What is a Tier 1 Panel?
Tier 1 panel manufacturers represent only about 2% of the total manufacturers on the market. Here’s what sets them apart:
Firstly, they are vertically integrated, which means they manufacture their panels from the bottom to top. The company controls the production for everything from silicon cells to the frames to finally assembling the panel. Lower tier panels will take other companies products and put them together.
Secondly, they invest a lot of time and money into research and development (R&D) to improve their products as well as their processes. This R&D has led to most of them using highly automated manufacturing processes so their products have a higher standard level of quality.
Finally, to qualify as a tier 1 manufacturer, they have to have been producing panels for at least 5 years. Due to solar being a relatively young industry, 5 years shows a company’s commitment to its own future in the industry and points to the likelihood that they will still be around to fulfill their warranties.
You should always demand to work with tier 1 brands exclusively but with so many manufacturers out there, how do you know which tier 1 product to go with?
Not all Tier 1 Panels Are the Same
Even with that criteria to be a Tier 1 panel manufacturer, comparing two tier 1 panels can be like comparing bananas and plantains. They may look a lot alike, but there are fundamental differences to keep in mind. The major difference exists in the cell technology. There are two main types of cell technology: Polycrystalline and Monocrystalline.
Polycrystalline Vs. Monocrystalline
Polycrystalline cells are made by melting raw silicon and pouring it into a square mold. Once it’s cooled, it is cut into perfectly square wafers to be used in a solar panel or module.
The advantages to polycrystalline are they are simpler to produce and cost less. The disadvantages are that they are less efficient, less aesthetically pleasing and have lower space-efficiency. On the efficiency front, they are typically between 13-16% efficient due to lower silicon purity. With being less efficient, you need more panels to output the same power as a panel with monocrystalline solar cells. With aesthetics, polycrystalline cells are a speckled blue which gives them a less uniform look.
Monocrystalline cells are made from silicon ingots which are cylindrical in shape. For better performance and to lower costs, four sides are cut out of the cylindrical ingots to make silicon wafers. The advantages to monocrystalline cells are that they are the most efficient and live the longest. They have higher efficiency rates because they are made out of higher grade silicon. They are typically between 15-20%. In regards to the longer life, that comes from the high grade silicon as well. The disadvantage to monocrystalline cells is that they are the most expensive.
And Then There Is SunPower
As far as solar technology goes, there is one tier 1 manufacturer that consistently stands out: SunPower. SunPower uses monocrystalline cells in their panels. However, unlike other manufacturers, SunPower has a unique cell assembly technology that leads to the most efficient residential panels on the market.
SunPower uses monocrystalline cells which set world records in efficiency with their X-series reaching 21.5% efficient.
What is Sunpower doing that is so different?
Solar panels are not created equal and the difference is in the cells. As a consumer, you wouldn’t want to get a PT Cruiser when there is Cadillac right next it. So don’t do it with your solar panels. Demand better solar.