Solar is a great investment, but it is also a big one. Before you commit to spending millions of dollars on a system, make sure that you are buying the best solar panels for your specific needs.
The most important thing to consider when reviewing different solar panels (or solar modules as they are often referred to in the industry) is whether or not they are built by a Tier-1 company. SolarKal only works with installers who source from Tier-1 manufacturers.
According to Josh Newell, SolarKal’s Vice President of Product, “It is absolutely crucial that you make sure that your solar panels were made by a reputable, tier-1 company before you buy them.”
The tiered ranking system was invented by BloombergNEF. They use bankability, or the likelihood a bank will finance a project with that company’s panels, as a proxy metric. Most purchasers cannot afford a due diligence review, but banks can. Bloomberg treats the decisions banks make based on those inspections as a measure of the panel’s quality.
Imagine that, after examining Company A’s panels, six different banks finance ten installations using them. Company B, by contrast, can only find two banks who are willing to fund projects with their panels. Company A would rank higher than Company B because their products are more widely trusted.
Several other companies have designed their own ranking systems. SolarKal’s experts primarily rely on PVEL’s evaluations to judge a panel’s quality and durability. PVEL’s factory witnesses monitor every step of the panel’s production. Then, they conduct extensive testing using a sample of panels picked by the inspectors, not the manufacturer.
PVEL tests panels by rapidly cycling them between two extreme temperatures. This causes them to expand and contract. Unless a panel is extremely well constructed, this stress causes it to rapidly degrade and lose efficiency. Panels in PVEL’s Tier 1 have no more than 2% degradation after 600 cycles.
SolarReviews publishes another ranking that you can use. They focus on gauging how likely it is that a manufacturer will be in business and able to honor their warranty for the next 25 years. Purchasing panels from companies in their tier-1 is a great way to protect your investment.
PVEL and SolarReviews’ rankings are available for free, unlike Bloomberg’s. Companies that regularly appear in both of their tier-1s include LG, Jinko Solar, and Trina Solar.
Panels from Tier 1 companies are more expensive, but they are durable, efficient, well regarded, and protected by reliable warranties. Buying from a Tier 2 or 3 company could cost you. Their products will be lower quality and, if they break, less likely to be serviced or replaced for free.
Once you have found the best solar panels for you, make sure that you have it mounted by a reputable company. You can get the nicest solar panels money can buy, but they will not be worth much if they get damaged during installation or tied up in permitting. Hiring an expert to attract and screen bids can help you avoid unqualified or unscrupulous contractors.