What are the best solar panels to buy for your home in 2021?
In this blog, we've compiled rankings of the best residential solar panels on the market in 2021 based on each of the following criteria:
Table 1. The best solar panels for home use based on different criteria
|Ranking||For the homeowner seeking|
|The overall best solar panels based on expert opinion||High-quality panels from the most reputable manufacturers|
|The 10 best-selling solar panels for home in the US||The solar panels that homeowners buy the most|
|The best solar panels according to consumer reviews||The solar panels that US homeowners are most satisfied with|
|The most efficient solar panels for homes (specific models)||To maximize production on a small roof or space|
|What are the 5 best manufacturers of polycrystalline solar panels?||Budget-friendly solar panels|
|What are the 5 best brands of monocrystalline solar panels?||Efficient and uniform-looking solar panels|
|The best solar panels in terms of cost and value for money||The biggest bang for your buck — affordable panels from good brands|
We asked a group of solar industry veterans to weigh the pros and cons of different solar panel brands and choose which they would install on their own homes.
What's interesting is that all of these experts said that the most crucial factors when judging solar panels are:
- The manufacturer's financial position and its marginal cost of manufacture;
- Brand reputation; and
- Value for money
They explained that since solar panels last so long, consumers should buy from a company that's likely to be around to honor any warranty claims over the minimum 25 year life of the panel.
After comparing the different solar panel brands available, they came with their list of the top 5 solar brands for 2021.
Table 2. The 5 best solar panel brands in 2021 according to solar industry veterans
|#||Company Name||What the experts like about it|
|1||Panasonic||+ Very high-quality panels
+ High efficiency and tied-for-best temperature coefficient
+ Strength of company and reputation for manufacturing excellence
|2||LG||+ Very high-quality panels
+ Strong corporate reputation & warranty support
|3||Canadian Solar||+ High-quality panels
+ Lower price means it offers amazing value
+ Strong financial position makes warranty support likely
|4||Trina Solar||+ Solid all-around performance
+ Low cost for a Tier 1 panel
|5||SunPower||+ Best panel specs (highest efficiency and great temperature coefficient)
+ Would be #1 but overly expensive & undergoing corporate transition
The rankings are a mix between two different types of solar manufacturers.
The first type comprises makers of premium solar panels: Panasonic, LG and SunPower. The first two of these are also the top choices of our experts, as they are massive conglomerates known for high manufacturing standards.
The other type of company that made this list are Chinese panels that offer great value for the money: Canadian Solar and Trina Solar. [Due to its strong links to China, Canadian Solar is actually considered a Chinese company despite being headquartered in, and named after, Canada].
It's worth pointing out that SunPower, despite having the best-performing solar panels in the market, doesn't earn the #1 spot. According to the experts, SunPower's ranking suffers due to its troubled financial position, coupled with its high price point. We'll be keeping an eye out to see how things change as SunPower spins off its manufacturing business into a new entity called Maxeon Solar.
We're sure you are curious about what solar panel models are most popular among homeowners. To find out, SolarReviews compiled data from recent residential solar installations in California, which is the largest solar market in the US by a large margin.
These are the top 10 solar panel manufacturers based on their use in California home solar installations, along with the top-selling model for each brand.
Table 3. The best-selling solar panel models in California
|#||Panel Manufacturer||Most Popular Model||Power||Efficiency|
|3||Hanwha Q Cells||Q.PEAK DUO BLK-G5 315||315 W||18.7%|
|4||REC Group||REC290TP2 BLK||290 W||17.4%|
|6||Silfab||SLA-M 300||300 W||18.4%|
|7||LONGi Solar||LR6-60PB-300M||300 W||18.3%|
|8||Mission Solar||MSE310SQ8T||310 W||18.7%|
SunPower snags the #1 spot for the top-selling solar panel model. While our experts loved the best-in-class specs of the SunPower X-series, they were concerned about their higher cost and the company’s viability. However, it seems that Californian consumers are happy to pay a hefty premium to get the very best solar panels available.
SunPower solar panels are the top-sellers in California, the most popular state for solar power. Image source: SunPower
Panasonic, which was the top brand last year, has now slid to the #2 spot. Like SunPower, they also produce excellent solar panels; in fact, Panasonic was rated #1 by our experts. However, Panasonic sales seem to have taken a hit due to the decline of their partner Tesla/SolarCity.
Looked at as a whole, the top 10 most popular solar panel brands are a mix of premium and value solar panel brands.
Six of the brands — including the top two — are premium solar panel brands: SunPower, Panasonic, LG, SolarWorld, Mission Solar and Solaria.
The remaining four on the list, while also good brands, are better known for their excellent value proposition: Hanwha Q Cells, REC Group, LONGi Solar, and Hyundai.
For this ranking, we decided to draw on the experience of homeowners themselves. SolarReviews has thousands of reviews by consumers who have solar panels installed on their roofs, and we use these to score each solar panel brand. [You can read more about how customer ratings are calculated on SolarReviews here].
This ranking provides great insight into how a solar brand is performing in real-world conditions, and whether or they are meeting customer expectations.
Table 4. Consumers choice: The solar panels with the best reviews from consumers
|#||Panel Manufacturer||Review Score|
|1||Panasonic||4.84 (318 reviews)|
|2||Silfab Solar||4.84 (486 reviews)|
|3||Q Cells||4.81 (526 reviews)|
|4||LG Solar||4.77 (905 reviews)|
|5||Mission Solar Energy||4.73 (222 reviews)|
|6||SolarWorld Americas Inc.||4.72 (327 reviews)|
|7||Canadian Solar||4.68 (165 reviews)|
|8||Trina Solar||4.61 (151 reviews)|
|9||Jinko Solar||4.60 (110 reviews)|
|10||SunPower||4.54 (832 reviews)|
Many of these top panel brands overlap with the manufacturers on our other two lists. It’s not surprising that these panels are highly rated by consumers, as they are commonly used for installations and are preferred by experts.
What’s interesting is that SunPower was the lowest rated out of these manufacturers. Their review score is brought down by poor customer service experiences.
To compile this rating, we’ve reviewed commercially-available solar panel models from major panel manufacturers.
Table 5. The 5 most efficient models of solar panels by manufacturer
|#||Manufacturer||Most efficient model||Power||Efficiency|
|1||SunPower||A-Series SPR-A425-G-AC||425 W||22.80%|
|2||LG||NeON R Ace LG375A1C-V5||375 W||21.70%|
|3||REC Group||REC Alpha Series 380AA||380 W||21.70%|
|4||Panasonic||340N HIT+ Series||340 W||20.30%|
|5||Solaria||PowerXT 400R-PD||400 W||20.20%|
Keep in mind, the importance of solar panel efficiency is often overhyped by manufacturers looking to charge a premium price for the most efficient modules. Solar panel efficiency doesn’t measure total output — just the space required to produce the energy.
In other words, a high efficiency panel rated 300 watts will produce — all else equal — the same amount of power as a 300 watt panel with lower efficiency. The only difference is that the more efficient panel will use slightly less space.
Premium efficiency panels are really only necessary if you have limited roof space to install solar panels. If you have a small roof, getting high efficiency panels will allow you to maximise solar output. You can read more about solar panel efficiency here.
What solar cell technologies do the best solar panels use?
There are three types of technology utilized in the solar panels available on the market today. These are monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film amorphous solar cells. We have a great blog comparing the pros and cons of different types of solar cells.
Monocrystalline solar panels are touted for their uniform, sleek look, whereas polycrystalline panels have a fragmented appearance and a blue hue. Thin film is the least efficient, but the least expensive.
The vast majority of solar panels on the market are either monocrystalline or polycrystalline, or 'mono' and 'poly' for short. Without getting into too much detail, here's what you need to know about each type:
- Uniform look
- More efficient
- More expensive
- More blueish, 'broken' look
- Less efficient
Despite being less efficient than monocrystalline modules, polycrystalline panels had been a popular choice for residential solar installations. This is because they are more cost-effective than monocrystalline panels.
At one point, polycrystalline solar panels were 30% cheaper than monocrystalline panels. However, the cost difference is much smaller now thanks to improving technologies and market conditions.
If you are on a tight budget for a solar panel system, you can save some money while still getting high quality panels with polycrystalline solar panels from these manufacturers:
The best brands of monocrystalline solar panels are also some of the most efficient solar panels on the market.
These are the panels to consider if you want a sleek black look and solar panels that take up slightly less space on your roof.
You will, however, have to pay more for monocrystalline panels, which equates to a system that'll give you a longer payback period.
The Tier 1 Chinese solar panel manufacturers dominate our list of the best value solar panel brands. The only exception in the list below is REC Group, which is a Singaporean company. Each of these companies is large and has established a reputation for excellent manufacturing quality:
The solar import tariffs imposed at the start of 2018 have chipped away at their cost advantage but they are still available for much cheaper than many of the best premium solar brands.
You've chosen the best brand of solar panels for you - what else do you need to consider?
There is a range of other factors to look for when deciding about solar panel installation. Take all of the following into account when planning your system:
- Solar system size: How large a system you need depends on the size of your home and your energy requirements. Check out this resource to calculate the number of solar panels you need and how much space they would take up.
- Local tax benefits and incentives: The 26% solar tax credit is available everywhere, but there are lots of additional incentives offered by state governments and utilities. For instance, California offers a significant rebate for solar battery storage, while New York, offers thousands of dollars in state tax credits on solar panel purchases. Check what incentives are available in your state and use them to reduce the cost of your solar panels.
- Brand availability in your area: Your preferred solar installer may not stock your first-choice solar panel. If that's the case, ask them what brands they use and then look for solar panel reviews and information on them. However, if your heart is set on a specific brand of solar panels, find the brand on SolarReviews and then scroll down the page to find a contractor who offers them in your area.
- Finding a reliable solar installer: The booming solar industry has attracted a lot of great installation companies but also large companies with impersonal service and fly-by-night operations. Safeguard your investment by checking consumer reviews on SolarReviews before settling on an installer. Better yet, request free, no-obligation solar quotes from multiple installers through our solar calculator. We'll ensure that you are only contacted by professional, pre-screened solar installers that have a track record of successful installations and positive reviews.
Note: All rankings in this article were compiled based on expert opinions, consumer reviews, and solar installation data. SolarReviews was not paid for any of the reviews or rankings.
Author: Zeeshan Hyder | SolarReviews Blog Author
Zeeshan is passionate about promoting renewable energy and tackling climate change. He developed these interests while studying at beautiful Middlebury College, Vermont, which has a strong focus on sustainability. He has previously worked in the humanitarian sector — for Doctors Without Borders — and in communications and journalism.