“What are the best solar panels for you?” That’s a great question, but hopefully you won’t take offense if I say “I think you’re asking the wrong question”.
Yes, I know, the on-line review mania that has swept the world since the Internet’s arrival has made finding the very best products a kind of sport. And I am 100% on board with that as I love to research potential purchases in depth. And in fact, I’m a lifelong supporter of the grand-daddy of the review mania, Consumer Reports.
So why do I say you’re asking the wrong question? Because I believe the right question you should be asking is “Who Is The Best Installer For Me?”.
Why is “Who Is The Best Installer” a better question than “What Are The Best Solar Panels”? Because while there are many good panels to choose from there are a limited number of good installers and worse, picking a good panel doesn’t protect you from a bad system.
And if you think about it, that makes total sense. For example, if you are redoing a kitchen and want granite as your countertop the importance of the granite you choose is far less important than the supplier and installer you choose. I know that is self-serving since we focus on being a great installer, but we also truly believe it is the right question.
But that said, once you have a good installer to work with how do you choose between panels that they offer (assuming the installer offers options)? Well, in that case, I’d assert it’s all about your available space and your goals and objectives for power production, the look, and how you value different warranties.
The reasoning for that is once you have a quality “bankable” set of panel options to choose from the difference is generally “power density”, “degradation rate” and warranty. (By bankable, I mean a manufacturer that has an established track record such that a bank would be willing to loan money to you to buy.) A brand name matters too of course, but as we all know that can sometimes be of limited value if there is no other indicator – such as warranty – to distinguish a particular option.
For definitions, Power Density is how many watts of power your panels will have per square foot while the Degradation Rate is the rate at which that panel will lose power per square foot over time. In short, a 20-year-old panel will produce less power than it did when it was new. And last, while all bankable panels will have a warranty, the coverage they provide can differ. In particular, some warranties will provide a replacement in case of failure, but others will also pay an installer to do the actual replacement.
So why does available space loom so large? Because if you’ve got lots of space you don’t necessarily need a panel that has a high power density. It isn’t totally that simple of course, but that’s why a quality installer – someone like us of course – will take the time to help you understand all the options.
And one final word of caution. When you look at a panel’s wattage you may not be looking at its power density because panels come in all lots of different sizes. Some are taller, some are wider, and some are both taller AND wider. So the “nameplate” wattage may not tell you a whole lot if you don’t also compare their sizes. So again, pay close attention to your solar consultant – whether they sit down with you at the kitchen table to discuss options, your boardroom, or even just over the phone because if they are good, they will make sure you understand all your best solar panels choices.
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