected to solar installers in your area. From them, you can find out the solar panels they’d put on your roof. Provided you have multiple solar installers in your area, you can then see if the different installers suggest solar panels from different companies (e.g., solar panels from SunPower versus solar panels from Yingli Green Energy). Using the best available information you can find on the recommended solar panels, you can then make estimates on long-term electricity bill savings versus long-term solar panel costs using different solar panels on your roof. You’d just need to include the number of solar panels you can fit on your roof, the efficiency of various solar panels, and the average number of sunlight hours per day in your region.

Or, ideally, you could ask installers to do this. However, I assume that most installers have set which solar panels they purchase and would be limited in the options they’d check and recommend.

Just remember that the best solar panels are the solar panels you can stick on your roof. See how much solar power is projected to save you by quickly filling out the questions on our homepage.

Image Credit: Greens MPs / CC BY-NC-ND

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • Jacob Wadsworth

    It is really amazing, it save up a lot. And I wish our country has enough money to
    try this out too. –

  • I have experienced that shopping around for a good grid inverter is much more work than the panels. I have mostly cheap Chinese panels from a local guy who is married to a Chinese woman and travels to China regularly to select his suppliers. They perform very well, no issues, no measurable degradation after 3.5 years. That’s young, I expect them to last at least another 20.

    I might have spent a lot more money on ‘bankable’ panels, but I guess that for the price difference at that time I can now buy a complete set of new panels, thanks to the incredible decline in PV prices.

    When it can become really hard is when there are shadow issues. How best to deal with it? My first system consists of 2 strings and 2 separate grid inverters. Because there happens to be a very attractive small inverter from Steca that is a perfect fit for the panels.

    But my 2nd system was much larger so the Stecagrid 500 wasn’t really an option and it is getting outdated too. 94% efficiency is sooooo yesterday. So even though I suffer shading issues from 2 tall trees, I decided to make a single string and use a large, cheap inverter from Fronius that happens to have a 98% efficiency. Yes, I might have gotten more from the same roof area, but at what price? From the data that I gathered until now, I can see that I made the right decision. It seems I am losing less than 5% of yield due to shading. That is about € 20 per year in electricity, definitely not worth spending a lot of money on.

    Advice in tricky situations is certainly where a trustworthy solar installer is necessary. (S)he can propose all kinds of fancy solutions (like power optimizers), but is it worth it? Can the installer make a good calculation of how much energy you are going to lose because of that tree? Some people have used Google Sketchup to find out themselves how much shade they get from the neighbours’ house. A little DIY can help you make a more informed decision.

    And consider more DIY. The hardest part is getting yourself to climb onto your roof (use a safety harness!). Once you’re over that, it isn’t all that hard. Just leave the electrical connections to a certified electrician. and you can save a lot of money.

    But the best advice is to simply stop evaluating and thinking and doubting and searching. Simply put up those PV panels. Even the best panels have 0 efficiency if they’re sitting in a warehouse somewhere! PV wants to be on your roof.

  • Marion Meads

    One of the major factors that many authors on solar articles do not consider is the cost of land in sunlit areas. When you can get land on the cheap, such as the dirt cheap leases of desert areas, you aim for the cheapest cost per unit capacity. In densely populated urban areas, where you sometimes have to sue your neighbor for shading you out, you aim for the more efficient solar PV.

    Similarly, for satellites, they aim for the highest power generation capacity per unit weight of the panels.

  • JamesWimberley

    Another good source is the website of solar consultant Shawn Roe: This includes a database on over 12,000 models of panels.
    I would add warranty insurance to the checklist. Reputable manufacturers warrant the output of their panels for 25 years, much longer than the life expectancy of the firms. So you need insurance on the warranty.

  • UKGary

    To give an example to illustrate the point,

    In markets with high soft costs (where solar panels form only a small part of the total array price), the installed cost difference between Sun Power and the rest may not be all that large in percentage terms – after all, it takes as much effort to get permission to connect a 10 panel solar array whether it is composed of 20% or 15% efficient panels, and as much effort to install the array.

    There is also the point that SunPower panels have a better temperature coefficient, and better low light performance than average so typically yielding around 6% more kWh annually per kW installed.

    This being the case, levelised cost of electricity may be only very slightly different between the two even though the former panels are substantially higher priced per watt than the latter.

    Consider also that SunPower is profitable unlike most solar manufacturers, and what this implies for the value of any warranty.

    Overall, higher efficiency panels offset at least some of their additional cost with savings in structure, installation, and soft BOS costs.

  • Omega Centauri

    Thanks!, I was afraid this was going to be a typical one size fits all. When I had mine installed four years ago, I had a quote using efficient SunPower panels and I asked, what about the cheaper SunTechs. And they penciled out a few hundred dollars cheaper. And in my case, shading more roof was also a benefit.

    There is also real world performance under your actual conditions. How much does output drop off with higher temps and other factors that might mean the best desert panel is not the best panel for a cooler climate.

  • Matt

    Zac, while there isn’t a lot of data on durability for each manufacturer I think we are starting to see some general quality trends. Using a tier 4-5 supplier that saves you a penny a watt over a tier 1, might not save you in the long run.

  • Guest ANDY

    Good point, I thought I make mention of this, you could also put into this voltages of solar panels, as this will determined the aspects of your system being on or off grid. There are two types of panels these days on the market with different voltage levels. Old school off grid battery charging, and now new school on grid.

    • Little talk

      Very Good Point, the writer should of talked on this, you can not mix PV voltages.
      Where bob on this with his off grid big carbon foot print.

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