Solar panel can use different technologies but, generally, convert sunlight into clean energy that’s great for sustainability, and after a while, your wallet. With that fact in mind, you’re probably wondering how you can harness some of that energy for yourself. The answer, of course, are solar panels.
The sun comes up every day, producing more energy than the Earth can sustainably use. In fact, the amount of sunlight that hits our planet’s surface in less than two hours is enough to handle the world’s energy usage for a year.
Solar panel specifications vary widely, from high-performance options to high-efficiency solutions. Here are some of the best solar panels available for your consideration.
Solar Panel Efficiency
If you want to understand solar panel efficiency, it’s helpful to know the basics of how harnessing solar energy works. According to the Department of Energy, solar technologies capture the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun. From there, they turn that radiation into useful forms of energy.
Solar panel efficiency is the measure of a panel’s ability to convert sunlight into electricity. To simplify it, the more efficient a panel, the more energy you’ll get from it being in the sunlight for a specific amount of time.
Today, most solar panels are between 15% and 20% efficient, meaning how much electricity they can convert to solar energy in a given timeframe. Generally, solar panel efficiency is calculated by how much electricity is produced in a panel’s solar cells. A number of things can influence this — including configuration, components, and cell composition.
Solar panels aren’t going to be the best option for everyone; they come with downsides like cost and questions of efficiency in certain climates — if you live in a cold climate, your solar efficiency will naturally be much lower. You may want to consider alternatives to solar that produce more energy and are more cost effective.
Best Solar Panel Brands
Various manufacturers produce solar panels. The solar industry is a crowded one, with a range of different panel makers based in different parts of the globe. Some manufacturers also produce consumer electronics, while others focus solely on solar technology. Either way, these 11 companies make the best solar panels on the market.
- Features: High-efficiency solar panels, long-lasting
- Pricing: $1.52 per watt
Sunpower is a San Jose-based company that produces high-performance solar panels and energy storage solutions. They’re widely known as a leader in terms of solar power efficiency, and they offer a leading 25-year manufacturer warranty. Additionally, Sunpower’s lineup includes a range of affordable options, as well as higher-performance solar panels for both residential and commercial use.
- Features: Self-cleaning glass, tolerant of high temperatures, great low-light performance
- Pricing: $2.73 to $3.19 per watt
Canadian Solar initially started as a project to bring low-cost solar lighting systems to rural regions in China. Since then, Canadian Solar has grown to become one of the most well-known solar panel manufacturers. Their solar panels are known for their reliability and are reasonably priced, but, compared to the competition, the company itself is often slower to adopt newer technologies.
- Features: Personalized service, partnership with Tesla
- Pricing: $2.67 to $3.43 per watt
Sunrun is a company that focuses on offering custom-designed solar arrays and energy storage solutions installed by their fleet of technicians. Their service area covers 22 states and territories in the U.S., and they offer high-efficiency monocrystalline panels from top suppliers in the industry. If you need help with solar power design or installations, Sunrun is a good choice. They’re also partnered with Tesla, so you can get the company to install a Tesla Powerwall along with your panels of choice.
- Features: Uses less expensive Cadmium Telluride thin-film solar panels
Compared to other solar companies, First Solar primarily focuses on Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) thin film solar panels. Compared to polycrystalline or monocrystalline panels, these thin film panels are often cheaper to produce and work better in lower-light and humid conditions. Initially restricted to a combination of larger-scale commercial and enterprise products, First Solar has since made its solar panels available to a wider market.
- Features: Affordability, innovative technology
- Pricing: $2.48 to $3.16 per watt
Trina Solar is a vertically integrated solar panel maker that’s known for manufacturing affordable and reliable panels that can fit a slew of use cases. In more recent years, the manufacturer has become known for innovation, including a new range of solar panels that sport the latest and greatest in solar efficiency and cell technology. That means that the company’s panels can rival even premium manufacturers, though at a lower price point.
- Features: Heteroinjuction technology, high efficiency
- Pricing: Starts at $0.95 per watt
Panasonic is mostly known for being a consumer electronics manufacturer, but is quickly becoming a popular choice among solar customers. Their solar solutions feature what’s called heteroinjuction technology, which brings high panel efficiency and low temperature coefficient. In other words, you’re looking at higher electricity production with these panels.
- Features: High power output, enhanced performance warranties
- Pricing: $2.78 to $3.60 per watt
Like Panasonic, LG is a consumer electronics manufacturer that also makes solar panels. LG solar panels often rank highly in reviews of solar technology solutions, and are some of the best options available to consumers. However, LG solar panels do tend to cost more than other affordable options out there, so potential customers should weigh the high efficiency of LG’s panels against their price points.
- Features: North American-produced solar panels, high-precision manufacturing
- Pricing: $2.85 to $3.05 per watt
Silfab is a Canadian company that offers both monocrystalline and bifacial solar panels globally. It also happens to be one of the few solar panel brands that manufactures its panels solely in North America. They’re a popular solution because of their panel’s high efficiency and density. Better yet, their panels also come with a unbeaten 30-year warranty alongside a recently increased performance guarantee.
- Features: Aesthetically pleasing, high-performance panels
- Pricing: $2.32 to $3.08 per watt
Q Cells, based in Germany, is one of the biggest solar panel manufacturers in the world. The company’s panels are known for their aesthetically pleasing design and performance, making Q Cells a popular choice for those shopping around for solar panels. More so than other brands, Q Cells also offers an excellent price-to-performance ratio, making them a reasonably priced solution.
- Features: Made in America, more efficient Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell tech
- Pricing: $2.33 to $2.91 per watt
Mission Solar is a new brand in the solar panel industry, but this Texas-based firm is quickly making waves. They’re known for manufacturing their solar panels in the United States, but still offer panels that are competitively priced — especially considering the higher cost of products manufactured in the U.S. Mission Solar’s panels use a technology known as Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC), which is known for being more efficient than monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels.
- Features: Excellent prices, industry-standard warranties
- Pricing: $0.13 to $0.20 per watt
Loom Solar is a solar panel manufacturing startup based in India. They offer a variety of all-black silicon panels that happen to be aggressively priced. All of their panels come with a 10-year warranty on manufacturing defects and an industry-standard 25-year performance warranty. In addition to panels for the residential and commercial markets, Loom Solar also makes panels aimed at off-grid use cases.
The Best Solar Panels Cost Vs Value
The best solar panels for your unique situation will come down to your budget, energy requirements, and other factors. Other considerations include accounting for efficiency, warranty, and reliability.
Many of the solar panel manufacturers mentioned above rank highly in lists of the best solar panels. LG, for example, is known for making some of the best overall, while SunPower makes the most efficient panels.
It’s important to do some math before you spend any money on a solar solution. For example, you should take a look at your electric bill, figure out how much sunlight your home gets a year, and estimate the costs of a residential solar panel installation.
Whether you go for a high-efficiency solar panel or a more affordable solution should be dependent on your unique calculations. Of course, it’s also a good idea to look for government incentives before looking at the best solar panels for your situation. You can also seek the advice of professionals to help calculate the cost.
Cons of Solar Panels
Solar panels aren’t going to be the best option for everyone; they come with downsides like cost and questions of efficiency in certain climates — if you live in a cold climate, your solar efficiency will naturally be much lower.
A solar panel setup generally requires a large upfront cost, and it will take some time before you see a return on your investment. You’ll also need to consider how much space solar panels can take up, and how you might need a new roof. Those are all factors that can make solar panels unaffordable, even over the long term.
Another thing to consider is some of the environmental impacts of solar. For example, solar panels can contain toxic chemicals. Solar panels naturally deteriorate over time, and when they’re eventually thrown out, those toxic compounds could leech into the environment.
Of course, the new revolutionary turbine systems from Alternative Sustainability that leverage the power of airflow to generate electricity could be better options. For many single-family homes, the ECap Rack will generate even more power than solar panels, take up less space and use no gas, no steam, and no fumes.
However, in a hot climate with plenty of sun, solar panels can be a good choice. It’s up to you to determine the cost and value of installing solar panels and decide whether it will offer a good return on your investment.
From there, you can take another look at the best panels and figure out which option will be the best fit for your circumstances.
The Best Alternative to Solar Panels
One of the best alternatives to solar panels is already on the market. The ECap Rack by Alternative Sustainability is a groundbreaking product that can be easily installed in existing buildings system to generate renewable power using the general same principles as wind energy.
The ECap Rack is a much cheaper option than solar panel systems, and it lets you get a quicker return on your investment. Let’s go over some of the benefits of an ECap Rack and compare them to traditional solar panels.
ECap Racks vs Solar Panels
On average, the purchase and installation of a solar energy solution can cost between $15,000 and $25,000 on average. This is assuming that you have a newer roof to install it on. If you don’t, then you’ll need to pay for the proper roofing to support solar panel installation. As you can imagine, that can very quickly drive up the price to an unrealistic margin.
The ECap Rack, on the other hand, costs under $20,000 for a residential model. More than that, it can provide much more energy and doesn’t require any major retrofitting of your home’s roof.
Additionally, homeowners who install this innovative product from Alternative Sustainability can expect to see a return-on-investment within three to five years. If you go with solar panels, you probably won’t own your home long enough to see a return!
Speaking of energy production, the ECap Rack is also much more efficient. Solar panels typically get a conversion rate – or the rate at which they generate electricity from solar energy – of 22% in the most ideal conditions. Also note that most homeowners don’t live in “ideal” conditions for solar panels. The ECap Rack generates 3 kW per day, 365 days a year, and it doesn’t matter how much sun your location gets.
For comparison, a single solar panel can produce up to 300 watts of energy. A single ECap Rack can produce 3,000 watts of energy. By the end of the rack, the Alternative Sustainability product will produce 26,280 kWh a year. Solar panels will produce 6,570 kWh.
In addition, ECap Rack systems are also space-saving. The ECap Rack takes up about 7.5 square feet of floor space. To get to 3,000 watts, you would need 10 solar panels, which would require 195 square feet of roof space.
Also, since solar panels are on your roof, they’re subject to the elements and could possibly be damaged by weather.