Solar Panel Comparison

By Finn Peacock, Chartered Electrical Engineer, Fact Checked By Ronald Brakels

How do you compare solar panels? I’m glad you asked! A couple of very useful comparison tools available here on SolarQuotes are:

If you want a higher level view on the differences between brands, then in the video below  I go through 3 simple things you can look out for when comparing products.

If you’re in a hurry, just watch this and you’ll massively reduce your risk of buying a crappy product that won’t last. After the video I go into even more detail if you are feeling like getting knee deep in solar panel comparisons!

There is a bewildering array of solar panels on the Australian market. At the last count, there were over 4,600 models approved for use in Australia!

If you look at a solar panel specification sheet (aka datasheet), it can often look like a physics textbook, full of numbers and strange symbols. For those of us without a degree in rocket-science, how do we make an informed solar panel comparison?

Well, I reckon there are 5 things you need to look at when choosing solar panels for your home to maximise the chances you are getting good quality products.

But first, let’s get one thing out of the way that doesn’t matter: whether the module is monocrystalline or polycrystalline. Despite what a lot of salespeople will tell you, these days there is very little difference between mono and poly panels.

Right! Onto the things that actually matter when comparing:

1) ‘Tier 1’ solar panels – does it matter?

‘Tier 1’ refers to a ranking given to solar panel manufacturers by ‘Bloomberg New Energy Finance’. They publish a quarterly list and charge thousands of dollars to access it.  Tier 1 is not a direct measure of quality or performance. It measures how ‘bankable’ the solar panel manufacturer is.  In other words – how likely are they to stay in business. Solar farm builders use it to reduce the risk of panel manufacturers going bust. If you are building a large-scale solar power station, your investors won’t go near you unless you use solar panels from a Tier 1 company. Getting a panel from a Tier 1 manufacturer is pretty low risk because the big manufacturers used in solar farms are almost all on top of quality control.

Just be aware of less-than-honest salespeople who will insist their panels from WaWaSuperHappySolar are Tier 1!

Tier 1 manufacturers include: Trina, Canadian Solar, SunPower, JA Solar, Hanwha QCells and REC to name a few.

Non-Tier-1 manufacturers are the smaller players that produce panels. You can get some good panels from the these players, but unless you know the solar manufacturing landscape, it is a lot riskier – because 80% of the lower tier panels are junk. Also, the smaller companies are less likely to be around in the future. For those reasons, I always recommend the non-solar expert to stick to Tier 1 panels. You can read more about the tier ranking system for solar panels here.

2) Comparing Warranty

Be aware that all solar panels come with two warranties – a performance warranty and the manufacturer’s warranty (also known as the product warranty). 

Generally, the performance warranty is 25 years – I’ve never seen a solar panel without a 25 year performance warranty!

Ignore this warranty. It is so easy for the manufacturer to get out of that it is worthless; although Australian Consumer Law may come into play.

The warranty that matters is the manufacturer’s warranty – so this is what you should compare on. Don’t buy a panel with a manufacturer’s warranty of less than 10 years. Some solar panel manufacturers are now offering up to 30 years of product warranty.

3) Power Tolerance

Power tolerance refers to how close to the specified wattage the module will be in real-world conditions. For example, if it is a 300-watt panel and the power tolerance is +/-5%, your actual wattage could be from 285W up to 315W.

These days quality panels have a “positive only” power tolerance. That means a 300W module will never be less than 300W. That’s a good thing.

4) Efficiency Comparison

When comparing panels, efficiency is not as important as most people think. As long as the module efficiency is over 20%, it should be fine. More efficient panels don’t produce more electricity, they are just a little smaller on your roof. Unless roof space is critical, don’t stress about efficiency.

5) Compare Temperature Coefficient

Solar panels love sunlight, but they hate heat. Their power drops as they get hotter. The temperature coefficient measures how much the power reduces for every degree rise in temperature above 25°C – and that’s panel temperature, not ambient temperature. The temperature coefficient generally ranges from -0.3% per °C (good) to -0.5% per °C (not as good). In the latter case, if the panel temperature goes up 20°C, the power will drop 0.5 x 20 = 10%.

By keeping the above 5 points in mind, you can compare solar panels with a good degree of confidence and sift out the spin.

>> Next: Is Your Roof Angle Suitable For Solar Panels? >>

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