Solar Panel Prices & Comparison

Solar Panel Prices & Comparison

Choosing the right solar panels for your system and at the right price is not always an easy task, especially when most of us have limited knowledge of electrical engineering. The world of solar PV has a lot of hi-tech science involved however with a little research you can get informed enough to make the right decision.

There are literally thousands of solar panel brands and models available on the Australian market with over 10,000 individual panel models being approved for sale and installation. Sorting and comparing every piece of literature on all these panels is impossible, and to the average person the technical specification list for a solar panel is incomprehensible.

Solar Panel Tiers Explained

Manufacturers of solar panels are assigned a Tier rating system according to the quality of their products, the amount of investment they place into research and development, the efficiency and quality control of their manufacturing techniques as well as several other factors that effect the end product. There are 3 Tiers number 1 being the absolute top rated followed by Tiers 2 and 3. Some Tier 2 solar panels can do a reasonable job for the price however identifying these panels is difficult and in the realm of the solar PV expert, as for Tier 3 panels, stay well away don't even bother.

TIER 1
MANUFACTURERS
TIER 2
MANUFACTURERS
TIER 3
MANUFACTURERS
Top 2% of solar manufacturers Small to medium scale manufacturers Assemblers only - 90% of all new solar PV
  • Vertically integrated
  • Invests heavily in research & development
  • Advanced robotic processes
  • Manufacturing solar panels for longer than 5 years
  • No or little investment in research & development
  • Uses only partial robotics, reliant on labour from human production lines
  • Usually producing panels from 2-5 years
  • No investment in research & development
  • Assembly of panels only - doesn't manufacture silicon cells
  • Usually producing panels from 2-5 years
  • Uses human production lines for manual soldering of solar coils instead of advanced robots
  • Assembling panels for 1-2 years

Some of the solar panel manufacturers currently in the Tier 1 class are (with links): REC Solar, Panasonic, Conergy, Renesola, Canadian Solar, Suntech Power, Trina Solar, Sunpower, QCells, Daqo New Energy, BenQ, Bosch, SHARP , Yingli Solar , Phono Solar & JA Solar.

Purchasing any of the above well known brands is as good as it gets, with solar panels from these Tier 1 manufacturers your system should give you years of trouble free and optimal performance coupled with good product support if needed which is unlikely.

Then there are the Tier 2 and 3 solar panel manufacturers, these are generally smaller companies and many of them may not have been or will be around for long, and obviously their products are not top rated.

Tier 2 and especially Tier 3 solar panels should be avoided, don't let yourself be fooled by the false economy of buying and installing cheap solar panels because the logical truth is that cheap solar panels can be very expensive.

Solar Panel Warranty

Most solar panels sold in Australia will have 2 types of warranties attached to them, the first is referred to as a "performance" warranty" usually set for 25 years, now that may sound great however "performance" is a very VERY loose term so this type of warranty is pretty much trash.

A more honest and accountable warranty is the manufacturers warranty of which should be good for at least 10 years, make sure you don't get the two confused and never buy solar panels that do not have a manufacturers warranty.

Solar Panel Efficiency

The efficiency of a solar panel relates to the output to surface area ratio, the higher the efficiency the less area is needed so less panels, if space is a factor for you then this will be more relevant. Generally anything with a minimum efficiency rating of 15% will be sufficient.

Power Tolerance

Solar panels are given a Wattage size according to output, this output can vary a little so the rating will usually specify this, for example a 100W solar panel may have a power tolerance of +/-10% so the actual Wattage could be between 90W and 110W, a good quality solar panel should only have a positive "+" power tolerance meaning that the power will never drop below the specified wattage, a 100W+10% panel will never drop below 100W.

Panel Performance Ratio

Easily the most critical and important statistic of a solar panel to look out for is its performance ratio.

The performance ratio is the actual percentage of maximum power that can be generated by a solar panel relative to the manufacturer's claimed output specification. A solar panel with a 100W manufacturers rating with a performance ratio of 90% will realistically produce 90Watts.

The panels you want to use should have a performance ration of at least 90% to be any good, anything over that is a bonus.

Temperature Coefficient

Solar panels are designed to be exposed to some very strong sunlight, that's what they do however with sunlight also comes heat and too much heat is the enemy of solar panels.

The more heat that builds up within the panel matrix the less electricity is produced, this is somehow ironic as one would think that a solar panel by its very nature would have no problems with heat, not so.

A temperature coefficient measures how much output is reduced with every degree the temperate of the panel rises, for example a temperature coefficient of -0.5% per °C means a 20°C rise in temperature will see a 10% output loss and so on.

This specification is a little bit of a gray area as most manufacturers tend to lean towards the favorable numbers when performing tests, in other words these figures can be a little rubbery. The performance ratio is a more reliable specification less easier to fudge.

2016 Tier-1 Solar Panel Price Snapshot

Listed below are some examples of Tier 1 solar panel prices, the information was taken from random solar businesses in Australia between April and May this year 2015.

All prices are retail ex GST.

ManufacturerModel & TypeSizeAVG Price
REC REC260PE-SLV (MC4)
Polycrystalline
260W $370
Trina TSM-255-PC05A
Polycrystalline
255W $290-$350
Daqo DQ250PSC-BLK 35mm
Polycrystalline
250W $260-$320
Yingli YL250P-29b
Polycrystalline
250W $320-$380
BenQ PM318B01
Monocrystalline
327W $625-$740
SolarFrontier SF150-L
Thin Film
150W $205-$220
BenQ PM318B01 (MC4)
Monocrystalline
327W $730-$760