All Solar Panels Are Not the Same

Ronald Reagan was once quoted as saying that, “A tree’s a tree. How many more do you need to look at?” I recently heard an interview with a major solar installer in California who similarly asserted that if you’ve seen one solar panel, you’ve seen them all. They are all about the same. But solar panels are not the same, and you may want to read SolarTown’s article Choosing Your Solar Panels: More than Meets the Eye to find out what distinguishes one solar panel from the other. Here is a brief primer on what you should look for and why at SolarTown we believe that you as the consumer should look into solar modules yourself before you purchase your solar energy system.

You may be putting something on your roof for 25-30 years, and you probably want a sense of confidence that you have selected a solar panel that is right for you and gives you that the best value for your money. Of course you should consult with your installer, but this is a decision that you will have to live with for a long time. We are not sure that all installers will tell you what your choices are so we have summarized some of the major differences between panels. Take a look at our article on Choosing Solar Panels comparing some of the leading solar panels that you may purchase either from us or another distributor.

Appearance Matters: All Solar Panels Do Not Look the Same

Start out with something that we understand well, which is the aesthetics. Now if your home has a flat roof and the panels will not be visible from the street, then you need not worry. But all too often, we have seen some beautiful homes on which an installer has thrown something up on the roof, destroying the appearance of the home. And it is not like you can simply take the solar panels down and start over.

There are at least two factors in the aesthetics of the solar panels that you select. First, the placement of the panels should fit well into the lines of your roof. You would think that this is an easy challenge, but especially as installers are getting started in the business, they don’t seem to pay much attention to how the contours of your roof line should dictate the configuration of your solar panels. Second, the appearance of the panels themselves can differ substantially. The color of the frames will differ. 

The appearance of the solar cells will also differ. The monocrystalline panels, which are all black in appearance, can provide a solid color appearance. The polycrystalline panels, which generally are blue in appearance, are usually a blend of various shades. The monocrystalline panels are generally more efficient—and more expensive, but they may be worth the extra expense depending on your aesthetic preferences.  That is just for starters. There are many other considerations, which we outline in our learning piece, but let’s take a look at probably the most important metric in your selection: output.   

Output is King: All Solar Panels Do Not Produce the Same Output

You want your solar array to produce energy, and you would think that there would be an easy way to figure out how much energy will be produced. Think again.

External Factors:  There are the most obvious facts that will influence how much output you will generate from your solar array such as shading. If you have a 70 foot hickory tree in front of your house, don’t expect a lot of kilowatt hours to be produced in the summer time.

 Nameplate Rating Tells You Very Little: Just because the “nameplate” rating of one panel is the same as another does not mean that you will get the same output. You think that a 220 watt panel will produce 10% more than a 200 watt panel. Wrong! You will need to know a lot more about the panels, such as what the negative power rating is, and what the PTC rating is. Some states provide you with the incentives based on the expected output using PVWatts, a software tool that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory developed to permit non-experts to quickly obtain performance estimates for grid-connected PV systems.

Other states provide you with incentives based on the PTC rating. And you can use the expected output or actual output to figure out how many renewable energy credits you will earn. As an informed consumer, you will have to know this stuff. We do not want to be cavalier about this, but you are going to be making a very important decision, and all too often  which module you choose does not attract the attention and time that it deserves, considering that you will have to live with these panels for a long time to come.

SolarTown would like to steer you in the right direction. We have a solar engineer on staff who can help you make an informed decision. At the least, if you are serious about going solar, please take the time to look into these issues before you choose your solar panels.

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4 Responses to “All Solar Panels Are Not the Same”

  1. I believe that solar panels are an excellent way to provide clean, green and renewable energy to power a wide variety of devices. The power from solar panels is strong, reliable and easy to maintain. And on top of that it is also good for our environment.

    Very interesting read and I really like your writing style.

    Wishing you all the best!

    Cheers,
    Roel

  2. Not only are panels not the same, but the companies that manufacture and sell them are not the same. When a product such as PV panels have a 20-25 year warranty, you want a company that is likely to be around that long. Large companies that have been in the business for a long time are a good bet. If you are really interested in the factual information and how to make solar work for you, check out http://www.lightontheearth.org/

    We are trying to assist 10 million households in the next ten years to install solar. The only thing we offer is FACTUAL information.

  3. I was looking for solar related notes this was excellent

  4. Sally says:

    Im thinking of buying solar panels because I firmly believe in protecting our kids future and securing a cheap energy source for them for many years to come. Have come across a guide about buyingSolar Panels so gonna use it when I buy my panels.