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Engineer talks. Best solar panel brands 2021
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Engineer talks. Best solar panel brands 2021

25 mins 01 Apr 2021
No matter how many manufacturers there are on the market, only a dozen of them produce PV modules which deserve to be called the best solar panels 2021. Here is what made us think they are 'the ones'.

Run an expert eye over the solar panel spec sheet

Solar panels aren't the thing you can find as a freebie in a magazine to give it a try. Neither are they all-purpose, so you can't blindly follow the recommendations of other PV system owners. It seems that a solar panel specification sheet is the only unbiased source which can help you judge a PV module. Here are the main characteristics to consider and the leading brands in each category.

Solar panel efficiency: REC, 20.9%

Solar panel efficiency: REC, 20.9%

It is about how much sunlight hitting the panel can be converted into electricity. To put it simply, a 1 m² PV module with an efficiency of 15% would produce 150 W. Normally, solar panel efficiency varies from 15% to 20%. The more efficient solar panels are, the less of them you'll need for your system.

REC 365W Alpha is a leader in this category boasting a 20.9% efficiency. It is achieved due to the increased number of wires and heterojunction (HJT) cell technology, which makes REC Alpha deliver 20% more power than conventional solar panels.

Lifelong performance: Q Cells, 93.1% of nominal power in year 10

Lifelong performance: Q Cells, 93.1% of nominal power in year 10

Most solar panels are designed to last for at least 25-30 years. That's why top manufacturers provide performance warranties for up to 25 years. According to them, solar panel performance shouldn't drop below 90% of its maximum in the first 10 years and shouldn't be lower than 80% in year 25.

Hanwha Q Cells shows the lowest degradation rate on the market: max. 0.54% per year. It means the manufacturer guarantees at least 93.1% of nominal power for up to 10 years, and at least 85% of nominal power for up to 25 years. That's what we have on paper.
In reality things are going even better: Q CELLS modules show a degradation rate of 0.3%. When installed in hot climates, solar panels by Hanwha Q Cells may degrade faster, but still at a rate not higher than 0.54%.

Performance in partial shade conditions: Panasonic, less than 25% output loss

Performance in partial shade conditions: Panasonic, less than 25% output loss

Usually there are no numbers in a panel spec sheet showing how shade-tolerant a PV module is. The thing is manufactirers can't predict for how long your solar panel will be under low-light conditions and how much of it will be shaded. However, mechanical specifications can give us an idea of how well the panel is prepared for it. For example, twin panels or those using half-cut cell technology are going to lose less energy when shaded.

Panasonic HIT 330W deserves to be the leader in this category due to the 4 bypass diodes incorporated into the module. They split the panel into 4 sectors. If a solar cell in one of the sectors is entirely shaded, a bypass diode doesn't allow it to influence cells in the other sectors. It highly reduces the risk of solar panel underperformance.

Wind resistance: Canadian Solar, 180 mph wind

Wind resistance: Canadian Solar, 180 mph wind

Winds are an issue all year round, but especially during the hurricane season. When it comes, high winds blow from all directions, causing panels to lift up or come loose. As for PV modules themselves, wind resistance of solar panels is quite high: most of them are certified to withstand wind loads of up to 2400 Pa (about 140 mph wind).

Canadian Solar claims its panels are able to withstand wind loads of up to 4000 Pa, which equals 180 mph wind. While they couldn't potentially survive Hurricane Patricia, whose winds set a record of 215 mph on October 23, 2015, Canadian Solar modules are still much more reliable than others in extreme weather conditions. No wonder, though. Canadians have always known how to deal with harsh climates, haven't they?

Warranty: Silfab, 30-year warranty

Warranty: Silfab, 30-year warranty

Solar panels come with performance and equipment warranties. Performance warranty ensures that the panels produce at least 80% of their rated power output after 25 years in operation. Equipment warranty, or workmanship warranty, covers the integrity of the panel itself and protects you against defects in material and premature wear and tear.

Silfab offers the longest solar panel warranty on the market: 25-year workmanship and 30-year performance warranty.
Along with the warranty label, you may find a 'Tier 1' sign in some spec sheets. It was introduced by Bloomberg and doesn't reflect the solar panel performance or quality at all. It just shows that the manufacturer is a big brand with a good reputation in the industry. If a warranty case occurs, a Tier 1 company is highly likely to fulfil its obligations.

Cost per Watt: LONGi, $0.48/W

Cost per Watt: LONGi, $0.48/W

Solar panels come with performance and equipment warranties. Performance warranty ensures that the panels produce at least 80% of their rated power output after 25 years in operation. Equipment warranty, or workmanship warranty, covers the integrity of the panel itself and protects you against defects in material and premature wear and tear.

LONGi 380W solar panel is an example of a perfect price-quality balance. It costs as low as $0.48 per Watt, but is one of the best performing solar panels. It offers 19.3% efficiency and 0.55% degradation rate. A real bargain from a Chinese manufacturer!

Best solar panel brands

When we are planning a big purchase,like a solar panel system, we always look for the best option available. However, there isn't such a thing as the Best All Around Solar Panel. Different manufacturers focus on different qualities of their panels and, as a result, their strong points vary. That's why we've made a list of top solar market players 2021 and analysed advantages and disadvantages of their products.

Canadian Solar panels: Whatever the weather

Canadian Solar panels: Whatever the weather

In 2021 Canadian Solar celebrates their 20th anniversary. Just in two decades this North American company has secured a spot in the list of World's Top-10 solar manufacturers. Canadians are good at surviving in extreme weather conditions, and so are their solar panels.

Trina solar panels: Power of science

Trina solar panels: Power of science

Chinese company Trina Solar is always a star in the news of solar technologies. Their engineers come up with all sorts of extremely efficient panels and already have set 18 solar world records in PV modules efficiency. Among their achievements is the first 500W panel followed by a 600W panel. If anything, Trina Solar engineers know well how to build a mighty panel. If maximum electricity from a square foot is a priority for you, then Trina Solar may be your go-to choice.

Mission Solar panels: Word of a Texan

Mission Solar panels: Word of a Texan

Mission Solar is all-American project: their panels are designed, made and tested in Texas. The PV modules of Mission Solar are certified by German solar experts who certainly know a thing or two about a high-quality product.

JA solar panels: Middle of the road

JA solar panels: Middle of the road

JA Solar is a Chinese company founded in 2005. In September 2020 it advanced to the position of world's third biggest solar manufacturer. Their modules are considered mid-tier in terms of price and slightly more efficient than an average solar panel.

Phono solar panels: Fresh and smart

Phono solar panels: Fresh and smart

This Chinese company was founded in 2008 and is one of the youngest on the market. Phono Solar engineers consistently come up with new ideas and innovations for the construction and design of their solar panels. Over 20 patents have been developed, such as bifacial modules, black silicone modules and others.

Panasonic Eco Solutions: Old but gold

Panasonic Eco Solutions: Old but gold

Panasonic has been on the solar market for over 40 years already. In fact, they were Japanese engineers who introduced amorphous panels to the world in 1980. Today, Panasonic Eco Solutions is the biggest solar manufacturer in the world. Panasonic panels are known for their outstanding efficiency which they retain even after 25 years.

REC solar panel: Lowest claims rate

REC solar panel: Lowest claims rate

Founded in Norway in 1996, REC group spreaded across Europe to North America and Asia. Quality and innovations is the focus of this manufacturer. Their product is known for its reliability and the warranties are issued for 20 years.

Solaria solar panels: Cool kid on the block

Solaria solar panels: Cool kid on the block

The Californian manufacturer has been on the solar market for around 20 years by now. The performance and warranties of Solaria panels are on point, but what makes them really stand out is their design.

Silfab solar panels: Best warranties on the market

Silfab solar panels: Best warranties on the market

This Canadian newcomer entered the market in 2010. Silfab swiftly rose to glory and now it is one of the top North American solar manufacturers. Their headquarters are located in Ontario, but the manufacturing plant is in Washington.

Hanwha Q Cells solar panels: West meets East

Hanwha Q Cells solar panels: West meets East

Hanwha Q Cells is what happens when South Korean engineers meet the German solar experts. The alliance between Korean Hanwha group and Q Cells occurred in 2012 and since then the company produces modern and reliable PV modules while being relatively small. Hanwha Q Cells manages to combine the innovative spirit of Eastern engineers with German commitment to quality.

Longi solar technology: Monocrystalline specialised

Longi solar technology: Monocrystalline specialised

The Chinese company was founded in 2000. This manufacturer focused on making monocrystalline PV modules from the beginning, leaving behind less efficient but cheaper to produce polycrystalline panels. As it is the case with many other Chinese manufacturers, the primary focus of Longi Solar is efficiency and low price.

Axitec solar panel: German quality at a reasonable price

Axitec solar panel: German quality at a reasonable price

Axitec is a German company founded in 2001. The company stays committed to making reliable panels of a superb quality, but at the same time tries to make them affordable for everyone. While Axitec panels aren't setting records in efficiency or performance, you can be sure these modules will pay for themselves.
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Illustrations – Marina Fionova