Solar Panel Efficiency Tiers

by Shawn | 9 Comments

To simplify solar efficiency further, we have divided all modules into 5 tiers based on their efficiency compared to all other solar panels. Now installers and consumers can easily communicate about module efficiency. Are the solar panels in the most efficient tier (Tier 1) or do they have average efficiency (Tier 3)? If modules are in the least efficient tier (Tier 5), let’s hope they’re cheaper than the modules in the above-average tier (Tier 2).

Solar panel efficiency tiers Explanation

You no longer have to worry about the 4-digit efficiency value and wonder what it means. If a module’s efficiency is 16% or greater, then it is Tier 1. Only about the top 5% of all panels land in this range. Tier 2 panels are 15% efficient or greater and consist of about the top 20% of all panels. The least efficient modules are in Tier 5, meaning their module efficiency is less than 13%. As of Nov 1, 2012, there are more than 10,000 modules eligible for California solar incentives. These tiers allow you to sort them into easily understandable classes of most efficient, and least efficient. How efficient are your solar panels? “Below average, but I got a good deal on them.” “The most efficient, because my roof space is limited.” “My panels have average efficiency and my installer did a great job!”

  • Lisa

    I am so confused!
    I am working with a solar installer who was initially going to put on Solarworld 245 panels (monocryst) and then was going to change them to kyocera 245 panels (polycryst). I didn’t like the look of the kyocera (they are blue and I like the black). So now they are offering Schuco MPE 260 MS 08. Should I go with that?

  • Chris

    Firstly let me echo what others have said regarding the value of this site and the clarity with which you have answered questions. I have gone through most of the discussion and have learnt a lot but the above question does still arise if you are not sure your installers are being perhaps as honest regarding projected power production as you would like. In the end their purpose is too sell you a system and I suspect (based on 2-3 quotes I have received so far)they are all a little optomistic. So being able to estimate as accurately as possible the power produced by specific panels would be useful. I guess you just use the PTC values of the panels concerned and go from there.

  • Chris

    Thanks very much. I am based in New Zealand so had to make some adjustments to the calculator for the southern hemisphere etc but still a useful guide. A common panel used here is Sunrise panels by Suntech. I have been trying to find out what their PTC value is but to no avail. Of course they are not listed in the selection for the California calculator hence my query on a more generic basis. Still the Californian calculator is helpful for more common solar panels.

  • Joe McArthy

    Please explain what you mean by efficiency. Space efficiency? Conversion efficiency?

    • Hello Joe, Efficiency here means ‘Module efficiency’ as opposed to ‘Area efficiency’ (or Density). You can read more about the different ways to measure solar efficiency here.

  • Carlton Lee

    13.13% to 14.88% is confusing!

    Why not make your example above reflect more clearly current real world conditions and change the charts as things progress.

    EG. Under 9% Tier 5. 10-12 Tier 4. 13-15 Tier 3. 16-19 high Tier 4. 20-22% and above Tier 1.

  • Robbie

    I hear different things about outright purchase ($60,000) for a net zero system…to $18,000-30,000 for a leased system. We are 70 years old…seems likely we will not benefit from an outright purchase in our remaining lifetime? What are considerations for our age group. Without a system, we are spending about %5500 per year on electrical energy, using about 40,000 kWh.