Chinese solar panels: Are they any good?
Individual panel prices
Prices of DIY kits
Installed system prices
Many of the most successful solar panel manufacturers in the world come from China, including LONGi, Jinko, Trina, and Canadian Solar (despite the name). These brands produce a sizable portion of the solar panels used in the United States, and are used in everything from huge utility-scale installations to small home rooftop solar panel systems.
If you’re a homeowner looking to buy a solar panel system, there is a good chance you will be presented with Chinese-made options and wonder whether they’re right for your home.
Are Chinese panels any good, or are they only popular because they’re cheap? What alternatives are there? Let’s find out.
At present, about 80% of all solar panels and their source materials are produced in China. Chinese solar panels reached this dominant position through a combination of factors.
First, China made a bet big on renewable energy. Years of massive investment in clean energy in general, and solar in particular, propelled China into becoming the world’s biggest solar power producer.
China alone now accounts for nearly a third of global solar module demand; much of it used for mega-sized solar power plants and even giant floating solar farms.
Second, China benefited (and continues to benefit) from its huge manufacturing base and low production costs. As with most electronics and industrial equipment, China is also a cost leader in the solar industry.
Third, Chinese solar panel manufacturers leveraged their domestic solar energy boom and massive government support to dramatically increase their scale. This growth partially coincided with the 2007-2008 financial crisis, which left American companies struggling to compete. Chinese government backing during this time allowed its homegrown companies to capture global market share.
Now, Chinese solar panel manufacturers supply companies all around the world. It’s not unusual for solar companies in the United States to source parts from China. These companies will assess the products according to their own quality standards and sometimes sell them via their own (American) brand names.
It is also common in the solar industry for companies to be headquartered in one country but have manufacturing facilities in another.
The emergence of the global solar module supply chain (described above) means that identifying where exactly solar panels are from is not always straightforward.
Let’s look at American solar panel brand Solaria, for instance. They are headquartered in Fremont, California, and offer consumers sleek black solar panels backed by an excellent 25-year warranty. However, it only has limited manufacturing capacity here in the U.S., as the majority of its solar panels are produced over in South Korea.
Then there’s Canadian Solar. Its name suggests it's from the Great White North, but ironically enough, it’s very much a Chinese company, with nearly all of its modules manufactured in China!
If you're trying to get high-quality panels, look for a brand that meets the standards you expect from domestic companies. That doesn't mean that they can't or won't be made in China.
Not every product made by a Chinese brand is going to be cheaper than domestic ones. However, despite being subject to extra import duties and tariffs designed to prevent China from flooding the market with ultra-low-cost options, Chinese solar brands still generally offer more competitive prices.
The U.S. first approved anti-dumping and countervailing (AC/CVD) duties against imported Chinese solar cells (and modules that contain them) in 2012. In response, many Chinese companies spent the rest of the decade moving manufacturing of these cells to other countries to avoid the duties.
In January 2018, President Trump added a new 30% tariff on solar imports (on top of existing AC/CVD duties) that would step down over four years, and in 2022, President Biden modified and extended those tariffs for another four years.
In mid-2022, the U.S. Department of Commerce launched a new AC/CVD investigation that would have added new tariffs to solar products from many of the countries Chinese companies now use as manufacturing bases. The investigation caused the companies to halt most of their imports of solar materials into the U.S., and President Biden responded by declaring a state of emergency and exempting imported solar products from possible new tariffs for 24 months.
The preliminary results of that investigation were released in December 2022, with the Department of Commerce’s final determination to come later in 2023. Once the 24-month exemption period ends, products from Chinese companies that operate in the four countries in question will be subject to new tariffs.
Also, in the summer of 2022, the President signed the Inflation Reduction Act, which included new tax benefits to encourage domestic production of solar cells and modules and has already resulted in several announcements of new U.S. solar factories.
What a rollercoaster, eh?
Because of the tariffs, Chinese solar companies are now forced to sell their products at prices that are closer to companies that manufacture solar products in the United States.
Shortly after the 2018 tariffs were levied, Chinese company Jinko Solar announced it would build a manufacturing facility in Florida. The company now produces 400 megawatts (MW) of solar panels in the Jacksonville factory every year.
In early 2023, LONGi Solar announced plans to build 5 gigawatts (GW) of solar manufacturing capacity in Ohio. When completed, the facility would be more than 11 times larger than the Jinko factory.
This new stateside manufacturing capacity will keep Chinese companies in the American solar marketplace for decades to come.
Here at SolarReviews, we assess brands based on various performance and value metrics. If you check out our list of the top solar panel manufacturers for 2023, you will see that four of the ten are Chinese companies. Here’s a rundown of the Chinese brands on the list:
Every one of these brands scores high for value, generally coming in at the low end of the pricing spectrum while offering products that compete with all but the most efficient, latest technologies.
Two other major Chinese brands—LONGi and Trina—were left out of our top brands ranking in 2023 because of concerns about another supply chain problem that arose in late 2022. The brands’ products were being held in U.S. ports while officials investigated whether any solar panels contained materials from China’s Xinjiang region. Import of these materials is prohibited under the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act (UFLPA) due to concerns that slave labor is being used to produce raw solar materials there.
By March of 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Protection had cleared many of the shipments in question, and the companies have restarted shipping new solar products into the United States. LONGi and Trina will be eligible for the 2024 top solar manufacturers rankings and are expected to place within the top 10.
Solar panels are a big investment, so it pays to do your research. But looking into every possible solar panel brand is usually not necessary.
The best first step is usually getting quotes from local solar installation companies and seeing which solar panel brands they carry.
If you're buying a panel produced in China, you're dealing with a range in quality that has nothing to do with the location, but the big brands mentioned in this article offer very high-quality products as a rule.
You may want to choose American-made solar panels over ones made in China to help support American manufacturing jobs, but if your main concern is getting the best bang for your buck, keep an open mind and compare several brands regardless of their origin.
Based on their excellent value rankings, Chinese-made solar panels definitely deserve a look.