Solar panels are a significant investment, so it's important to find a product that fits your needs. Keep reading to learn about the different types of solar panels and how to choose the right ones for your home. To help you get started, we compare some of our favorite solar panel companies on availability and efficiency.
What are the best solar panels on the market?
Top-rated solar panels should offer a high efficiency rate and comprehensive warranty coverage. Solar panels degrade through constant exposure to the elements. Your manufacturer should be able to guarantee that their solar panels can withstand the conditions in your area. Learn about our top picks for solar panel companies below.
Our top pick for solar panels
SunPower designs and manufactures residential, portable and commercial panels with Maxeon solar cell technology. The Signature series come with anti-reflective black roof panels that are flexible and lightweight enough to be portable. Payment options include leasing, solar loans and cash purchases.
SunPower handles permitting paperwork, tax incentive applications, testing, monitoring and maintenance. The EnergyLink app lets you sync your panels to your phone so you can track your efficiency in real time.
Our pick for solar panel selection
Zenernet Energy provides Tier 1 solar panels with Quickmount PV hardware. The modules use sleek, black-on-black panels and come with a 25-year warranty. The company has access to solar equipment from several leading manufacturers on the market today, including:
- LG Solar
Prospective clients can explore energy independence options through a no-pressure consultation with one of the company’s solar power experts. Zenernet also offers solar monitoring and smart home integration technology to facilitate more efficient energy usage.
Our pick for full-service installation
For over 20 years, SunLux has focused on helping customers save money by pinpointing their properties’ exact energy needs. SunLux handles everything from paperwork and site evaluation to installation and maintenance of your solar system. The company partners with highly rated solar equipment manufacturers, including:
- LG Solar
- Q Cells
SunLux systems come with a 25-year comprehensive warranty that includes coverage for the physical components of the solar system, replacement parts, repairs and maintenance. Select from options to purchase, finance, prepay or lease for $0 down.
How to choose the best solar panels
Look for panels from solar energy companies that have high efficiency rates and offer a comprehensive warranty on product and workmanship. High-efficiency panels let you produce the most power with limited space, and warranties reduce maintenance costs if you have problems with the system later on. Here are some tips to find durable solar panels that meet your energy production needs.
- 1. Assess your energy needs and limitations
- The type of solar panel that’s best for your home will depend mostly on your available roof space. Since polycrystalline solar panels are generally less efficient, those with limited roof space may have to go with the more expensive monocrystalline panels.
The number of panels you need depends on the efficiency of the panel and the amount of electricity your home requires. The energy a solar power system can produce varies by location and available sunlight. According to Energy.gov, cost per watt and estimated cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) are the most useful metrics for comparing panels.
As you compare your options, pay attention to different panels' power ratings and temperature coefficients. In addition to solar panel costs, you should also budget for additional equipment, such as inverters, storage batteries and charge controllers.
- 2. Compare solar equipment manufacturers
- Solar panel manufacturers are separated into different tiers. Tier 1 status is typically reserved for the largest manufacturers with automated protection and some degree of vertical integration, such as Canadian Solar.
Small- to medium-scale manufacturers fall into tiers 2 or 3. Rankings are not standardized, so what one list ranks as Tier 2 could rank as Tier 3 on another. Tier 1 solar panels are typically more expensive, but not necessarily better quality.
Remember that the quality of the inverter and battery can affect the quality of your overall solar power system. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and EnergySage devised a criteria for judging solar equipment based on performance, durability, warranty and other factors. The rating system has five classifications, from poor to excellent. Panasonic, QCells, REC Alpha, LG and SunPower panels are currently ranked as “excellent.”
- 3. Look for high-efficiency solar panels
- The efficiency of a solar panel simply describes how well it turns sunlight into usable electricity. These days, the average efficiency of a solar panel is about 18.7%. This means that, under ideal conditions, 18.7% of sun waves that hit the panels will be converted into usable electricity.
With monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, the purity of the crystalline silicon determines how efficient it is. Outside of power ratings and degradation rates, a variety of external factors affect the performance of a solar panel, such as shade, temperature and orientation.
Some panels include automatic tracking systems and will reposition themselves for maximum performance based on the sun's position. If your system is a non-tracking system, plan to adjust your panels twice a year: once in the summer months and once during winter. In the summer, adjust your system at a lower angle to catch more sunlight. In the winter, angle your system higher.
- 4. Compare quotes from solar energy companies
- Once you have an idea of your energy needs and the type of solar panel you want, it’s a good idea to get at least three to five quotes. Comparing multiple quotes helps ensure that you get the best deal on the panel system.
As you compare cost estimates, you should also pay attention to the companies’ histories. Some people feel more comfortable working with a company that has been around for a while. If you buy solar panels from a less established company, it’s even more important to read reviews and verify that it's UL-listed.
No matter what company you choose, make sure it provides a warranty and performance guarantee. Solar panels degrade through constant exposure to the elements. Your manufacturer should be able to guarantee that its equipment can withstand the conditions in your area.
- 5. Hire a reliable solar installer
- Depending on where you get your new panels, the company may offer installation services as part of a package deal. Otherwise, you can hire a local solar installer or certified contractors to complete the project. Read our solar energy guide to find local companies.
What are the different types of solar panels?
The main types of solar panels are monocrystalline, polycrystalline, thin-film and concentrated photovoltaic (PV). With all factors being equal — location, available space (roof or another dedicated area), shading, climate and natural degradation of the panels — monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels are typically the best choice for residential energy needs. Thin-film panels are best for commercial buildings or satellites, and concentrated photovoltaic cell panels are used only on satellites and in research labs.
- Monocrystalline solar panels: The most efficient residential solar panels on the market are easily recognized by their uniform dark color and rounded edges. They produce the highest power outputs and require the least amount of space compared with other panels (most have an efficiency rating of around 15% to 20%). They have the longest lifespan of any panel on the market. Most companies provide warranties of around 25 years on them. Monocrystalline silicon solar panels are made from melted pure silicon formed into bars and cut into wafers.
- Polycrystalline solar panels: Sometimes referred to as multicrystalline, polycrystalline solar energy panels cost less than monocrystalline panels because the process to make them is simpler and less expensive. Compared to monocrystalline panels, these have a more speckled look and lighter color. Polycrystalline solar panels are made from fragments of silicon melted together to form the wafers. With more crystals in each cell, there's less freedom for the electrons to move around. This results in a lower efficiency rating of about 13% to 16%.
- Thin-film solar panels: Most commonly associated with amorphous systems, thin-film solar energy panels are made by layering thin solar cells on materials such as glass, metal or plastic. They're cheaper to manufacture than crystalline-based panels, so they’re easy to mass-produce. Since thin-film panels require a lot of space, they’re not ideal for residential use.
- Concentrated PV cell solar panels: These panels contain a concentrated amount of photovoltaic material, making them the most efficient type of solar panel with a 41% efficiency rate. They're extremely expensive and are only used in satellites and research labs — not residential or commercial buildings.
Solar panel FAQ
- What solar cell technologies do the best solar panels use?
- Monocrystalline solar panels tend to be more efficient than polycrystalline solar panels, and both tend to perform better than thin-film solar panels. There are many different solar panels on the market, each with its own benefits and disadvantages. Polycrystalline solar panels are a popular option for homes but tend to have a lower efficiency rate than monocrystalline solar panels.
- What is a solar panel efficiency calculation?
- A solar panel efficiency calculation is the conversion rate used to measure how much of the sun's rays a panel can convert into usable energy. Specifically, it is the portion of sunlight that can be converted into electricity. A solar panel manufacturer will determine this by multiplying the incident radiation flux or the amount of available sunlight in your area based on standard testing conditions (STC) by the area of your panel in square meters. The panel's maximum wattage is divided by this number and then multiplied by 100% to calculate solar panel efficiency.
- Do solar panels require maintenance?
- Although regular maintenance is not needed on grid-tied systems, routine cleaning is recommended in order to remove dust, dirt and other traditional contaminants that can affect efficiency. If your area does not receive rainfall, you can wipe off dust with soapy water or by hiring a cleaning service.
- Do shade and temperature affect solar panel efficiency?
- Perhaps obviously, shade is not great for a solar system. Because solar cells are connected in a series, even just a little shade on one panel can cease solar production on all other panels. Trim trees to make sure no shade falls on any part of the solar panel.
Solar panels work best when they are kept cool and dry. Higher temperatures can reduce a solar panel's production of power by 10% to 25%. Panels should be positioned in areas with significant airflow and natural cooling in order to maintain efficiency rates. Before buying, consider a panel's temperature coefficient, which describes how effectively your panels will produce electricity when your climate is less than ideal for solar panel production.
Bottom line: Are solar panels worth it?
Solar panels are worth it both for the long-term utility savings and the environmental impact. When you're choosing a solar energy company to power your home, look for one that has a high efficiency rating to maximize the amount of power your solar system generates and a good warranty to protect you from future maintenance costs.
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