There are hundreds of different solar panels available which can make it difficult even for experienced solar installers to choose the best option. Here we help identify the best solar panels based on performance, quality & value along with feedback from solar installers. We will also offer insight into the various new technologies being used to improve panel performance and highlight the most popular models in 2017.
For those not familiar with solar, read our introduction to solar panels here. In summary solar photovoltaic (PV) modules or simply solar panels have not changed much in basic function over the last 30 years. Virtually all solar panels still use a series of silicon cells to convert sunlight to DC electricity. What has changed dramatically is the efficiency of the cells and more so the huge cost reduction to manufacture panels, which has come down by close to 70% since 2008.
How to choose a quality solar panel
Unlike solar inverters the biggest problem when comparing solar panels is that they generally look very similar with nothing obvious to distinguish between high and low quality products. Unfortunately many solar installers and customers only have the glossy brochure to go by, which can easily baffle people with clever marketing and slogans. This is why a manufacturers reputation and history are just as important as their perceived quality.
A panel manufacturers warranty details, service history and reputation are essential to selecting a quality solar panel.
Determining a quality panel is made difficult as it is not something which can be pulled apart and checked; panels can only be assessed using specialised equipment which highlight small faults or hot spots, but this can change once the panels are installed outside in the weather for a few years. The sun’s UV radiation and high summer temperatures create extreme conditions for any roof top mounted solar panel and it can take 5 years or longer before any potential quality issues become apparent. This is why the manufacturer’s warranty period, service history and reputation are essential to selecting a quality solar panel.
Solar PV technology is constantly evolving and many new panel technologies have only been on the market for a few years. Solar panels ‘should’ have a lifespan of 25+ years so it is vital to use a manufacturer which has both a solid reputation and likely to still be in operation in the future to backup any warranty issues.
Solar Panel Warranty Conditions
The standard warranty period for solar panels sold in Australia and around the world is a 10 year product warranty and 25 year performance warranty.
The product warranty is the manufacturers warranty against faults or defects which means the manufacturer is required to repair, replace or provide a refund for panels which fail within the warranty period. Most manufacturers provide a 10 year product warranty but some premium manufacturers listed below offer 12, 15 or even 25 year product warranties.
The performance warranty also known as a 'power output warranty' ensures that the panel still produces a minimum amount of power after a certain amount of time. The standard is 80% performance retained after 25 years which mean a 275W panel should produce close to 220W after 25 years of use. High-end panel manufacturers such and Sunpower and LG guarantee greater than 80% performance on most models.
Best solar panel manufacturers
Here is our list of the best panel manufacturer's available on the Australian market based on evaluation from industry professionals, feedback from solar installers, manufacturer's service history, quality, performance and value for money.
Followed closely by Jinko Solar, Hanwha Q-cells and Canadian Solar. A complete list of our top 10 panel manufacturers in shown here along with a detailed breakdown of the latest solar cell technologies including PERC and bifacial modules.
Several panel manufacturers really stand out in terms of quality and performance. Sunpower still offer the best power output warranty at close to 90% after 25 years plus a 25 year manfacturer's warranty, although they do come at a premium price and not widely used in Australia. LG also offer a 25 year manufacturer's warranty for their premium Neon R models and produce a range of high quality panels with industry leading technology, in particular the LG Neon 2 model being a common favorite. Winaico has also moved up the ranks with their M6 PERC range offering a 15 year manufacturers warranty and being well regarded by installers. REC solar panels are great quality and very popular among installers, inparticular the unique TwinPeaks range of panels. Finally, to round up the top five the well known Honey range of panels from Trina solar are considered great quality and very good value for money.
Like most things, premium equipment also comes at a premium price. Sunpower are considered the world leader but generally cost around 30% more than the competition. LG panels also come at a premium price but they have many more competitive models which are very well regarded and widely available which put them at the top of the list.
Why pay more? Considering the additional cost on a regular 4kW home solar installation only equates to roughly $1000 extra, this is not a lot to pay for higher quality panels which would no doubt outperform and outlast cheaper panels by 10 years or more.
Most Popular solar panel models
In addition to the best manufacturer's there are a few panels which were highlighted as favourites among Australian installers, due to a combination of high quality, great performance and value for money.
LG NeON 2
LG Neon modules use double sided cells to absorb light from the front and the rear of the module and the LG Cello thin wire busbar technology to improve efficiency. LG Neon panels are covered by a 12 year product warranty and higher performance warranty of 84.8% after 25 years. They also have one of the highest wind load ratings and are one of the strongest panels on the market. See full specs here.
REC TwinPeak 2
REC panels use PERC* technology (see below for details) and a unique split configuration which divides the panel into two sections, upper and lower which combine at a centre mounted junction box. This creates a panel which is much more efficient when partially shaded. The half size cells also increase efficiency and performance under most conditions. See full spece here
Trina Solar Honey
The Trina Honey range of panels have been a favorite among installers for many years. They offer high quality and very good value for money from a large, trusted manufacturer together with good service. The recent Honey M plus range offer higher performance and efficiency over the standard Honey panels using monocrystalline (Mono PERC)* cells. Full specs here
* Learn more about the various panel models and types here including PERC and the new bifacial panel technology.
High quality panels made in China
China has gained a bad reputation for low quality products but in the solar panel world they are now one of the leaders. This was not always the case and like everything there are still some low quality panels coming out of China. Many big name solar manufacturers from Europe and the US have moved manufacturing to places like China, Malaysia and the philippines over the years and since much of the process is actually automated the quality of products is extremely high, so long as you know which brands to choose. Trina Solar and Jinko are particulary well regarded by many Australian installers.
Several high quality panel manufacturer's in China
For more information refer to the renowned testing facility DNV GL (an international accredited registrar and classification society headquartered near Oslo, Norway)
Size Vs Efficiency
The solar industry has generally adopted two standard physical panel sizes, however these are available in a wide variety of power outputs from 250W up to 480W. This is where solar cell efficiency comes into play which is most cases ranges from 16% to 20%. The term efficiency is thrown around a lot but a more efficient cell does not necessarily equate to a better panel. What matters is, you guessed it, the quality, which as explained is related to real world performance and manufacturers warranty conditions!
All manufacturers produce a range of panels with different efficiency ratings depending on the silicon type used and whether they incorporate PERC or other cell technologies. The very high efficiency panels above 20% are more expensive and not always the most economical choice, especially if you have ample roof space available and a very tight budget. Very efficient panels above 19% are generally higher quality but if cost is a major restriction would be better suited to locations with limited mounting space available, otherwise you can pay a premium for the same power capacity which could also be achieved by using a few additional panels. High efficiency panels on the other hand are usually very high quality and can outperform lower quality panels after 5-10 years and still be operating at close to peak efficiency.
The two most common solar panel sizes: (rounded to nearest cm)
- Medium : width 1.0m x length 1.65m
- Large : width 1.0m x length 2.0m.
For example a high efficiency 330W panel could cost around $300-320 while more common 285W panels typically cost closer to $170-$180. With both made by the same manufacturer, this equates to roughly $0.60 per Watt compared to $0.90 per Watt. Although the more expensive panels have higher performance, lower degradation rate and generally come with a longer manufacturers warranty period, as in the case of LG or SunPower this could be up to 25 years, so it is often a wise investment.