A few years ago, there were more than 450 different brands of solar panel available in Australia, whereas now there’s only 60-odd. The reason for this huge reduction in choice was that most manufacturers and their products weren’t very good!
Now, it’s easier to avoid dud solar panels, with poor build quality and suspicious warrants, so you’re more able to concentrate on finding the best you can afford. Each installation company will have its own list of top solar panels, informed at least partly by the panels it provides to its customers.
Here’s what to think about when choosing your best solar panels
The first thing to consider is the cost. You might think that the most expensive models are the best, but in practice, there’s not much difference in performance between a budget-but-reputable brand and a top-end panel. The biggest difference is the impact on your pocket!
Once you have a good idea of your budget, you need to ask yourself the next few questions.
How long will I be living here?
Most Australian homes will have a 6.6kWh system, which will save around $2,000 each year on power bills. A budget-but-reputable array will set you back around $5,000, whereas a top-end installation could be $9,000 or so.
If you’re going to be saving around $2,000 each year, then the budget array will pay for itself in three years and the top-end option in five or so years. If there’s a move on the cards within the next decade, then the budget-but-reputable array is your best bet, as you’ll get your payback and a few years of low-to-no bills.
How important is a long warranty?
This is related to the previous question as it also makes you think about how long you plan to stay in your current home.
Most panels have a 12-year product warranty, with the higher-end options offering warranties of 25 years or more.
If you plan to move within the next 10-15 years, then you’ll probably be covered by a 12-year warranty; whereas if you plan to stay in your current home and then leave it to your children, a 25-year warranty looks better.
Warranty can act as an indicator of quality
A long warranty can act as an indicator of quality, however. Manufacturers aren’t going to offer long warranties if they expect too many of their panels to fail within the warranty period, so if you’re looking for peace of mind then a longer warranty might work well for you.
Is offering high efficiency the same as “being best”?
If two solar panels both offer 300W, with one being high-efficiency and the other being so-so or even low efficiency, then you’re going to get 300W either way. The difference is in the size of the panels, because a high-efficiency panel will be smaller as it needs fewer cells to produce the same output.
If you have a lot of roof space, then you don’t need to worry too much about how big your panels are. However, if you want to get more bang out of a smaller area, then high-efficiency panels make sense. You’ll probably find that there’s not much difference in the final price – you’ll be paying for fewer high-efficiency panels or for more lower-efficiency ones. The main determining factor is the area you have to work with.
Do I have a realistic budget?
You’ve worked out your budget, but is it realistic? Is there a government subsidy to help? How long will you be paying for the panels? Could you get the same performance for a few hundred dollars cheaper?
In an ideal world we’d all have the very best of everything, but if you know you’ll be saving $2,000 or more each year with a mid-range array that’s guaranteed for 12 years, then why spend more?