Are cheap solar panels the best choice?

It was once the case that if you were searching for the lowest costs per rated power, or in other words, pay as little as possible for a certain amount of electricity, you should investigate if thin-film solar panels could in fact be a better choice than Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline solar panels.

However, in the last few years the use of thin film solar cells in residential solar panel installations has fallen away to almost nothing. There are two reasons for this. Firstly some quality issues with thin film panels between the years of 2010 and 2013 hurt the reputation of thin film solar panels. Secondly, for most home owners space is an issue and so the larger footprint required for thin film panels is not attractive to most home owners. There are still a couple of well known thin film solar panel manufacturers, namely First Solar and Solar Frontier but these companies usually chase utility scale jobs where roof space is not such an issue.

So the when considering if cheap solar panels are the best choice for your solar installation the choice now is not usually one of technology but a choice of reputation. In comparing the reputation of different solar panel brands there are two things to consider:

  1. Do you think the manufacturing process of one solar panel manufacturer is such that it is less likely to produce solar panels that will have defects over the working life of the solar panel;
  2. If a defect occurs do you think this solar panels manufacturer will still be around and will they be likely to honor their warranty.

You will find in the market that there will be cheap brands of solar panels and more expensive premium brands of solar panels. Those installers that sell premium brands of solar panels will claim that the cheaper brands are inferior. I have heard all sorts of claims about how tier 2 and tier 3 panels are hand made (which is rubbish) and that generally they have inferior production quality. This may or may not be true and will vary for each second or third tier manufacturer.

It is also worth noting that most of the solar companies that claim to be tier 1 solar companies have very weak balance sheets and most of them do not currently make any significant corporate profit. However, at least most of these companies are listed on a stock exchange and so there is some transparency as to their financial position.

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