Solar Panel Price
The first consideration for most people is the cost of solar panels. Here, the market neatly segments into 3 different categories, with comparatively little to choose between modules in each category.
Cheap solar panels
Cheap solar panels are crystalline silicon modules of standard efficiency of about 16%. They tend to be used for commercial and community projects where the lower price is needed to make the economic case for investment. They are also used for residential projects where the customer looking to minimise costs.
This segment of the market is dominated by Chinese manufacturers, who now make more than ½ of all modules worldwide. Most of this is of very good quality, but it’s fair to say the phrase “Chinese manufactured” does carry some preconceptions. There are some very cheap, poor quality Chinese manufactured solar panels out there, so we need to be careful. That’s why we choose our brands very carefully, as we explain below.
High efficiency solar panels
At the more expensive end of the market are high-efficiency modules, which can reach conversion efficiencies of 22%+. These are technically more advanced products, and come with a cost premium. However, they are an excellent choice for customers who want to purchase the latest, most high tech product. We are increasingly seeing customers wanting to generate as much electricity as possible from their rooftop, especially when they are looking to power an electric car as well as their household loads.
We also use them a lot for small rooftops as the economics are better. Where a lot of the cost of the system is getting up to the rooftop (e.g. scaffolding), it’s better to put in a higher efficiency, higher capacity system once we’re up there.
We’ve blogged in more detail about high efficiency panels here.
The middle ground
The intermediate price band is characterised as standard efficiency modules, made by European or Japanese manufacturers. We are not seeing a lot of demand in this segment, as they are technically similar to the cheap solar panels but at higher cost. However, we can supply these if requested. Trusted major companies like Sharp are still making great product.
A word on thin-film products.
Those of you reading around may have come across a type of modules called thin film solar panels. These are not made of crystalline silicon but use a variety of other materials including cadmium telluride, copper indium diselenide or amorphous silicon. They have been proven to give more electricity under low light conditions in the UK (by our own Dr Chris Jardine, no less!) but overall they are less efficient than conventional modules. Because of their lower efficiency they are not really used worldwide, and certainly not on rooftop applications. So despite some appealing characteristics, they are a bit of a red-herring.