If you are looking for the best solar panels for your home in 2020 then the lowest priced solar panels on the market may be the logical option. However, 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 reasons 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 reviewed the best solar panel companies in 2020 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.
Top 5 Best Solar Panels for 2020
- Trina Solar Panels – Best Solar Panel Overall
- Sunpower Solar Panels – Most Environmentally Friendly Solar Panel
- Canadian Solar Panels – Best Solar Panel for Inclement Weather
- Panasonic Solar Panels – Best Premium Solar Panel
- Mission Solar Panels – Best US-Made Solar Panel
Find out which solar panels are right for your home and how much you can save by going solar.
Enter your zip code below or go to UnderstandSolarPower.com to learn how to find the best solar panels for your specific type of home plus get a free cost estimate, and more information about how to go solar. *Note that if you are looking for a smaller system that you can install yourself then check out these solar panel kits or the best solar generators for emergency power.
Before we get into the details of each of the solar panel companies on our list we should discuss efficiency… Many homeowners wonder whether the best solar panels for their home are the most efficient solar panels. But here is a question for you: Are you looking for the top rated solar panels on the market, from a technical standpoint, or the ones that will be the most cost effective and still meet your needs?
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, typically at shocking prices. We all have friends that need the latest $1,000 iPhone (maybe you are that friend), but most of us are happy to have a smartphone that’s a model or two away from new. Think iPhone 8 instead of X. For most of us, these somewhat dated phones strike a balance between performance and cost.
Solar panels are no different. Sure, there is the “best solar panel” on the market. The one that is in the news for breaking records for efficiency or production. But then there are the options most of us have. Those that aren’t quite as fast or don’t have the extra fancy bits, but strike a good value and meet our needs. On top of that, a phone is just a phone. You use it, it depreciates and breaks, then you get a new one. Solar installations though are an investment. And because of that, finding the solar panels that are best for your house, ie those with the greatest cost-effectiveness, becomes even more important.
You might think that a higher efficiency solar panel makes more financial sense. After all, each panel can produce more electricity than a standard panel, so you will need less to produce the same amount of electricity. However, most of the time the cost savings don’t justify the higher cost of the panels and it will take longer to see a return on your investment. In certain situations, premium high-efficiency solar panels might make sense though. If your roof is very small or constrained and you don’t have the space to install enough panels, choosing a high-efficiency option would allow you to produce more electricity. Alternately, if you’re that friend who needs to buy the latest iPhone the day it comes out, you might get a kick out of watching your premium panels pump out vast amounts of electricity. Just don’t expect it to be the best financial decision.
The best solar panels balance quality and cost.
For most applications, 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% efficient. 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 2017 report, NREL noted that most nation-wide 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.
With all of that in mind read on to learn more about each of the companies on our list of the best solar panels for home use in 2020 to find the perfect option for your home.
Trina Solar Panels – 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 – both in line with other solar panels of similar cost.
Sunpower Solar Panels – 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 and via a renewable energy source?
While that is all true, the materials used in solar panels aren’t renewable. They use glass, aluminum, silicon, copper, and rare earth metals to convert sunlight to electricity. And while today’s solar panels are generally expected to last 25+ years, the forward-thinking in the industry are already discussing the issue of how to properly dispose of the millions of solar panel 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% efficient, 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 less 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 this adds up though, and 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 to us. 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 cancelled out by its parent company’s business.
Canadian Solar Panels – Best Solar Panel for Inclement Weather
If you are looking for solar panels that can handle some serious weather, but don’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 the next couple of 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 it. 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 step, 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 Solar Panels – 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 better 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 though, 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 340 watts per panel, compared to a standard solar panel’s 275 or so watts.
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.
Mission Solar – Best US-Made Solar Panel
You might 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 solar 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. They 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 315 watts 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 Important Is Solar Panel Efficiency?
When you’re trying to decide what the best solar panel is, you might be tempted to focus on panel efficiency as your yard stick. It’s certainly one of the most important factors to judge a solar panel’s worth, but it shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all.
Efficiency is simply the percentage of all the sunlight that hits the solar panel that it can convert into electricity. For most decent solar panels, efficiency typically falls between 16% and 23%.
That might not sound like a huge difference, but consider this: Sunpower produces the most efficient solar panels on the market today. Their X-Series solar panels see an incredible 22.8% efficiency. Trina Solar, on the other hand, produces solar panels with around 18% efficiency – a much more standard offering.
The higher the efficiency, the more electricity a solar panel can produce. Do the math and you’ll see that the X-Series panels actually will produce about 27% more electricity than Trina’s panels.
You might think, “Okay, Sunpower panels are the best”, but it’s not that easy. Obviously the more energy you produce, the more money you can save, but there’s a catch. Many ultra-efficient solar panels are also ultra-high priced. Sure, you’re producing almost 30% more energy, but are you really saving money if you spent twice as much on those high-efficiency solar panels?
Most homeowners are looking to save money when installing solar, so ‘best solar panels’ really means ‘most cost-effective’ solar panels.
And to find the most cost-effective solar panels, you need to assess both efficiency and cost. A helpful metric for this is solar panels’ dollar per watt (or $/w) cost, which takes into account both the wattage of the solar panel (of which efficiency is the most important contributor) as well as its price. For example, let’s compare a couple of fictitious solar panels:
- Standard option: 275 watts, $190 ($0.69/watt)
- High-efficiency option: 320 watts, $385 ($1.20/watt)
You can see in our little example here that the high-efficiency option above produces 16% more electricity that the standard option, but it’s almost twice as expensive. Even with the higher production, it would take you a much longer time to recoup that initial investment – probably too long to make it worthwhile.
Of course, $/watt only takes into account wattage and price. There are instances where other factors are more important and high-efficiency solar panels might make sense. For example, if you want a best-in-class warranty, high-efficiency options are going to be your best bet. Or if you have very limited roof space and can’t install many panels, higher-efficiency options would allow you to eke as much electricity as possible from that small space.
Dollar per watt cost is a great metric to compare a wide-range of solar panel sizes and qualities. And most of us will find that the most cost-effective solar panels are ‘standard’ efficiency options.
Talk to an Installer Before You Buy
All of this information is nice to know, but now let’s put it to use. 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 panel outright. Instead, most installers have a handful of solar panels for customers to choose from. Aesthetics, price, and efficiency all play into what solar panel to purchase. 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 call your installer for an estimate, 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 solar panel.
Remember that reputable solar panel installers should be there to help you get with solar as cost-effectively as possible. They know the industry and will be a valuable resource as you explore getting your property setup for solar power. They might recommend one of the solar panels that we reviewed above, or they might have other recommendations. Either way, just remember your solar installation is an investment. Remember, the best solar panels may not always be about efficiency or price, they are usually about cost-effectiveness and the overall value that you will receive.
See if solar panels are right for your house 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 getting solar panels for your home today.