Is This The One Solar Panel To Rule Them All?

The “nameplate” power rating for photovoltaic (PV) modules (i.e., what defines a 200-watt or 210-watt solar panel) is determined by a series of laboratory tests under standard test conditions (STC). But while the amount of power produced by a module at 25 degrees Celsius and exposed to a fixed amount of solar irradiation can give solar engineers an idea of what to expect from a module, it does not reflect how much power it will produce once subjected to high temperatures, rain, shading, dirt and other real-world factors. This is the role of Photon Laboratory’s field performance test.

This test, performed over the course of a year at Photon’s test site in Aachen, Germany, uses scientific methodology to compare international solar module brands over the course of several years, during different seasons and in different light conditions. Since 2005, the Photon Field Performance Test, performed by the Photon Group—publishers of the industry magazine Photon—has tested over 130 module types, including industry leaders like SolarWorld, SunTech, Sharp, Kyocera and Canadian Solar.

photon-lab

image via Photon Laboratory

This year’s top-ranking manufacturer was Renewable Energy Corporation (REC), whose polycrystalline modules yielded 6 percent more energy than 45 competing modules, including mono-crystalline and thin-film modules. The REC modules achieved the highest performance ratio (the actual amount of solar power produced by a module in comparison to the maximum possible power output), at 90.8 percent. And it had the highest energy yield, 1,150.4 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per rated kilowatt (kW).

The company touts its modules’ ability to deliver more watts per square meter, due to design improvements that improve electrical flow between the cell and metal conductors. It also says that its manufacturing process uses 80-90 percent less energy than traditional manufacturing processes. NexPower, Siliken, CH Solar and CHG PV Tech rounded out this year’s top five. REC’s modules also came in second place in 2010. A PDF showing the entire 2011 results is available online.

According to Luc Graré, REC’s senior vice president of sales and marketing for cells and Modules, “This award confirms that REC leads the industry in delivering quality, high-performing modules and demonstrates our commitment to quality and efficiency. This is great news for REC and for our partners and customers,” he said.

REC Photon Lab test

image via REC

REC, founded in Norway in 1996, is a vertically-integrated company employing more than 3,900 people worldwide. In addition to manufacturing PV modules, REC is also one of the world’s largest producers of polysilicon wafers and solar cells. The company’s silicon materials are manufactured in Moses Lake, WA and Butte, MT. It’s cells, wafers and modules are manufactured in Singapore. The company has also begun branching out into project development and integration in Germany, Spain and the U.S.

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).

    • Donald Berrian

      This article seems to be saying that this module came closest to meeting its advertising claims: “the actual amount of solar power produced by a module in comparison to the maximum possible power output”.u00a0 It isn’t saying that it had the best conversion efficiency or the best cost efficiency.u00a0 I’m sure the data they gathered would be useful but the one number they decided to publish doesn’t seem to be.

      • Pete

        Thanks for the comment, Donald. You’re right (as is Steve in his comment) that cost is key here. Ultimately, for the consumer the equation that matters is $/kWh installed.

    • Donald Berrian

      This article seems to be saying that this module came closest to meeting its advertising claims: “the actual amount of solar power produced by a module in comparison to the maximum possible power output”.u00a0 It isn’t saying that it had the best conversion efficiency or the best cost efficiency.u00a0 I’m sure the data they gathered would be useful but the one number they decided to publish doesn’t seem to be.

    • SteveYounger

      The article does not seem to get the fact that it is the cost efficiency that is the driving factor. Actual power efficiency is is only a secondary factor

    • Nunyabidness

      Take the greed out of the equation and the cost is more practical.
      You also have to worry about snow, bird droppings, and your neighbor’s trees.

    • Tim Brown, England.

      Yield is the important factor. As the highest yielding panel, from the experience of real users in England, it offers the shortest pay back time for your outlay. The expected payback time is 6.5 years, followed by 18.5 years of profit. The choice of inverter to achieve maximum conversion of power from dc to ac will also influence the return on your investment. 

    • Mark de la Sol

      Where is the SunPower E20 327 panel? REC can’t possibly  beat SunPower’s 20% efficiency, nor it’s 27 years in business and 141 U.S. patents.