Expert Tip: Talk to a Local Solar Panel Installer Before You Buy Solar Panels
All of the information that we are going to provide you below about the best solar panels is nice to know, but putting it to use is another matter. For example, how do you go about finding the right solar panels for your house? Can you just tell your solar installer what panels to buy? Do you even have a say?
First off, most homeowners don’t choose their solar panels outright. Instead, most installers have a handful of solar panels for customers to choose from. Aesthetics, price, and efficiency all play into the decision as to which style will be best for you. And while not every installer will have 8 different panels available, even the smallest local company should have at least a standard option and a premium, high-efficiency option.
When you get free estimates from local installers, they will look over your electricity bills as well as your roof and discuss the system size and panel type that would meet your needs best. More often than not, a standard-efficiency solar panel will do just fine. However, if you are short on space, they might recommend a premium solar panel if you don’t want your energy production to suffer. Or if you live in an area with heavy snow, they might recommend a more durable style.
Remember, reputable solar panel installers should be there to help you make the most cost-efficient choice. They know the industry and will be a valuable resource as you explore getting your property set up for solar power.
Your solar panel installer might recommend one of the best solar panels that we review below, or they might have other recommendations for your specific home. Either way, just remember your solar installation is an investment that is guaranteed to save you money in the long run. You can easily get free estimates and more information about the best solar panels for your home at UnderstandSolarPower.
Should You Buy The Best Solar Panels?
Now that we have that out of the way lets discuss why solar power is one of the best ways to power your home. Not only is it a clean and eco-friendly form of energy, but it’s also free to use! If this sounds like something you’re interested in, you’ve come to the right place. In order to take advantage of this clean, free energy you’ll need to find the best solar panels for your home. You may think that the least expensive panels are the best choice, but that is not always the case. There are certain situations where a specialized panel, at a higher cost, might be the best option for you.
Why? There are many reasons that you may not want to go with the cheapest option, but here are a few factors to consider…
- You might need extremely efficient solar panels if you have limited roof space or high energy consumption.
- You might need the most durable solar panel if you live in an area known for inclement weather such as heavy snow or wind.
- You may want the most environmentally friendly option available.
- Or maybe you just want the latest and greatest solar panel on the market today.
Whatever your need is, do not worry! We’re here to help you go green in a way that best fits your style. In this article, you’ll find reviews of the best solar panel companies in 2021 for each of the categories below. We also provided some helpful tips to help you decide what solar panel option is the best choice for your home and energy needs. First, let’s start with a little helpful information about solar panels and solar energy.
The best solar panels balance quality and cost
For most homeowners, the solar panels that find a good balance between quality and cost are what you should be looking for. By this we mean:
- Decent efficiency – No, we are not looking for the most efficient solar panel on the market today, like Sunpower’s excellent X-Series. Instead, we are looking for around 17% to 18% efficiency. While these solar panels produce about 20% less electricity than their premium brethren, the much lower price makes them a more cost-effective option.
- Reputable company– The solar industry is notoriously unpredictable. You want to make sure your solar panel manufacturer is going to be here for the long haul. The top solar panel manufacturers sport a solid history (10+ years of solar panel production) and a respected name from industry insiders. Your installer can give you the skinny on which manufacturers to trust.
- Competitive price– This goes without saying. Exactly how much you pay for your panels depends on your installer and your area. In a report, NREL noted that most nationwide solar installers can source solar panels at $0.65/watt, so if you are spending more than $180 or so for a 275-watt solar panel, be sure to ask your installers about the costs. Smaller, local installers cannot usually buy in bulk like large companies can so their prices increase by about 20%. Keep that in mind while shopping around.
- Good warranty– Yes, the premium panels have incredibly long-term warranties of 25 years, but you are also paying for them. Standard panels typically see product warranties between 10 to 12 years and production guarantees of 80% to 83% after 25 years. Anything under that is a red flag.
The Importance of Solar Panel Efficiency
Before we get into the details of each of the solar panel companies on our list we should discuss efficiency.
We live in a world where technology is constantly improving and the solar industry is no different. Manufacturers are constantly putting out new, cutting-edge solar panels that pump out shocking amounts of energy. Although the newest and most advanced models may seem appealing, keep in mind that the newest models usually come with larger price tags. This is one of the reasons why doing a bit of research before making your purchase is so important. You may find that a slightly more established model will be more beneficial to you than spending extra just to have the latest and greatest.
There are some situations when spending a little extra is beneficial. For example, if your roof is very small and you don’t have the space to install a lot of panels, choosing high-efficiency panels would be a better choice. Another situation where these higher-cost panels may be a better choice would be if you have a particularly high level of energy use. For example, if you’re trying to power a business or if you simply have a lot of electric-powered items in your home, you may have to go with high-efficiency panels to produce enough energy.
Now on to our top picks for the best solar panels for 2021. Remember, before making any purchases you should get quotes from a solar panel installer to ensure that the panels are available and right for your home.
The Top 5 Best Solar Panels for 2021
- Canadian Solar
- Mission Solar
Read on to learn more about each of the companies on our list of the best solar panels for home use in 2021 to find the perfect option for your home.
Trina – Best Solar Panel Overall
Trina Solar is a mainstay in the solar panel industry. Their products are well-known for quality, durability, and affordability. They find a great balance between quality and cost, which is why they are our top pick for the best solar panel overall.
Trina was founded in 1997 and was one of China’s first companies dedicated to solar. Fast forward to today and they have over 15,000 employees and have shipped a cumulative 32 GW of solar panels.
They manufacture both mono and polycrystalline solar panels, with their ALLMAX series directed towards homeowners. With efficiency from 17.4% to 19.1% (depending on the cell type), Trina’s panels are on the medium to high side compared to other similar “standard” solar panels on the market.
Trina’s solar panels come with a 10-year parts warranty as well as a guarantee that their panels will produce 80% of the nameplate power in the 25th year of operation – both in line with other solar panels of similar cost.
Sunpower – Most Environmentally Friendly Solar Panel
You are probably wondering how one solar panel could be more environmentally friendly than another. After all, don’t they all create electricity with zero pollution using renewable energy?
While that is all true, not all the materials used in solar panels are renewable. They use glass, aluminum, silicon, copper, and rare earth metals to convert sunlight into electricity. And while today’s solar panels are generally expected to last 25+ years, forward-thinking manufacturers are already discussing the issue of how to properly dispose of the millions of solar panels currently in use.
Premium solar panel manufacturer Sunpower is already tackling this issue and has become the first solar manufacturer to become Cradle to Cradle Certified Silver. This certification ensures solar panel materials are sourced in a manner that is safe for the environment and people, that products are manufactured with responsible, sustainable methods and recycled properly at the end of their life cycle.
Both Sunpower’s E-Series and X-Series panels are Cradle to Cradle Certified Silver, and if you’re looking for premium solar panels, you can’t get better than Sunpower’s X-Series solar panels. These are the creme de la creme of solar panels.
First off, at 22.8% efficiency, they are officially the most efficient residential solar panel on the market today. This gives you more energy production per square foot on your roof, meaning fewer panels and less space needed – perfect for small, compact roofs.
Secondly, their solar panels are built with a solid copper back, so their electrical connections can withstand years of extreme weather without damage.
Lastly, Sunpower backs up these panels with a 25-year product warranty as well as a 25-year – 92% production guarantee – possibly the highest in the entire industry.
All these features do add up, so you can expect to pay quite a bit more for Sunpower solar panels. Still, they’re a high-quality product from a company that takes steps to keep our planet cleaner. That is a win-win for everyone. Unfortunately, every story has two sides, and Sunpower is actually owned by French company Total, one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, so all these environmental benefits might just be canceled out by its parent company’s business. Read more about them in our in-depth Sunpower review.
Canadian Solar – Best Solar Panel for Inclement Weather
If you are looking for solar panels that can handle some serious weather but won’t break the bank, check out Canadian Solar panels.
Solar panels are tough pieces of equipment. And since they are left on your roof 24/7 for decades, they have to be. Your solar panels need to handle extreme heat, extreme cold, hail, snow, rain, dust, and anything else mother nature can throw at them. All solar panels go through rigorous testing to make sure they are up to the task, but some companies take their solar panels to the next level, manufacturing some truly Herculean panels.
All Canadian Solar’s residential solar panels can handle over 10% more snow load than almost all other panels, and just under 70% more wind load. That’s on par with or more than Sunpower’s stats for wind and snow load, at a much lower price.
Similar to other standard panels, Canadian Solar’s residential panels are around 17% efficient and come with a 10-year product warranty and 25-year – 80.7% production guarantee. So if you are worried about snow and high winds, but don’t want to spend the extra money on premium panels, then Canadian Solar certainly fits the bill.
Panasonic – Best Premium Solar Panel
What exactly is a premium solar panel, you ask? Premium solar panels generally offer:
- Higher than average efficiency typically between 19% and 22%
- Beefier components built to handle extreme weather
- Better warranties generally a 25-year product warranty (as opposed to 10-12 years for ‘standard’ panel) and a 25-year production guarantee around 87% or so
Of course, with these premium components, premium solar panels also command higher price tags. You will need to weigh the benefits against that additional cost of premium solar panels before making any decisions.
If you do decide to install premium panels, you can’t go wrong with Panasonic HIT+ panels. At 20.3%, they are one of the top 3 most efficient solar panels on the market right now. They produce an incredible 340W per panel, compared to a standard solar panel’s 275W.
On top of that, they enjoy an extremely low-temperature coefficient of -0.258%/ °C, almost half of most solar panels, meaning they will produce more electricity in hot weather. And your roof can get pretty darn hot in the summer!
How does Panasonic produce such a premium solar panel? Panasonic uses smaller solar cells than most other manufacturers, so they can jam 96 cells in a single panel, as opposed to the more common 60 cells. With these smaller cells, they waste less precious space on the face of the solar panel, leading to more production. And these smaller cells are also less prone to wear and damage than the larger solar cells that most solar panels use, leading to greater energy production years down the road.
These premium components allow Panasonic to offer a 25-year parts guarantee as well as an incredible 90.76% guaranteed production after 25 years – much higher than Trina Solar panels that are mentioned above. Learn more about Panasonic solar panels in our in-depth Panasonic solar panel review.
Mission Solar – Best US-Made Solar Panel
You may not have heard of Mission Solar, but they’re an American company on the rise. In 2018, they were set to double their manufacturing capacity to 400 MW, possibly making them the 4th largest solar panel manufacturer in the US.
Mission Solar is based in San Antonio, Texas, and unlike some US-based soolar panel manufacturers that import raw materials (like silicon) from overseas and simply finish the process in the US, Mission Solar designs, engineers, and assembles all its solar panels in a single factory in San Antonio. It doesn’t get more American-made than that (though ironically the company itself is actually owned by a Korean conglomerate).
Mission Solar makes some surprisingly good solar panels – both for residential and commercial installations – at surprisingly reasonable prices. Their company doesn’t focus on ultra-efficient, ultra-expensive panels like fellow American manufacturer Sunpower. Instead, they make quality ‘standard’ efficiency panels that are a home-grown alternative to the ubiquitous Chinese imports of similar quality.
Their 60-cell residential solar panel enjoys 18.9% efficiency and produces up to 315W of energy.
Their solar panels come with a 12-year product warranty and an 80.2% 25-year production guarantee, both better than Trina Solar, our pick for the best overall solar panel.
The only issue with Mission Solar is their size. As they’re still a relatively small company, it might be hard to find a local installer that actually carries their products. Your best bet is to call a few local installers to see if they can order them.
How To Get The Most Out Of Your Solar Panels
Although this article is mostly about installing solar panels, we would also like to share a few tips that will help you get the most out of whichever brand or style you choose.
1. Staying On The Grid
When you think of going solar you may only be thinking of saving money, but did you know that in some circumstances you can earn money with your home solar system? Many electric companies will allow you to connect your solar system to the main grid so that if your system produces more electricity than you need, the company can credit you the difference. If this is something you’re interested in, be sure to ask your installer about getting a grid-tied system. They will know whether this option is available in your area.
2. Cleanliness = Higher Efficiency!
If you have been researching solar for a while you probably already know this, but if you’re new to the game this is an extremely important tip: Keep your solar panels clean! As we mentioned, these panels are designed to be out in all kinds of weather, so dust and dirt shouldn’t damage them. That being said, it can make them less efficient. Any kind of build-up on the front of the panel can block sunlight which means your panels won’t be able to absorb as much light. Be sure to clean your panels with a gentle detergent and soft cloth so that you don’t inadvertently scratch the surface.
3. Listen To Your Installer
You’re probably tired of hearing this, but if you truly want to get the most out of your panels you should listen to your installer. You may think you have the perfect spot for your solar system, but there are a lot of details you may not have considered. The best way to place and angle your panels will differ depending on where you live. The pros will know just how to place the panels to ensure that they function at peak efficiency.
See if solar panels are right for your home by visiting UnderstandSolarPower.com or entering your zip code below and connecting with an installer that can answer all of the questions you have about switching to solar today.