Driven by the need for cleaner energy, solar panels have been the topic of a larger debate in recent times. You may be thinking of installing solar panels on the roof of your home. Perhaps, it’s the idea of reducing your electricity bills. Maybe, you want to minimize your impact on climate change. The question remains: are solar panels worth it? Does the cost actually justify the means? This applies to the environmental impact as much as it does your budget.
Table of Contents...
- 1 Are Solar Panels Worth It?
- 1.1 What are solar panels?
- 1.2 How is a solar panel made?
- 1.3 History of the Solar Panel
- 1.4 Are solar panels the best solution for climate change?
- 1.5 Maximizing Solar Panel Efficiency
- 1.6 Should you install solar panels in your home?
- 1.7 What type of solar system is the best?
- 1.8 Off-Grid Solar Power
- 1.9 Grid-Tied Solar Power
- 1.10 Grid Hybrid Power
- 1.11 Choosing the Best Solar Panels
- 1.12 Best Solar Panel Brands
- 1.13 The Cost of Installing Solar Panels
Are Solar Panels Worth It?
When I first started researching solar power, back in the mid-1990s, things were very different to what they are today. For one thing, people were not as concerned about the need for clean, environmentally friendly energy. More importantly, the technology was not as readily available, or as efficient as it is today.
The first solar panels that I installed were all used for off-grid applications. A hunting lodge, far from an electricity supply, has limited options if they want electric power. The choice mostly comes down to solar vs portable generator power. Installing solar panels and inverters to a residential home raises different questions.
This article is going to examine the viability of solar electricity for your home or business as things stand now, in 2021. Not everyone will come to the same conclusion. In some cases, it could be a simple matter regarding the orientation of your home, or the type of roof. The amount of sunlight through the year is an important consideration. How much you pay for electricity vs the actual cost of buying and installing solar panels can become complicated. You will also need to do some research in this regard. Some states offer amazing government incentives that make the cost of solar installations very attractive.
We can never put a price on the environment. Investing in the sustainability of our planet for future generations has become a bit of a cliché, but it’s relevant none the less. Though few understand the real impact that solar panels have on the environment. You will also need additional equipment, like charge controllers, inverters and possibly batteries. Is solar power actually green energy?
I’m going try come up with a definitive answer to the question of whether solar panels are worth it, both financially and environmentally. I’m going to start by discussing photovoltaic technology and all the technical details required to make an informed decision.
Some solar panels can last over 30-years, some don’t even last 10-years. The same applies to batteries and inverters. If you’re going to decide on the value of solar panels, you need to know what you’re buying and what you require.
Given all the complexities involved, this is going to be a long discussion. You may not be interested in all I have to say and could end up scrolling to get the information that you’re looking for. All of it, however, is important to gain a full understanding of how solar panels work, their impact on the environment, and how cost effective they may be.
What are solar panels?
Solar panels utilize sunlight for energy that can be used in our homes and for larger infrastructure. This can be achieved in different ways. Solar thermal energy uses the heat provided by the sun, commonly used for water heaters but superheated steam, using solar thermal collectors, can be used to propel a traditional steam turbine electric generator.
Photovoltaic (PV) energy uses light (photons) to generate electricity. Typically, when talking about solar panels, we’re referring to photovoltaic panels. This is the type of solar power we’ll be discussing.
The photovoltaic effect, derived from the Greek word for light (photo) and the word volt (electric potential difference), is a chemical and physical phenomenon whereby light is converted into electricity.
A solar cell is a semiconductor, consisting mostly of silicon. The cell converts sunlight into electricity by causing electrons to move from a point of the cell to another.
The chemistry of silicone is such that two electrons orbit far from the nucleus, these are called valence electrons. Because they are furthest from the nucleus, valence electrons have a weak attraction to the central nucleus and can move away from their regular orbit if attracted by a stronger magnetic force.
When valence electrons are charged by a photon, the increased energy causes them to move away from their regular orbit. Once free from orbit, the electrons can be forced into a copper conductor. This allows the electric energy to be used elsewhere, to charge a battery or supply power to electric devices.
Other elements, like boron are also used to make the solar cell more efficient. These assist in directing the valance electrons to the conductor. The efficiency of a photovoltaic cell is greatly affected by the crystalline structure of the silicone used to manufacture the cell.
Solar panel efficiency is determined by the amount of electricity that is generated relative to how much sunlight is available. The efficiency of modern solar panels is between 11% and 15%. Typically, a single junction solar cell will generate about 0.5 to 0.6 volts (open circuit).
Experimental technology, not yet commercially available, has greatly increased solar efficiency. Using multi-junction solar cells, able to convert more frequencies in the light spectrum, scientists have achieved 40% efficiency. As a result, we can expect much more efficient solar panels in the future.
Commercially available single junction solar panels use either monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar cells.
Monocrystalline Solar Cells
A monocrystal (single crystal) has a continuous, unbroken crystalline structure. Impurities in the silicone structure will cause the crystal to be fragmented, thus not ideal. These impurities are minimal in monocrystalline solar cells, making them the most efficient type of PV cell.
Monocrystalline silicone is extremely rare in nature. In order to manufacture a monocrystalline solar cell, the source material is important. While all sources of silicone will contain impurities, some have a greater purity and are more viable for the manufacture of high-quality monocrystalline solar cells.
The manufacturing process is crucial to obtaining the best monocrystalline solar cell. Several methods are used to remove impurities that affect the crystal structure, like heat and electrolysis. Furthermore, the environment has to be completely sterile as impurities in the atmosphere will also affect the crystal.
Monocrystalline solar panels are the most expensive as they require the best grade silicon and advanced manufacturing facilities.
The availability of suitable silicon reserves will become an important part of the discussion when we look at the environmental impact and viability of solar power.
Polycrystalline Solar Cells
Unlike monocrystalline cells, a polycrystalline solar cell contains impurities that exist in its natural structure or may be introduced during the manufacturing process. A polycrystalline structure does not allow electrons to move as easily, making monocrystalline solar cells less efficient.
How is a solar panel made?
A solar panel consists of numerous solar cells connected by thin copper wires. Groups of cells will be connected in series to obtain the correct voltage, usually around 14V when the circuit is closed. Typically, this configuration of solar cells will generate 230W to 275W. More cells can be connected in parallel to increase the wattage.
The cells are usually assembled within an aluminum frame with a glass cover. Other methods, like solar film, where the solar cells are embedded in a flexible plastic film, are becoming more common. This allows for an increased range of applications.
History of the Solar Panel
While the history of solar energy used for heating is about as old as humanity itself, the origins of photovoltaic energy (converting light into electricity) dates back to 1839. The French scientist, Edmond Becquerel, discovered that electrodes immersed in a conductive solution experienced increased conductivity when exposed to light. While this discovery was not directly responsible for the invention of the solar panel, it is the first known observation of the effect that light has on electrical conductivity. It was the first indication that light was able to affect the transfer of energy.
The photoconductive properties of selenium was discovered in 1873 by Willoughby Smith. While the scientific principles were not understood at the time, it gave rise to the idea that solid matter can produce an electricity using light. This was followed by the discovery of photovoltaics in 1876. Scientists, William Grylls and Richard Evans noticed that selenium would generate an electric current when exposed to light. However, the current produced was not sufficient to power electrical devices. The idea of a solar wafer, using selenium, was first described by US inventor, Charles Fitz, in 1883.
It was not until Albert Einstein published a paper on the photelectric effect, in 1905, that scientists began to understand the energy potential of light. By identifying light as photons, which have energy similar to electrons, Einstein enabled scientists to fully understand the relationship between photons and electric energy. In 1916, Robert Millikan provided an experiment proving the photoelectric effect.
While the photovoltaic properties of silicone were not yet discovered, in 1918 the Polish scientist, Jan Czochralski, was responsible for a development that would later make the modern solar panel a reality. He developed a method of culturing single crystal silicon.
In 1954, Bell Telephone Laboratories invented the first silicon photovoltaic cell, capable of generating enough electricity to power an electric device. Thanks to the work of US scientists, Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson, Bell was able to produce a solar cell with an efficiency of 4%, later improving efficiency to 11%.
There was very little commercial interest in the potential for solar electricity during the early 1950s. In 1958, the solar panel was put to practical use for the first time, supplying electric power for radios onboard the Vanguard satellite. The need for reliable efficient solar panels increased as more satellites were launched. Solar power is the best method of generating electricity in space.
The Cold War
The cold war, from the 1950s to late 1980s had a great impact on the development of new technologies. Competition, mostly between the USA and Soviet Union (USSR), existed for every type of military advantage. Rocket technology developed during World War II made it possible for people to travel beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Both the US and USSR wanted to be the first nation to send a man into space. This became known as the space. The funding provided for the space race in the 1950s and 1960s was essential to the development of the solar panel industry. Increased resources allowed scientists to improve solar efficiency, durability, and reliability.
Soon after the realization that solar panels were a viable source of electricity, terrestrial installations started to appear. For remote weather stations and communication systems, solar panels proved to be an effective method of generating electricity where it was not practical to utilize grid supplied electricity.
The Green Revolution
During the 1960s, awareness of the environmental impact arising from conventional energy production started to grow. This was the beginning of the “green revolution”. At first, these concerns were only shared by a few activists and had little affect on mainstream society. Among the few crusaders for a cleaner environment, solar energy was identified as a great alternative to more traditional methods of generating electricity.
The energy crisis of the 1970s created increased interest in solar panels as a sustainable means of providing electricity. This coincided with a growing awareness that the use of fossil fuels was not sustainable. The United Nations (UN) started debating alternative sources of energy production. In 1975, the term global warming was officially recognized by the UN. Thereby popularizing the move toward using alternative energy sources, like solar panels.
As the effects of climate change became more noticeable, so did public awareness of environmental issues. By the 1990s, consumer interest in solar panels started grow, albeit slowly. Realizing the economic potential for solar panels, corporations around the world started investing in this technology rapidly during the late mid to late 1990s. Germany took the lead and is now the largest manufacturer of high-grade monocrystalline solar cells. Most high end solar panel manufacturers in China and other countries use German-made solar cells.
Are solar panels the best solution for climate change?
While solar panels cannot supply a complete solution for our environmental crisis, they offer many benefits that cannot be ignored. To maximize these benefits, we need to understand the environmental impact and sustainability of solar panels. With this understanding, we are able to use this technology responsibly, and take full advantage of its potential.
Environmental Impact of Solar Panels
The notion that solar panels provide completely renewable energy is not entirely true. Even the best solar panels will remain efficient for about 20 to 30 years. Low grade panels have a life expectancy of around 10-years. Though, because of sub-standard manufacturing practices, some cheap solar panels may last even less than this.
Because of their limited lifespan, we need consider the real energy efficiency that solar panels offer. In other words, how much energy is used to manufacture the solar panel vs how much energy it will supply over the lifespan of the panel. We also need consider the impact of obtaining the raw materials and the long term sustainability of a reliable supply of these materials.
If we do a basic sustainability survey into the viability of solar panels, all bodes well. When we consider the total energy consumption, from mining and transporting raw materials, to manufacturing the panels and delivering them to the consumer, the amount of energy that the panel will produce over the expected lifespan is one of the best input to output energy ratios for any type of electricity generation.
While this is good news for anyone selling solar panels as an environmentally friendly source of electricity, the issue is not that simple. There are many other concerns, like the availability of adequate silicon supplies and the impact of obtaining silicone (and other raw materials) has on the environment. We also need to take a realistic look at how much energy a solar panel will generate. When conditions are not ideal, solar efficiency is greatly reduced and this changes the ratio of input energy vs output energy.
Silicon supply, and its impact that it has on the environment, should not be underestimated. Responsibly extracting silicon increases energy input. Dust suppression is crucial to the environmental management of silicon as the dust is hazardous. Furthermore, extracting millions of tons of silicon changes the landscape and has an impact on the ecosystem of the area. The more silicon we need, the greater this impact will be.
The most important factor to consider is that viable silicon reserves is a finite resource. Too many impurities in the silicon makes it unsuitable for manufacturing solar panels. Only high-grade silicone can be used to manufacture solar cells, and this not abundant. At some point, we will deplete all the silicon that can be used for solar panels, not to mention at a great environmental cost.
It is estimated that there is enough silicon (of a suitable standard) to meet approximately 20% – 25% of the global demand for electricity if all this silicon is used to manufacture solar panels. Since high-grade silicon is required for many other semiconductors, this estimate is quite ambitious at best.
Global demand for electricity is increasing rapidly. Population growth, along with increased urbanization in developing countries, means that our current ability to generate enough electricity to meet global demand may not be enough. Even in developed countries, like the US, supply will need to increase to keep up with growing demand. As we reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, we will be replacing this with electric power, further increasing global demand. Electric vehicles (EVs) are a good example of how traditional energy consumption, using fossil fuels, will be replaced by electricity.
If we look at the big picture, considering all the factors mentioned above, solar panels may only be able to meet around 10% of global electricity demand by 2040. This means we have to seriously consider how to use solar panels effectively to reap the greatest benefit, both financially and environmentally.
Maximizing Solar Panel Efficiency
Its clear that solar panels will not provide limitless free electricity. We need to use this technology responsibly. It’s quite easy to achieve this objective. Solar panels should only be used in areas where they will generate the most electricity over their limited lifespan. This would be in regions that receive the greatest amount of sunlight through the year.
If you live in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Southern California, or Texas, installing solar panels on the roof of your home is a good thing. Basically, any region where there is an abundance of sunshine throughout the year, will increase the electricity generated by these panels. This is the best for the environment for solar power generation, as you are gaining the maximum amount of electricity to offset the energy input. You are also getting the best value out of your investment. By maximizing electricity generation, your electricity bills will be lower than in an area that does not receive as much sunshine. Obviously, this means northern states, that experience a lot of cloud cover and snow, are not good for solar electricity.
Using solar panels where they are most efficient is the most important factor but there is more we can do to ensure effective and responsible utilization of solar energy. In order to receive maximum sunlight through the year, solar panels should be directed south in the northern hemisphere, and face north in the southern hemisphere. The orientation of your home may not make this possible.
To capture the most direct sunlight, the angle of a solar panel is also important. The ideal angle at which one should install a solar panel is between 25° and 35°. Again, not all homes allow for this.
There is very little maintenance required after installing solar panels. However, they do need to be cleaned at least once per year, preferably more, especially in areas where a lot of dust or pollution could accumulate on the panels. Dirt and debris will block sunlight and reduce solar panel efficiency.
Apart form the solar panels, the efficiency of the other components used in a solar installation need to be carefully considered. Cheap solar charge controllers and inverters will reduce the amount of usable electricity that is available.
Solar Charge Controllers
Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) is the most efficient method of controlling the voltage supplied by a solar panel. Photovoltaic current is continually changing depending on how much sunlight the panel is exposed to and the frequency of the light. In the morning, ultraviolet light is more. At the end of the day, infrared light increases. Ultraviolet light increases the voltage generated by a solar panel and decreases amperage. Infrared light has the opposite effect, reducing voltage and increasing amperage.
A cheap solar charger will simply switch the supply from the panel off when the voltage is too high, or too low for the inverter or batteries that it supplies. When the current (amps) exceeds the maximum tolerance for the charge controller, it will also shut the solar charge power off.
MPPT solar charge controllers track the voltage and amperage supplied by the panel. By decreasing the amperage, voltage can be increased when it is too low. When the panel is generating a higher voltage, the charge amperage is increased to reduce the volts. This makes an MPPT solar charger incredibly efficient. The electric charging capacity is not lost as light conditions change.
An inverter converts the DC electricity supplied by solar panels into AC power that can be used in our homes. An inefficient inverter will cause some of the electricity that has been generated to be lost before we can use it. If your inverter and charge controller are not highly efficient, you will need more solar panels to generate the power that you need, as you will be losing some the solar electricity to inefficient conversion and control.
Established manufacturers of solar inverters and charge controllers have perfected this technology. My top choice for solar inverters and charge controllers has (for many years) been Victron, a Dutch manufacturer. The Australian solar inverter manufacturer, Outback, is another brand I could recommend. There are other great brands, like Schneider, but I’ve found Victron to be highly efficient and incredibly durable, with Outback taking second position.
High-quality solar inverters will inevitably be the most expensive. Though, the efficiency and longevity of these inverters make perfect economic sense in the long-term. They last longer, are more reliable, and ensure that you receive the full benefit of the electricity generated by your solar panels, with minimal power loss.
Should you install solar panels in your home?
For some it’s a desire to minimize their environmental impact, for others it’s to save money on electricity bills. There’s also a trend toward off-grid homes. These people want to be self-reliant and not depend on existing infrastructure. For all these scenarios, solar electricity (and heating) offer a great solution.
As quality solar panels, inverters, chargers, and batteries are expensive, you will want to carefully consider all the variables before making a decision. There are many practical considerations to think about:
- Do you live in an area that receives enough sunlight to justify the cost of installing solar panels?
- Is it possible to install your panels so that they receive maximum sunlight?
- This may involve building an additional structure to allow for the best orientation, to the south or north, depending on which country you live in.
- Achieving the best angle for the solar panel may also require additional installation.
- Do you live in a state that offers rebates or other financial benefits when using renewable electricity?
- Does your electricity utility allow you to supply electricity to the power grid when using solar panels?
- Do you require battery backup for off-grid power or to supply electricity to your home during an outage?
- Do you have the budget for a solar installation?
If, after evaluating these requirements, you feel that solar power is the best solution for you, you will need to decide what type of solar installation will suit your needs and budget.
What type of solar system is the best?
The basic components of any solar system will obviously be solar panels. To obtain the best use of these panels, you will need a good quality MPPT solar charge controller. Unless you’re only using DC power (perhaps for an RV), you probably also need an inverter and possibly batteries. The inverter that you choose to buy will determine the type of solar system and what it provides. Batteries may be essential or an added convenience. The amount of batteries will vary for individual needs.
You will be deciding between three basic types of solar systems:
Off-Grid Solar Power
This is the least common type of solar installation as most people already have grid power connected to their homes. Utilizing grid power to supplement your electricity when solar radiation is inadequate saves a lot of money. An off-grid system can also be beneficial for an RV, allowing the same convenience when shore power is not available.
To supply reliable electricity to an off-grid home, regardless of the weather conditions, a hybrid system is best, with a reasonable amount of battery storage. Solar panels do not provide constant electricity, they need enough sunlight. During a period of prolonged cloud cover, solar panels are not going to generate enough electricity to supply all your needs. While batteries allow you to store solar electricity for times when there is not enough sunlight, there is a limit to the how many batteries you can install. Battery storage, even for an energy efficient home, becomes financially prohibitive for periods longer than 24 – 48 hours. This provide enough electricity storage for a cloudy day, possibly two.
Sometimes, you may experience partial cloud cover for many days. This means that the batteries will gradually lose charge capacity as you will be using more electricity than you are generating. This is not good for most batteries, and you will eventually exhaust your battery reserve and have no electricity until weather conditions improve.
A hybrid solar installation utilizes solar panels with additional means of generating electricity when there is insufficient sunlight. People wishing to use only renewable energy, avoiding the use of gas or diesel, prefer to use a solar and wind hybrid system. Since wind is not predictable, you may occasionally experience a power shortage. Some research, and a fair deal of trial and error, can result in an effective wind/solar hybrid installation. Over time, you can observe the system and add solar panels and batteries or increase wind generators as required.
The most common off-grid solar hybrid system makes use of a gas or diesel generator to ensure a continuous reliable electrical supply. While this means relying on non-renewable energy, the gas generator will only be used occasionally. When the batteries run low, you can start the generator for a few hours to recharge them. This may only be necessary a few times a year, using very little gas. The benefit to using a gas generator as part of an off-grid solar hybrid system is guaranteed power supply. Gas generators are relatively cheap, and you can use them as required.
An off-grid home should be energy efficient and use as little electricity as possible. Solar water heaters are great for this purpose. Hot water from the sun can supply bathroom and kitchen faucets. It is also way to heat the home, using hot water radiators or under-floor heating. Heat for cooking, and to provide hot water when solar heating is not sufficient, should be done using propane as electric heating requires a lot of electricity.
Increased energy efficiency should include passive heating – using south facing windows to increase the amount of heat in the home when the sun is shining. Energy efficiency requires the best insulation to help keep heat in or out of the home. Energy efficient appliances and lighting are also important.
Grid-Tied Solar Power
There are many terms used to distinguish a solar system that is connected to the power grid – grid-tied, grid back feeding, on-grid, or utility interactive. This requires an inverter that can synchronize to the utility power. A grid-tied inverter will send surplus electricity to the grid when you generate more power from the solar panels than you use. It will use utility power when the solar panels do not generate enough power to meet demand.
A grid-tied system will reduce you electricity bills and can even earn additional money. It is important to investigate if your power utility allows for grid-tied inverters. This requires a smart-meter that monitors power used as well as power generated. In some areas, the power utility will pay a premium for power supplied by consumers during peak demand. In other words, you can sell solar power to the utility at a profit.
Grid Hybrid Power
Similar to an off-grid solar system, combination of grid, solar, and battery has several benefits. It utilizes solar panels to charge batteries, storing power for when it is needed. Instead of a hybrid system using a generator or wind (off-grid), the power grid supplies the additional electricity that is needed when there is not enough sunlight.
The benefit of a hybrid solar system is that you have battery backup during an outage. Some hybrid inverters are programmable, allowing you to maximize the financial benefit of using solar power. You are able to program the inverter to use power from the batteries when your utility electricity is more expensive, during peak periods. This means that you’re only paying for electricity when it is cheaper, increasing the financial benefit of using solar power.
Choosing the Best Solar Panels
Regardless of which type of inverter you use; the solar panels are the most important part of any solar installation. This is where the electricity is generated and will probably be the greatest expense.
Ensure that you budget for the best monocrystalline solar panels that you can afford. Since this is a long term investment, you want quality panels that will last many years and remain efficient for the as long as possible. It’s all about long term efficiency when choosing the best solar panels.
It’s not easy to know what you’re buying when trying to choose the best solar panel. They all look pretty much the same. In the end, your best bet is to buy solar panels from a brand that has a great reputation. Paying extra for a brand you can trust will be worth it in the long run.
Best Solar Panel Brands
After reading this far, you’ve probably realized there is nothing simple about choosing the best solar products. There are many layers to consider. The same applies to choosing the best solar panel brand, to make the most of your budget.
Buying anything requires comparing prices with a realistic comparison to the type of quality that you’re getting for your money. Because quality solar panels can last up to 30-years, it requires a lot more consideration than buying most other tech items. The decision you make today, will have an effect on your life for decades to come.
We can’t predict the future, especially 30-years from now. The best we can rely on is informed research and an intelligent evaluation of what to expect in the future. I’ve done a lot of research on solar panel brands, using credible sources. I’ve evaluated these brands using the following criteria:
- Quality materials and workmanship.
- Solar efficiency.
- Temperature coefficient – how well the panels perform in extreme temperatures.
- Brand reputation.
- Financial stability of the company – you want a company that will still be around for as long as your warranty is valid.
- Competitive Pricing
It is really difficult to say which solar panel manufacturer takes top spot for the best value. The brand that has received the best customer reviews is Q-Solar. This is certainly a brand to consider. Even though it is not one the best brand in terms of efficiency, Q-Solar offers a very competitive 25-year warranty, good service, and reasonable prices. As a technical guy, and looking at the brands with the best financial future, I have a different opinion.
Having looked at all the variables; efficiency, general quality, brand reputation, temperature coefficient, warranty, and long term financial sustainability of the company, two brand stand out as being the best in my opinion. These would be LG and Panasonic.
There are many great solar panel brands, with good reputations and quality products. I’m not going to review all of them. I’ll be providing a basic overview of the products that I feel are exceptional in some way. These would be the solar panel brands that I would give the highest recommendation.
LG Solar Panels
In the high-end solar panel market, I think LG is probably the best. While not cheap, monocrystalline LG solar panels offer sound value for money. These are not the most expensive solar panels but are near the top of all specification categories. When it comes to peace of mind, LG is one of the best-performing companies in the world and should stand the test of time.
LG panels rank in second place for efficiency (22%). The only spec that does not make LG one of the very best is the temperature coefficient, it doesn’t even feature in the top 5. This means that LG panels are not the best in hot weather. However, being the second most efficient in general, LG panels will outperform most in all weather conditions.
LG offer a 25-year warranty on their solar panels, this is the best warranty, only offered by the most expensive solar panel brands.
Panasonic Solar Panels
This is one of the oldest electronics brands to manufacture solar panels and that means that they should be around for many years to come. Their products are of the highest quality standard and quality control is fantastic.
At 21.2% efficiency, Panasonic solar panels are not the best, but still make it into the top 5. These panels have the best temperature coefficient, making them a good solution for extremely hot climates.
Like the other top solar panel brands, Panasonic also has a 25-year warranty on their panels.
SunPower Solar Panels
These are the most efficient solar panels on the market (22.8%) and are quite reasonably priced, considering the outstanding quality and specifications. SunPower solar panels are also great when considering temperature coefficient, ranking at number 5.
With a 25-year warranty, this brand is amongst the big players. Given the excellent specifications, good price, and top-tier warranty, you may be wondering why I have not placed SunPower at the top of the best solar panel list.
My only concern with the Sun Power brand is the size of the company and this is a specialty brand. Unlike LG and Panasonic, which have a huge global presence and product diversity, SunPower is a relatively small company that specializes only in solar products. It may not have the same strength to survive possible economic turmoil in the long term. I’m not saying this brand is not to be trusted, it just doesn’t instill the same confidence as the big brands.
Canadian Solar | Solar Panels
Frankly, this would not be my first choice. Considering the investment one makes into a solar installation, I would prefer better efficiency and quality. However, not everyone can afford the top brands and Canadian Solar is, in my opinion, the best budget solar panel brand. You can find cheaper solar panels, but Canadian Solar perform better than the really cheap brands and their quality is pretty good.
The Canadian Solar 10-year warranty is an obvious sign that they are not in the same league as those with a 25-year warranty. With a maximum efficiency of 19.9%, they cannot compete with big-name expensive brands either. Though, when you consider that some cheap solar panels can have an efficiency spec as low 15% (or less), this not at all bad.
Like Sun Power, Canadian Solar is a relatively small company operating in a niche market. I, therefore, have similar concerns about the long term security of the warranty. When it comes down to it, you cannot find better value for the price. In the realm of cheap solar panels, Canadian Solar offers a really good deal.
The Cost of Installing Solar Panels
The first question most people ask is how much do solar panels cost? Though this is only part of the cost for a complete solar installation, it usually accounts for most the total price. Solar panels will obviously vary in price according to quality and brand. In general, most people work with the ballpark figure of around $1 per watt.
When it comes to the complete installation, you also need consider the inverter, charge controller, batteries, materials, and the cost of paying an electrician to install the system. It is really important to use a reputable company to install your solar system. This is a specialized installation, requiring skill, knowledge, and experience. A company that specializes in solar installations will be able to advise you on the best options and they usually assist in obtaining the tax relief and rebates that are offered by the federal and state governments. In 2021 the federal tax credit for solar power is 22% (down from 26% in 2020). Some states offer additional benefits.
The price for a solar panel installation for an average US home is typically around $11,000 to $15,000.