Solar Panels Comparison: Types & Brands

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How do Solar Panels work?

Through the photovoltaic effect solar panels convert sunlight in direct current (DC) electricity. Solar panels typically have 60 or 72 ‘cells’ which contain silicon. Silicon is the active element in a solar panel which will generate surplus electrons depending on the length of time and intensity of the sun irradiance it receives. The solar cells are encased in glass in groups of 60 or 72 with a backing sheet and are usually framed with aluminium to create a solar panel.

Different Types of Solar Panels

The most common panel types are monocrystalline and polycrystalline. These techonologies have been around for a number of years and are proven in the Australian climate. Solar Panels using newer technology (see below table) can offer benefits by increasing the energy generated in various conditions. Note that some of these newer technologies come at a cost premium as they are not produce at the same scale as monocrystalline and polycrystalline yet.

PolycrystallinePolycrystalline panels (sometimes called Multicrystalline) use silicon crystal composed of many small grains with no rules between the arrangement of the grains within a solar cell. They appear perfectly rectangular with no rounded or squared edges
MonocrystallineMonocrystalline panels are easy to identify as they typically have a diamond shaped external colouring indicating a high-purity silicon (See image below). These panels utilise single large grains of crystal to create each silicon module. These solar cells are higher efficiency than Polycrystalline.
Mono PERC Solar PanelsInvented by the UNSW, PERC panels have changed the cell structure of Solar Modules to improve the efficiency leading to greater power per square metre.
Bifacial Solar PanelsBifacial solar panels are designed to capture light from the underside of the panel as well. They are typically installed on tilt frames where reflective roof sheeting can ‘bounce’ some sunlight back towards the bottom of the panel increasing the generated energy.
Frameless Solar PanelsTypically solar panels come with an aluminium frame. Frameless panels use heavy duty glass to avoid this requirement and reduce the dust build up that occurs over time along the framing.
Split Cell (Half Cut) Solar PanelsSplitting a solar cell in half has the effect of halfing the output but dividing the resistance by 4. This means with some extra engineering it is possible to generate 10-20% more energy from these panels with the same amount of silicon and roof space.

Three tests to determine if a Solar Panel brand is good

Our main advice is do not take any individuals (friend, installer, neighbour) opinion on what is a good solar panel brand and look at the independent tests and rankings for solar panels. To determine if the panel you have been quoted is a good one – first see if the brand appears on the below 2 lists (and read what the list means) and then head to their website and understand their warranty claim process.

Test 1 – Bloomberg Tier One Ranking

Bloomberg’s infamous tier 1 ranking is NOT a measure of Solar Panel quality in any way. It is simply an indication of the bankability of the manufacturer based on publicly released information on the financial health the company. This should give you an idea if the company is a large, well-known manufacturer.

Bloomberg NEF Tier 1 Ranking 2020 – Q2

PanelCapacity MWPanelCapacity MWPanelCapacity MW
LONGi18,000Seraphim4,500Phono1,620
Jinko14,400Suntech4,050Sunergy1,350
JA Solar13,500Astronergy3,780Ulica720
Canadian11,700ZNShine3,150Hyundai540
Risen9,990Jolywood2,700Leapton540
Q CELLS9,630SunPower2,520
Trina9,450Jetion2,250
Talesun5,580LG2,160
Eging4,680BYD2,160

* Note some panels have been left out that are not sold in Australia based on the CEC Approved Product List

Test 2 – Is the panel a PV Evolution Labs Top Performer?

PV Evolution Labs have in partnership with DNV GL been independently testing Solar Panels reliability since 2014. It is a voluntary test which manufacturers have to pay to be a part of, but is considered internationally as an excellent indication of Solar Panel quality.

Their latest report released in June 2020 lists the following manufacturers as Top Performers:

Independently Tested Top Performers 2020 By Test
Dynamic LoadsDamp HeatPotential DegradationThermal Cycling
1000 cycles of 1000 Pa (pressure) loading     (Wind, Hail, Snow)Modules are placed in 85°C temperature with 85% humidityPanels loaded to max voltage applied with heat and humidity600 cycles from -40°C to 85°C
Top Performers 2020:Top Performers 2020:Top Performers 2020:Top Performers 2020:
AstronergyAstronergyAstronergyAstronergy
Canadian SolarCanadian SolarCanadian SolarCanadian Solar
LONGiGCLGCLGCL
REC GroupHanwha Q CELLSHanwha Q CELLSHanwha Q CELLS
VikramJinkoJA SolarJinko
ZNShineLONGiJinkoLONGi
REC GroupLONGiPanasonic
SunergyPanasonicREC Group
VikramREC GroupSunergy
SeraphimSuntech
SunPowerTrina Solar
SuntechZN Shine
Trina Solar
Vikram
ZNShine

* Note some panels have been left out of the above table that are not sold in Australia based on the CEC Approved Product List

You can download their full report here for free

Test 3 – Does the manufacturer have an Australian office and easy warranty claim process?

Most solar panel manufacturers entering the Australian market, first setup their distribution channels and worry about customer service later. This has led to many unhappy customers who are left trying to contact Chinese head offices to claim on their 10-year product warranty.

Relying on your solar installer is not always an option as we’ve seen many residential solar installers (including the large ones) go out of business well within the lifetime of the systems they are installing.

To make sure you have options to claim warranty, Solar Choice recommends:

  1. Visit the Solar Panel manufacturers website
  2. Make sure they have an Australian office with an office number you can call
  3. Make sure the warranty claim process is clearly outlined on their website
Solar Panel BrandWarrantyAustralian Office
Astronergy12 yearsYes
Canadian Solar12-15 yearsYes
GCL12 yearsNo
Hanwha Q Cells12-25 yearsYes
JA Solar12 yearsNo
Jinko Solar12-25 yearsYes
LG25 yearsYes
LONGi Solar12 yearsYes
REC Group10-20 yearsYes
Risen Energy12 yearsYes
Seraphim Energy10-15 yearsNo
SunPower25 yearsYes
SunTech15 yearsYes
Trina Solar10-12 yearsYes
Vikram Solar10-12 yearsNo
Winaico Solar15-25 yearsYes
ZNShine12 yearsYes

Industry Standards for Warranties

For solar panels there is now an internationally accepted standard for the length of warranties:

  1. Performance warranty of 25 years to output of 80% of nameplate wattage
  2. Product warranty of 10 years covering product defects

While you never see solar panel warranties with shorter than “25 & 10”, each manufacturer has a different warranty agreement and claims process. Generally speaking dealing with a reputable solar panel brand will ensure that you are receiving fair and reasonable warranty terms.

Some solar panel manufacturers have chosen to differentiate themselves from the masses by offering up to 25 year product warranties and 30 year performance warranties. Typically these come with considerable extra cost – so the choice is with the consumer whether they want to spend more for a ‘BMW’ or whether they are happy with a ‘Ford Falcon’.

The Wholesale Cost of Solar Panels

Across utility scale Solar PV projects in Australia, the market for large corporates buying solar power has plummeted to below 5c per kWh ($50 per MWh) reflecting increasing economies of scale of both the manufacturers and the construction companies. While your local solar installer doesn’t have access to the same rates for solar equipment they passed on cost benefits from the continued increase in efficiencies in manufacturing facilities.

Wholesale rates for solar panels are not published and are dependent on manufacturer, purchase power, the Australian Dollar and other market factors. As a ballpark guide buying directly from wholesalers costs for most brands are currently between AUD$0.35 to AUD$0.50 per watt and can be less than $0.30 if buying at scale from manufacturers.

The best and fairest guide we can give you for the average costs of Solar in Australia are published monthly in the Solar Price Index and is split by size and by Australian state.

Commerical Solar Prices

Comments

    1. Hi Jeewan,

      Risen would be considered a mid-range panel. They are on the cheaper side to buy at a solar wholesaler, but present a reasonable option if you are looking for a cost effective system. It might be worth considering paying a little bit more for one of the panels that are on the top performers list above?

      Regards,
      Solar Choice Staff

    1. Hi Wagga,

      Sunpower are generally considered a premium panel with significantly longer warranties than most alternatives. They have not chosen (paid) to participate in the DNV GL voluntary testing, so perhaps they may feel they don’t need the additional credibility rating.

      I would still feel confident recommending Sunpower in any circumstances – if you’re willing to pay a bit more for longer warranties and a higher quality panel.

      Regards
      SC Staff

    1. Hi Begnat,

      They have ranked in previous years but this year this have missed out. DNV GL do not publish reasons for panels not being on the list, so it’s unclear whether they didn’t participate or didn’t perform well. We would assume the former.

      In our opinion LG panels are an excellent solar panel for consumers happy to pay a premium for a longer warranty period.

      Regards,
      Solar Choice Staff

Comments are closed.