Picking Panels: How to Choose the Best Equipment for Going Solar

There are multiple factors and choices to weigh when selecting photovoltaic panels for your roof or property.

The first is the easiest: whether your property is commercial or residential. If it is commercial, you’ll probably want the bigger 72-cell panels, which are designed for functionality rather than looks—especially if you have a large, flat-roofed building, like a warehouse. (Some smaller businesses with pitch-roof buildings, that said, may want to choose residential-style panels for the sake of appearance.) Panels for residential buildings are about 17% smaller, at 60 standard cells, and are designed to be aesthetically pleasing. There are even solar shingles now in case you’re willing to trade some energy efficiency for looks. In answer to your next question: All brands manufacture both residential and commercial solar panels.

Now for the other serious issues—efficiency, functional degradation over time, reliability, supplier stability, and of course price. Luckily, you have a guide, though the guide contains so much info it can be a little bewildering at first. Bloomberg releases a quarterly list of top panels based on various factors like efficiency, degradation and more.

Let’s start with supplier stability. Since solar panels normally come with a 25-year warranty, you want to be as sure as possible that the supplier will be around for that quarter-century. Bloomberg rates supplier companies in tiers, Tier 1 signifying strong confidence that the company will outlast that warranty. This tier rating must be newly earned every quarter and is calculated on a mix of short- and longer-term data about the company. Contrary to what some prospective customers have expressed to us here at Universal Solar, a supplier’s tier rating says nothing directly about quality of the panels it manufactures. However, a supplier of lower-quality panels is less likely to survive and prosper in the long term; it’s no coincidence that Tier 1 suppliers always offer high-quality panels.

It’s interesting to note that some world-famous and very well-established electronics companies like Panasonic and LG that make solar panels as one division of their business don’t consistently remain on Tier 1. That often has to do with other product lines and markets, since it is the company as a whole that’s being evaluated, not its PV panels. As with almost all consumer products, brand affects price, and you can expect to pay more for the big brands. But take a tip from us—we only install Tier 1 products, and we know from experience that some less-well-known Tier 1 suppliers like JA Solar or Trina turn out panels just as good as, or even better than, panels from the big-name companies.

Something we get asked a lot is whether Tesla solar panels are the best. But Tesla does not actually make their own panels. Back in 2016 they merged with a well-known installer called SolarCity, which doesn’t make its own panels either, purchasing them mainly from Panasonic—which are of very high quality. Now Tesla has a joint manufacturing plant, Gigafactory 2, located in Buffalo, NY, where Panasonic has started making panels for SolarCity. So, Tesla-branded panels manufactured by Panasonic and installed by third-party subcontractors, not directly by SolarCity or Tesla employees, is what you would get from Tesla, whose ratings for post-installation care and service are abysmal. In the DFW area or in Austin, like almost anywhere else, you’re better off finding a well-reviewed, high-rated local installer.

Beyond brand and price, panel efficiency is the number 1 consideration. Today, an efficiency rating of between 19 and 20 per cent is considered good quality. The best panels available to consumers, using the latest technology, reach efficiencies of 22% and higher under standard testing conditions. These conditions evaluate how much electricity the panel can produce at a temperature of 25°C (77°F) with 1,000 watts of light per square meter hitting the device. That’s equivalent to a cool sunny day with a solar panel tilted at 30° and facing south. But of course, these conditions don’t apply consistently. Among the external factors that can affect panel efficiency in everyday practice are shade (including heavy cloud cover), ambient air temperature (panels perform less well at higher temperatures) and minor damage or dirt (which can create “hot spots’ of raised temperature and lowered efficiency).

There are other factors to consider in cost/efficiency/panel properties trade-offs. For example, if your roof’s square footage is not large enough to hold the number of standard-price, standard-quality panels you need to meet your electricity supply goal, consider going to more expensive, higher-efficiency panels—or the newly efficient double-sided panels, which will collect more sunshine than single-sided ones flat on the roof) and see if that can make enough of a difference. Similarly, if you property is located in a very warm area, think about panels that are especially heat-resistant (and avoid black background in the panels because, while they look nice, they absorb more heat than blue ones). And there’s always more to learn about solar panels, because new ways to make them cheaper and more efficient keep on coming. It can be a bit dizzying at times.

The good news from all this? You won’t be buying panels directly but from an installer like Universal Solar Systems. As a solar installer, like most others, we buy solar panels and offer them to our customers based on the following four considerations:

  • Tier rating – Universal Solar always uses only Tier 1 products.
  • Esthetics – Residential customers especially are always concerned about how panels will look on their rooftops, so we bear that in mind when ordering in bulk.
  • Pricing – USS has the best pricing for our customers. We purchase from suppliers in large volumes and so we can afford to offer competitive prices.
  • Availability – This is a huge factor, as the panels must be shipped from various countries or other parts of the US.

Beyond choosing panels, taking care when selecting the right solar installer like Universal Solar Systems, even in a solar-friendly town like Austin, Texas, is very important for the following reasons:

  • We carefully screen products for the best combinations of pricing, availability, and esthetics.
  • We are a stable company and local to our customers, so we are always available for post- installation services.
  • We do all sizes of projects: residential, commercial, or solar farms.
  • We believe in educating customers so they can make informed choices while going solar.
  • We have wide variety of brands, panels, and peripherals to offer customers if they have personal preferences regarding esthetics, efficiency, or other factors.
  • We are extremely knowledgeable about the solar business, and we have an experienced team of professionals that can handle any challenges we may encounter with any project. (We’re proud to say that we do all our own installations—no third parties.)
  • We believe deeply in our mission of helping Texas and rest of the world go green, and we work tirelessly towards it.

So, if your property is in or around Plano, Austin, or Dallas-Fort Worth, and you’re thinking seriously about going solar, but you’re feeling a bit intimidated by the complexities of picking solar panels, get in touch. Our professionals can help you through the maze to your destination—a solar installation customized to your needs and optimized for durability, price, and looks.