The Solar Panels Don’t Matter!

by Shawn | 10 Comments

Solar Panel Brand LogosStop searching for the ‘best’ or ‘most efficient’ solar panels. Stop trying to compare brands. The solar panels don’t matter. Obviously they matter in terms of the solar pv system as a whole, but which panels you use, isn’t important. Let me explain.

1.  All solar panels are warrantied for 20-25 years, which means the manufacturer guarantees the panels will still be producing at least 80% output 25 years from now. It’s the same for all brands. Don’t believe me? Ask the guy selling them.

2.  It’s all electricity from the Sun. That’s it. Electricity is electricity. One brand won’t give you better ‘quality’ electricity than the next. All solar electricity is a step up from electricity from fossil fuels, which is dirty electricity, right? But some panels give you more electricity than the next. Of course, but…

3.  Don’t confuse efficiency with output. Efficiency is just that: how much it produces per area. If your roof space (or ground space) is limited, then, sure efficiency is important. But you don’t have to worry about it. Your installer will only offer you panels that fit in your installation area (ie roof). So, they’ll pick the ones as efficient as they need to be. But you want the ‘best’ or ‘most efficient’? Okay, but your bragging rights will cost you $1,000’s more and only last until the newest ‘most efficient’ panels beat yours by 0.01%.

So if panels don’t matter, what does?

Installing solar matters! You getting your electricity from the Sun, as opposed to a non-renewable energy source, is the best thing you can do for the future of humanity right now. We need energy. It’s the currency of our progress as humans. But that stuff in the ground is going to run out a few billion years before that thing in the sky.

Money matters. Not to you? Fine, not to me either, so how about time? Well time is money. So don’t waste either. Get the solar pv system with the best value!

Value matters. It’s as simple as: Total Cost ($) ÷ First year output (kWh). Good value (lower cost per output) means you’re getting the most bang for your buck (literally, the most electricity for your money).

If you really want to know, here are the 5 questions to ask solar installers. But, really there are only two questions you need to ask:

1. “How many kilowatt-hours will the system produce the first year?”

2. “How much does it cost (parts, labor, rebates – everything)?”

That’s it. Nothing about the solar panels. Nothing about brand, efficiency, or where the panels were made. Just get the system with the best value. Want to calculate value? Let me help: Simple Solar Value Calculator.

  • I think there’s another big factor to consider. You say “All solar panels are warrantied for 20-25 years”, but how many of these solar company would actually stay in business for that long, now that solar companies are going bankrupt left and right. In your opinion, what are the top 5 most stable solar companies?

    • Hello Eddie, There’s a good 3-part article on solar warranties at Warranty The short answer is that solar companies have warranty reserve funds available in the case that warranties need to be paid. In the event of a bankruptcy, a large solar company will likely be bought by another (for the technology, and/or factory capabilities), and the purchasing company will then likely be responsible for the warranties of the company that went under. You can read about specific solar companies in the article linked above.

  • Personally I don’t think all solar panels are equal. Yes for most people cost is the number one factor and that should be the case. Additionally though I would prefer to buy solar panels that are made here in the United States from a company that has high environmental standards. SolarWorld tops the solar scorecard with 91 out of 100:

  • I have to agree with the article. As an installer of solar panels, it really doesn’t matter. Jason has some points that you might want to consider if you want to “feel good” about who you are purchasing, but again you may be adding thousands of dollars just to “feel Good”.

    For the most part, the differences between panels are negligible. What really matters is the quality of the install and (author might disagree with this, but…) the inverters. I think the inverters are far more important than the panels.

    A panel is a panel (more or less), it takes sun power and turns it into electricity. Sure, you might not want to buy a panel from Joe Shmo that is making some in his basement out of cardboard, but if you are buying from any of the main companies, it really doesn’t matter.

  • Zac

    How important are the inverters? single or micro. How much does that matter and what does it really mean to the home owner?

  • Frank

    Hi Shawn,
    I am finding that your ratings on the comparison table are not consistent with the manufacturer’s data sheets. I have, for example looked at two panels; Canadian Solar cs6p-250P and Solar World SW 255m. In both cases, the PTV output on the data sheets conflict with your PTV output for those panels. Your table indicates the PTV for the CS panel is 227.6w and only 221w for the SW 255m. The company data sheets suggest that the CS panel output is only 180w and the SW panel is 184w. Who should I consider to be more accurate, your table or the data sheets? Thanks for any help on this.

    • Sorry to hear that there is some confusion for you. So, the PTC ratings (that you found on my site) are not the same as the NOCT ratings (which you found on the data sheets). Essentially, you’re comparing two different ratings.

      If you look on the Canadian Solar data sheets (on the left-hand side of the front sheet) you will see “High PTC rating” and “up to 91.04%”. If you take the panel rating of 250 and multiply it times the PTC % of 91.04, you will get the 227.6 PTC rating that you found on my site.

      Hope that helps!

  • The spirit of this essay is pretty solid. And it is a common refrain that PV modules are affordable enough at this point so that it is a simple matter to add another array or two in order to ensure meeting the total power requirement.

    However, not all applications are equal. Physical size DOES matter. Tactical military teams cannot carry large PV modules with them. Mobile food trucks have a limited footprint. And so on. Just a reminder that not every user application is a house resident looking to put arrays on their roof.

    For maximum inertia away from a fossil fuel economy to something sustainable, it is useful to consider a holistic view on the spectrum of PV and renewable energy applications.

    • Jeff, you are absolutely correct. You make a very fair point. I’ve made a conscious decision to focus on the residential perspective and to simplify matters for homeowners. But I agree with you wholeheartedly that a broader movement away from a fossil fuel economy towards a sustainable one is necessary.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • Gerald Johnson

    Agree. What’s more important is who/what company you choose to install your panels. You want to work with a good team that is going to help you get the most out of your solar energy.