How to Choose the Best Solar Panels for your Home

best solar panels for your homeA solar panel is like the engine in your car; it is the most important part of a solar power system. Understanding key solar panel traits and variations will help you choose the panels you need. Here are the most important factors to consider:

Standard or Premium?

Photovoltaic or “PV” solar panels are the most common type of solar panel. They convert sunshine into electricity with solar cells primarily made of silicon. Based on their level of efficiency, panels can be ranked as Premium or Standard. Most brands are standard and offer about 15 to 18 percent efficiency, including Hyundai, JinkoSolar and JA Solar. Premium brands like LG and SunPower are usually 18 percent to 21 percent efficient.

Aesthetics

While earlier versions of solar panels had grey and bluish cells, these are generally considered outdated and less attractive than contemporary models. The most attractive solar panels on the market today are the all-black panels. These have black cells, black backsheets and black paper, which gives them a sleek and cohesive appearance in comparison to earlier styles and those with lighter-colored frames.

Quality of Manufacturer

While solar panels are made in several countries throughout the Americas and Europe, China makes the most panels. Through the successful production of solar panels and other complex tech such as iPhones, China has established itself in the manufactured good market and is one of the U.S.’s main trading partners in this area. Some manufacturers in China and in other nations are superior to others.

The following manufacturers are considered to be Tier 1 by PowerScout:

Chinese: Trina, JinkoSolar, JA Solar

Korean: LG, Hyundai

American: SunPower, Mission Solar

Canadian: Canadian Solar

Another way to assess the quality of a manufacturer is to check its certifications. For example, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) produces manufacturing quality assurance standards specifically for the solar panel industry. Solar panel ISO-certification is an indicator of a well-made product.

Wattage and Efficiency

There are several stats to consider when evaluating solar panel wattage and efficiency. The wattage of a panel tells you the maximum watts of power it can produce under standard temperature test conditions. This is also called a nameplate rating.

Because standard test conditions do not happen most of the time, a stat called the power tolerance will let you know what percentage of variation from the nameplate rating to expect. Also, be aware that high temperatures can reduce a solar panel’s power capacity. The measurement of this reduction is called the temperature coefficient, usually represented as +/- x % of electricity. As you explore the brands and modules, this is another important number to check. The geographic location and shape of your roof can also alter how many kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy you can get from a panel.

The efficiency rating tells us how well panels convert sunlight into electricity. A panel with a higher efficiency rating can produce more kWhs of energy than a lower-efficiency panel of the same size.

However, keep in mind that high-efficiency panels are not the best choice for everyone. They can be more expensive on a per-watt basis than standard-efficiency panels. Homeowners who are not constrained for roof space can sometimes save money by passing on high-efficiency panels and using a greater number of standard-efficiency panels instead.

Another relevant trait of solar panels to be aware of is crystalline make-up. Whether a panel is mono-crystalline or poly-crystalline, also known as multi-crystalline, can affect its efficiency. Mono- or single-crystalline panels are more expensive but they have a higher silicon purity and efficiency level and generally degrade more slowly.

Warranties

During your exploration of the solar panel market, you will discover that most panels come with a Product Warranty and Production Warranty. The Product Warranty will cover any material defects with the panel and often extends 10 years. Some manufacturers offer 12 or 25 year warranties.

Due to gradual changes in the panel’s chemistry, solar panels lose some electricity-production capability over time. The Production Warranty addresses this process and will cover a declining electricity production for a set amount of time. For example, in the first year, a 97 percent production is often covered and in year 25, 80 percent is commonly covered.

PowerScout’s Recommended Solar Panels

This comparison focuses in on one of the highest-efficiency monocrystalline models from each Tier 1 brand. The models are close to the average rooftop residential panel size of 65-by-39 inches and contain the typical 60 cells. SunPower, which has one of the most efficient panels on the market, is an exception in that all its residential panels have 96 cells.

Standard Panels

Hyundai HiS-S300RG

Country of Origin: Korea

Aesthetics: Black cells, white or black frame and white backsheet

Quality of Manufacturer: Tier 1, ISO Certified

Efficiency: 18.3%

Maximum Power (Pmax): 300 Watts (W)

Size: 64.6” x 39.3”

Warranty on Product: 10 Years

Warranty on Production: 80 % after 25 years

Image result for JinkoSolar Eagle PERC 60 JKM300M-60

JinkoSolar Eagle PERC 60 JKM300M-60

Country of Origin: China (Standard Plus)

Aesthetics: Black cells, white frame and backsheet

Quality of Manufacturer: Tier 1, ISO Certified

Efficiency: 18.33 %

Pmax: 300 W

Size: 65” × 39.1”

Warranty on Product: 10 Years

Warranty on Production: 80 % after 25 years

Image result for JAM6(K)-60/4BB

JA Solar JAM6(K)-60/4BB

Country of Origin: China (Standard Plus)

Aesthetics: Black cells and backsheet, white frame

They do offer other models in all black and offer “customization service for black frame, black backsheet modules.”

Quality of Manufacturer: Tier 1, ISO Certified

Efficiency: 18.35 %

Pmax: 300 W

Size: 64.9” x 39”

Warranty on Product: 12 years

Warranty on Production: 81.5 % after 25 years

Image result for Canadian Solar SuperPower CS6K-305MS

Canadian Solar SuperPower CS6K-305MS

Country of Origin: Canadian Solar SuperPower

Aesthetics: Black cells, white backsheet, white or black frame.

They do offer other models in all black.

Quality of Manufacturer: Tier 1, ISO Certified

Efficiency: 18.63 %

Pmax: 305 W

Size: 65” x 39.1”

Warranty on Product: 10 years

Warranty on Production: 80.7 % after 25 years

Mission Solar MSE 305S Q5K

Country of Origin: USA (Standard Plus)

Aesthetics: Black cells and frame with a white backsheet. They do offer other models in all black.

Quality of Manufacturer: Tier 1, Not ISO Certified

Efficiency: 18.36 %

Pmax: 305 W

Size: 65.5” x 39.3”

Warranty on Product: 10 years

Warranty on Production: 80.2 % after 25 years

Premium Panels

Image result for LG High Efficiency LG NeON® R Module LG360Q1C-A5

LG High Efficiency LG NeON® R Module LG360Q1C-A5

Country of Origin: South Korea

Aesthetics: White backsheet, black cells and frame

Quality of Manufacturer: Tier 1, ISO certified

Efficiency: 20.8%

Pmax: 360 W

Size: 66.9” x 40”

Warranty on Product: 25 years

Warranty on Production: 87 % after 25 years

Image result for ALLMAX M PLUS TSM-DD05A.08(II)

Trina Solar ALLMAX M PLUS TSM-DD05A.08(II)

Country of Origin: China

Aesthetics: All black

Quality of Manufacturer: Tier 1, ISO certified

Efficiency: 19.2 %

Pmax: 315 W

Size:65” × 39.1”

Warranty on Product: 10 years

Warranty on Production: 80.68% after 25 years

SunPower X22-360-C-AC

Country of Origin: USA (Premium Plus)

Aesthetics: all black, “our proprietary InvisiMount® frame is designed to be completely hidden”

Quality of Manufacturer: Tier 1, ISO certified

Efficiency: 22.2 %

Pmax: 360

Size: 61.3” x 41.2” (96 cells)

Warranty on Product: 25 years

Warranty on Production: 92% after 25 years

*Final Note on 72-cell panels

72-cell panels are typically used in commercial settings but we think they deserved a mention here. Most of the brands here also offer monocrystalline panels with a higher cell count in the Standard Plus to Premium range. They are at least 10-inches longer than a typical 60-cell model or SunPower’s 96-cell model, except for Canadian Solar’s 120-cell panel.

Hyundai makes a 72-cell panel, 18.4 %, 360 W, 77.2” x 39.3”

JinkoSolar makes a 72-cell panel, 18.57 %, 360 W, 77 × 39.1”

JA Solar makes a 72-cell panel, 18.28 %, 355 W, 77.2” x 39”

Mission solar makes a 72-cell panel, 18.46 %, 365 W, 78” x 39”

LG makes a 72-cell, 19.3 %, 400 W, 79.7” x 40.3”

Canadian Solar makes a 120-cell panel, 18.36 %, 305 W, 66” x 39.1”

All of Trina Solar’s residential panels are 60-cell.