A Complete Buyers Guide to Solar Panels 2019

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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. For a full comparison of these main solar panel options see this article. In most cases these will be your best option for a typical solar install to get the best Return on Investment for your project. Solar Panels using newer technology at small scale typically comes a higher cost to benefits of the respective increase in energy generation.

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 check 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 but is not a proxy for quality.

*Note that many of the below panels are not available in the Australian Market.

 

               Current Bloomberg Tier One Ranked Manufacturers 2019 Q2
Jinko Solar

Hanwha Q-Cells

JA Solar

Canadian Solar

Longi

Risen Energy

Trina Solar

Chint/Astronergy

GCL

Talesun

Seraphim

First Solar

 

Suntech

Renesolar

ZNShine

LG Electronics

BYD

Akcome

Eging

Jinneng

REC Group

Waaree

HT-SAAE

Adani/Mundra

URE

 

Vikram Solar

DMEGC Magnetic

Jolywood

ET Solar

Lightway

Boviet

Hansol Technics

S-Energy

AU Optronics

Shinsung

Helience

Sharp

Winaico

 

Test 2 – DNV GL Top Performers

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 2019 lists the following manufacturers as Top Performers:

Independently Tested Top Performers 2019 By Test
Power DegradationDelaminationDynamic LoadsPotential Degradation
Ability of panel to resist temperature and environmental changes a retain power outputModules are tested against damp heat and high humidity to test if module layers separateTest applies mechanical loads and heat cycling to the panels and tests for malfunctionsThrough increased voltage and humidity PV circuits can short against their framing and mounting system
Top Performers 2019:

Boviet

GCL

Hanwha Q CELLS

JA Solar

Jinko

LONGi

REC Solar

Silfab

Trina Solar

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Performers 2019:

Adani/Mundra

GCL

JA Solar

LONGi

Phono Solar

Vikram Solar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Performers 2019:

Adani/Mundra

Boviet

GCL

Hanwha Q CELLS

JA Solar

LONGi

REC Solar

Silfab

Vikram Solar

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Performers 2019:

Adani/Mundra

Boviet

GCL

Hanwha Q CELLS

JA Solar

Jinko

LONGi

Phono Solar

REC Solar

Seraphim

Silfab

Suntech

Trina Solar

Vikram Solar

ZN Shine

*Note that some of the above panels are not available in the Australian market

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

 

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 term lengths lower than these lengths, 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’.

 

How much do Solar Panels cost?

 

Across utility scale Solar PV projects in Australia, the market for 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 are between $0.40 to $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.

Comments

    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

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