What are tier 1 solar panels?

Find out what they are and where to get them

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In the realm of home solar equipment, Tier 1 solar panels are as good as it gets. Understanding what Tier 1 solar panels are, however, can be difficult — especially if you’re new to going solar.

We’ll explain the criteria behind Tier 1 solar panels for you and break down everything you need to know to determine whether or not they’re right for your renewable energy installation.

Key insights

  • “Tier 1” is a BloombergNEF term that actually classifies manufacturers rather than products.
  • Solar installers that use solar panels from Tier 1 manufacturers may carry products from several different brands.
  • Tier 1 solar panels are generally recommended for residential solar energy systems.

What defines solar panel tiers

In the wide and constantly evolving world of solar power equipment, there is no official tier system for the types of solar panels. Despite this, Tier 1 is a common term used to define the highest quality products currently available to consumers.

Originally classified by BloombergNEF, Tier 1 solar manufacturers represent a group of long-standing companies that produce dependable photovoltaic (PV) equipment based on proven results. As such, the term “Tier 1” is used to separate high-quality equipment from products that could be considered a somewhat riskier investment. (There are no official guidelines for defining “Tier 2” or “Tier 3” manufacturers.)

What makes Tier 1 solar panels special?

To be considered a Tier 1 solar panel maker, a manufacturer must prove superior “bankability,” meaning that the company and its products must pass quality and durability checks to gain the confidence of both consumers and financiers.

So, whereas Tier 1 solar panels are not by definition the most efficient solar panels, they are usually considered the highest quality and most dependable, thanks to the reputation of the supplier. Today, Tier 1 solar panels can usually be expected to last 25 years or more, given their high-quality, weather-resistant materials and construction.

In general, Tier 1 solar panels are rigid (not flexible) and used for residential, commercial or utility-scale installations. Tier 1 panels may be polycrystalline or monocrystalline, which are blue or black in color, respectively, and are usually rated for at least 300 watts of potential power production.

Tier 1 solar panel benefits

By investing in equipment from a Tier 1 manufacturer, you can help ensure that your solar panels work as expected and that you receive ongoing support from a reputable company. Basically, the primary benefits of Tier 1 solar panels can be split into two basic categories: better performance and a longer, guaranteed life span.

1. Higher wattages and more efficient electricity production

Tier 1 panels generally come with higher wattage ratings (250 watts vs. 400 watts) and more efficient solar cells than panels made by lower-tier manufacturers. That means Tier 1 solar panels can help you produce the maximum amount of solar power possible while your system is exposed to direct sunlight.

As a result, Tier 1 solar panels with high-performance ratings can be expected to generate more hourly, daily and yearly solar power than equipment from a less reputable manufacturer. This should lead to lower electric bills and, in turn, a greater return on investment.

» LEARN MORE: Solar panel efficiency

2. Durable materials and guaranteed performance

Tier 1 equipment is also manufactured with high-quality hardware designed for long-term outdoor use. Because of the greater amount of research and development going into their products, Tier 1 solar manufacturers are more likely to supply panels with proven resistance to rain, hail, strong winds and other potentially dangerous weather conditions.

More than anything, though, the best indicators of a Tier 1 manufacturer are their extended warranties and performance guarantees. While lower-quality panels may only be under warranty for a handful of years, Tier 1 panels are generally rated for specific levels of efficiency that slowly decline over two decades or more.

» LEARN MORE: How long do solar panels last?

What do Tier 1 solar panels cost?

As you may expect, Tier 1 solar panels are usually more expensive than other solar panels on the market. Although individual equipment prices vary greatly, you can generally expect to pay between $300 and $900 for each Tier 1 panel, depending on the manufacturer, how many you’re buying and other factors.

In a lot of cases, you’ll need to order at least a certain number of Tier 1 solar panels to make a purchase, such as a six-, eight- or 12-piece system, with the price per panel being lower for bulk orders. If you’re buying Tier 1 solar panels on your own (i.e., not with the help of a professional installer), you can also incur significant freight shipping costs.

» LEARN MORE: How much do solar panels cost?

What does a Tier 1 solar panel system cost?

The average residential solar energy system using Tier 1 solar panels costs between $10,000 and $30,000, but that’s because you’re paying for much more than solar panels when you convert your home to run off of solar power. As John Striebel of Apollo Energy explained to us: “In terms of total system price, the cost of solar panels is only a drop in the bucket. You will also have to pay for the inverter, permits, labor and other overhead.”

In terms of total system price, the cost of solar panels is only a drop in the bucket.
John Striebel of Apollo Energy

Basically, while solar panels from a Tier 1 manufacturer may be more expensive, that doesn’t mean your overall costs will go up by the same relative amount. Let’s say that you purchase 20 Tier 1 solar panels at $300 each for a total cost of $6,000.

You can also expect to pay a few thousand dollars more for a high-powered inverter system and labor, as well as several hundred dollars for things like wiring and permitting. Some of those costs, like labor, will be about the same whether you go with Tier 1 solar panels or not.

» MORE: How many solar panels do I need for my house?

Where can you find Tier 1 solar panels?

It’s fairly easy to find Tier 1 solar panels by working with a reputable installer. Although you could possibly source your own Tier 1 solar panels from an online retailer or directly from the manufacturer, many solar companies prefer to install their own materials to guarantee performance, so it’s best to leave the equipment shopping to them.

You can begin your solar journey by vetting local installers to see whether or not they carry Tier 1 solar panels. For example, Vivint Solar is a nationwide installer that supplies Tier 1 solar panels and handles every aspect of the installation.

Catherine, a ConsumerAffairs reviewer from New Jersey, gave Vivint Solar 5-stars, saying that the company “never left me guessing, [put the] panels on without any issues … [and] handled all the logistics.”

If you’re planning a do-it-yourself solar installation, you may be able to contact a Tier 1 supplier directly to source the equipment.

» MORE: Where to buy solar panels

Find a Solar Energy partner near you.

    Are Tier 1 solar panels worth it?

    Tier 1 solar panels are almost always worth it for most PV installations. While it may be tempting to purchase a cheaper system, solar panels from a Tier 1 supplier are more likely to last longer and deliver more power than lower-cost equipment.

    Because they usually offer more solar power production over a longer lifetime, Tier 1 solar panels are a good way to make the most out of your renewable energy investment. For an estimate of how much a Tier 1 solar panel system will cost you, you can start by contacting solar energy companies in your area.

    Article sources
    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
    1. Bloomberg Finance “ BloombergNEF PV Module Tier 1 List Methodology .” Accessed June 8, 2023.
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