Rayah’s Top 10 Solar Panels of 2019

Featuring 2019 Award Winners for Efficiency, Aesthetics & Value

Background

Every year or so Rayah Solar compares the top tier solar panels on a variety of metrics to rank our Top 10 Solar Panels. Why do we do this? Simple. We want to be confident that we are offering you, our customers, the best panels available on the market.

*Disclaimer: Just to be clear, Rayah Solar is not a research organization. We are a Massachusetts based Turnkey Solar Integrator. This means we are an EPC (engineering, producement & construction) firm that specializes in solar installations. With that said, as a solar dealer, we have the choice to design and install each solar system as we see fit. The purpose of this blog is to help you, our customers and interested parties know how we evaluate solar products and make product recommendations.

“Recommendations” is actually the correct word, as we custom build each and every solar system. Just like you and your neighbors may not have the same TVs in your family room, different people and different homes have different solar needs. We try to recommend (as solar professionals) the best solar panel for your unique situation.

Summary

According the 2019 Bloomberg list of tier 1 manufacturers, there are 16 companies that meet their definition of tier 1. However, one may quickly dismiss their methodology by the glaring omissions of Panasonic and SunPower, as their own disclaimer denotes their ranking system “doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of the panels1.” Bloomberg, like other evaluators, may only look at production numbers or the manufacturer’s annual reports. While this data is helpful, it does not tell the whole story.

In general, there are probably a few dozen solar panel manufacturers that legitimately produce tier 1 solar modules, and perhaps over a hundred that claim their panel quality is “tier 1.” Also, it is important to note that most manufacturers have a range of products, varying both in price and efficiency.

In order to disseminate the vast supply of solar products, Rayah has utilized a ten-metric comparative analysis formula. Our goal is not to necessarily select the single best solar panel, but devise a system in which we can compare solar panels and explain those attributes and shortcomings to our clients.

This blog contains a summary of our methodology, the products involved in the study, our Top 10 Solar Panel Rankings, and lastly, our 2019 award winners; for such categories as efficiency, aesthetics and value.

Methodology

We identified ten metrics to compare solar panels. These metrics include: Strength of Company, Product Warranty, Performance Warranty & Degradation, Service Warranty, Efficiency, Power Output, Technology, Aesthetics, Cost, and Value. We then ranked each category on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best). The following is a brief summary of each metric:

  • Strength of Company: This metric, known in the industry as “Bankability,” measures the probability that a company will be able to honor its warranty (many solar manufactures carry a 25-year warranty, but as we’ve seen time-and-time again, once those companies go bankrupt, their warranty not worth the paper it’s written on). Key factors include years in business, financials, production volume, public vs. private, certifications and business model. In general, we ranked publicly traded companies higher than privately owned and placed a premium on industry certifications and business model. For example, a publicly traded electronics conglomerate with hundreds of product lines that heavily invests in solar would receive a high ranking (such as LG or Panasonic).
  • Product Warranty: The number of years and specifications of the product warranty. Warranty lengths ranged from 10 to 25 years. Defect remedies also vary by manufacturer.
  • Performance Warranty & Degradation: Performance has several major factors; term length, degradation factor and a guarantee percentage of performance at the end of that term. Most companies have a 25-year performance warranty (Silfab was an outlier offering a 30-year warranty). Solar panel degradation levels range considerably, some as high as 1% and others, like Sunpower for example, as low as .25%. Most panels in our study ranged between .7% to .4% degradation per year. There is also some differences in how manufacturers calculate their guarantees. Most start with 95% performance after one year, and then decline at a steady degradation rate. LG interestingly enough, has variances between its own models, some starting at 98% and other models starting at 95%.
  • Service Warranty: Service warranties comprise of three major factors; description of coverage, term length and reimbursement amounts. It should be noted that most of the brands we reviewed had either no service warranty or only covered the cost of shipping and replacing defective panels.
  • Efficiency: Module efficiency was taken directly from the data sheet of each panel. While the industry average for tier one panel efficiency is around 17%, all the panels in our Top 10 produced power at efficiency ranging from 18% to 22%.
  • Power Output: You’d expect that efficiency would directly correlate to power production, and in general that is true. Solar panels with higher efficiencies tend to produce more power. However, with some brands, the panel’s power rating was higher or lower than reflected solely by the efficiency numbers. For example, a Solaria PowerXT-360R-PD has an efficiency rating of 19.6% (similar to Silfab or Q-Cells), but an extremely high power output of 360 watts per panel.
  • Technology: Worldwide, silicon manufacturers of solar panels use similar technologies to harness electricity from the sun. Some however, have heavily invested in research and development. Companies like Q-Cell, Solaria, Panasonic, LG and SunPower hold a large number of patents. We also examined the age of their technology. For example, Solaria’s patents are new and help them boast exceptionally high power output. Conversely, Panasonic is holding on to their patented HIT technology which combines traditional silicon wafers and thin film technology. This is an excellent technology, but it’s now about a decade old and competes fairly well with Q-Cell. LG, for example, has outpaced Panasonic HIT with its Type-R technology.   
  • Aesthetic: All the panels we reviewed were monocrystalline with black frames, so what we compared was the quality (darkness) of the silicon, conductor location (back or front) and backsheet color.
  • Cost: Cost was the straight price-per-watt for that model solar panel. With that said, we have said for years that $/watt is not great metric to compare solar panels, because two solar panels with the same wattage and price, could produce different amounts of solar power. This is due to cell construction.
  • Value: Value was a comparison between the cost and the power output of that panel.

*Please note, other metrics, such as defect rates would have been great data points, but unfortunately, this information was not available from all the manufacturers.   

Products

As previously stated, there are a lot of solar panel brands out there. We couldn’t nor did we want to compare them all. We compared products that were readily available through our local distribution channels or by direct purchase. Obviously, this may differ from customers in other parts of the country. Also, as a general rule, if nobody at Rayah had ever heard of the brand, at least for now, we did not include it in our study. In alphabetical order, these are the companies we reviewed:

  • Axitec
  • Canadian Solar
  • Hansol
  • Hanwha Q-Cells
  • Hyundai
  • GCL Systems
  • JA Solar
  • Jinko
  • LG
  • Panasonic  
  • REC Group
  • S-Energy
  • Silfab
  • Solaria
  • SunPower
  • Trina

Please keep in mind that the purpose of our study was not just to compare companies, we were comparing solar panels. That means that some brands were represented by multiple models.

Results

The results for our Top 10 Solar Panels of 2019 are shown below. Please note again, we compared actual models, not just companies. Some manufactures have multiple panels in our Top 10. Also, this list is only as good as the date of our study. We are fully aware that new products and models hit the market constantly, so it is possible that newer models are already available.

Without further ado, here are our winners:

*(Backsheet Color Key: BLK = Black, WHT=White):


1. SunPower 360 X-Series (#X22-360-D-AC) WHT

1. SunPower 360 X-Series (#X22-360-D-AC) WHT
This panel is super efficient, high in power, great in value and has SunPower’s 25/25/25 comprehensive warranty. It is an AC module and boasts the second highest efficiency rating (with its sister panel, the SunPower 370 at #1 in efficiency). SunPower has been around since 1984 and holds hundreds of solar technology patents (yes, hundreds). Also, their warranty is unmatched, as it received all 10’s in Product, Performance and Service. Make no mistake about it, based on our metrics, this is the best solar panel available today.

  • Recommendation: This panel is pretty much better in every way than the competition (every other solar panel on mother Earth). If you want the best solar panel in the world and don’t want to pay the added premium of SunPower’s 370 watt model, then the SunPower 360 watt X-Series is right for you.

2. SunPower 350 X-Series (X21- BLK-350-D-AC) BLK:


This is the world’s only all black solar panel with backplate conductors (meaning no silver lines on the front of your panel). Being a SunPower X-Series panel, it is one of the most efficient solar panels on the market. Also, their warranty is unmatched, as it received all 10’s in Product, Performance and Service. However, probably the strongest attribute of this panel is its aesthetics. SunPower has been around for over 30 years and as mentioned previously, has poured millions into their R&D. To date, this panel may be their greatest achievement. It contains SunPower’s patented maxeon cell technology (backplate conductors) coupled with an all black backsheet; the result is a visually striking solar panel.

  • Recommendation: If aesthetics and power matter to you, then this panel truly sets itself apart from the competition with a beautiful all-black sleek design. It looks like it is floating on the roof!

3. SunPower 370 X-Series (X22-370-D-AC) WHT:



This is an amazing panel. It is the most efficient solar panel on the market, utilizing backplate conductors. As an AC module, it is the perfect choice where roof space is limited and efficiency is your priority. Of course it holds SunPower’s 25/25/25 in Product, Performance and Service and SunPower’s three decade reputation. It would have received a higher ranking, but it is more expensive than the 360 watt SunPower panel.

  • Recommendation: Do you love to be #1? Do you like having the most advanced technology coupled with the best warranty? If so, go all the way with SunPower’s 370 watt X-Series module.

4. Solaria 360 PowerXT (XT-360R-PD) BLK:


Solaria is a US-based company that made waves in recent years with its numerous patents and gorgeous looking solar panels. They are less well known than others on this list, but makes up for it with great products. First and foremost, their black modules produce more power than SunPower’s black module, 360 watts to 350 watts respectively. Don’t ask me how (you can look up their numerous patents if you like) a panel with an efficiency similar to the LG 335 NeON2 can produce that much juice , but it does – and does so while looking great. Perhaps in years to come, if they can boost their company stock and increase their warranty, Solaria has the chance to top this list.

  • Recommendation: Let’s face it, this panel looks awesome and is less expensive than the all-black SunPower panel. This is a US-made product and emulates all that is wonderful about American ingenuity. If those things matter to you, than choose the Solaria 360 Power XT.

5. LG 335 NeON2 (LG335N1C-A5) WHT:


The LG NeON2 line separates itself from the pack in terms of price, efficiency, warranty and degradation. Its performance guarantee starts at 98%, which is 3% better than most panels, even other LG panels. While it has a lower power output than the LG Type-R models, it has a better value ratio.

  • Recommendation: If your not crunched for space and are looking for a high end panel with a killer LG warranty, then this is it. This panel (and previous iterations) have been amongst the best selling models across America. I’d compare it to a Toyota Camry; long lasting, great company, at the right price.

6. LG 360 Type-R (LG360Q1C-A5) WHT:


The LG 360 is part of their Type-R series. This is the only panel not named SunPower to boast backplate conductors which helps with both its efficiency and aesthetics. LG, with this Type R technology is the second most efficient brand of solar panels on the market. Interesting though, it has a higher degradation rate and lower year 25 performance rating than LG’s NeON2 line (these things matter when selecting panels). It also comes at a higher cost than the LG NeON2 and Solaria. However, if LG is your thing – like it is for many people, and you want their most efficient panel, this is it.

  • Recommendation: LG’s high output 360 watt panel is perfect for those that need as much power on their roof as possible and want the brand and warranty trust of the LG name – albeit at a lower cost than SunPower.

7. LG 320 NeON2 (LG320N1K-A5) BLK:

The all-black NeON2, or “triple black” as termed by LG, is an efficient, good looking all black panel. Frankly, however, aesthetically, it does not hold a candle to the SunPower 350, because the conductors are still on the front of this panel. This is due  to no fault of LG, Panasonic, Silfab, Solaria or Q-Cells, who all make great products, but visually, they lack the appeal of the backplate conductor styling of SunPower. With that said, the LG triple black rates higher than similar black modules by Panasonic and Silfab, two trusted names in solar, but lower than Solaria. The efficiency and degradation are also lower on this panel than its white backsheet 335 watt companion. In general, its value ratio is better than the #10 ranked black Panasonic HIT, but much lower than Solaria.

  • Recommendation: Maybe yes, maybe no. If you don’t want to shell out the loot for a SunPower all black and if space is not an issue, than perhaps the LG name puts it over the top of the other all-black models.

8. Panasonic 330 WHT HIT (VBHN330SA17):


It seems that every year Panasonic gets better. This is their first time cracking our top 10 (and with two models nonetheless). Years ago, HIT technology made a lot of waves by combining silicon wafers with thin film technology. This model seems to have figured out how to maintain high efficiency without compromising cellular degradation (this was a major issue in previous HIT models). In many ways, this panel is almost identical to the LG 335 NeON2; Panasonic has a lower power output, but a slightly higher efficiency and both are great companies. One thing to note, is that Panasonic has some funny language in their warranty mentioning a “pro-rated” refund. SolarWorld used to have similar language, which was the main reason we did not use their panels.

  • Recommendation: In general, this is a very good panel, but with a slightly higher cost and a smaller installation base than LG. On the other hand, Panasonic has forged some strong industry relationships, so we can’t fault anyone for choosing this model.

8. Silfab 310 SLA (SLA-M310) BLK:

This Silfab panel is sleek and black. It has the lowest power output of any panel in the Top 10, at only 310 watts, but what it lacks in output, it excels in with company, warranty and value. Silfab is a solid Canadian company (yes the panels are really made in Canada) and backs a 30-year performance warranty, the longest on in this list. Also, you can’t beat the price point. On a full size system, it is thousands cheaper than any of its competitors – and for many, that is a major selling point. We’ve used this product a lot on houses of faith and for homeowners with ample roof space that want a top 10 product at the lowest possible cost.

  • Recommendation: Silfab is the underdog and it’s hard not to like them. I imagine a Canadian factory with a bunch of flanel wearing, bacon eating, hockey playing Canucks making a fine-fine product. If the solar production from the Silfab panels can offset your power usage, you really may want to consider this product.

10. Panasonic 325 HIT (VBHN325KA03) BLK:

Again, Panasonic has made an excellent panel here with the all-black 325 watt HIT model. It is however less efficient than the #8 ranked all-black Silfab 310 and much more expensive. This panel ranks lower than the comparative LG in several metrics. Outside of a brand love for Panasonic, we can’t see a place for it in the black model market.

  • Recommendation: The Panasonic BLK HIT model is a tough recommendation. It ranks higher than a Q-Cell, Trina, Axitec, Canadian Solar and dozens of other supposed tier 1 solar models, but lower than the above mentioned products. If you only had one choice, I’d be hard pressed to recommend this panel over other all black models on this list.

Honorable Mentions: If this list had a #11 and #12, it would include Hanwha Q-Cell models in each slot. Q-Cell was a German company bought by Hanwha, so you know the technology is rock solid – so good they are suing several manufacturers in China over patent infringements. Axitec is another top performer and another German engineered solar panel. Hyundai (yes the automaker) and S-Energy are also worth mentioning and performed well in our evaluations.

Not Mentioned: How long do you want this list to be…? A casual observer may have noticed that no Chinese manufactures cracked our Top 10 Solar Panels of 2019. This was not intentional. It may also be counterintuitive, as companies like Jinko, Trina and Canadian Solar (yes, Canadian Solar is a Chinese solar panel) have considerable brand recognition. Chinese manufacturers also lead the solar industry in production, with Jinko currently holding the 1st position. But that is why we run these comparisons and use metrics to compare the products. It’s just not about production quantities or panel wattage or price; it’s about getting an awesome solar panel that you can have confidence in for the next 25 plus years!


2019 Award Winners

#1 Solar Panel of 2019: SunPower 360 X-Series.

This panel provides the perfect combination of value, efficiency, name brand recognition and an industry-leading warranty. If you are looking for a solar panel to match the quality of your marble kitchen counters and perfectly manicured lawn, SunPower is the panel for you.


Best Looking Panel of 2019: SunPower 350 X-Series

The aesthetics award this year has to go to the 350 watt all-black SunPower X-Series panel. There is really nothing else like it on the market. If you truly want the black Cadillac of solar, and want your home to stand out from the neighbors, this is your obvious choice. One neat feature of this panel, is that as an AC module, which allows you to run regular Romex household wiring through your attic to the solar panel (you cannot do this with DC modules). This means no ugly silver pipes running across your roof.


Most Recommended Solar Panel of 2019: LG 335 NeON2

If you are looking for a premium panel that tops the rankings in efficiency and value with the strongest brand name available, than the LG 335 watt NeON2 is perfect for you. One important note is that this panel has a white backsheet, which in most cases, people don’t mind. We find this panel hits the sweet-spot of quality and price.


Best Quality Panel on a Budget: Silfab 310 SLA

We sell a lot of these little guys (they are actually the same size as the other panels). The Canadians did it right, they produced a super-good (yes, I am fine with that adjective) product here. It is a great looking, high quality panel from a solid company. It doesn’t boast the name brand recognition of others, but they’d argue, you are paying for that name brand with the others. On a budget, we highly recommend this panel.


Special Shoutout: Solaria 360 PowerXT

Solaria is a unique product – how do they crank out so much power from their panels? The pricing is also really good. Perhaps they are in a bit of a quagmire. They are not as cheap as Silfab and lack the name brands of SunPower, LG and Panasonic, but boy are these good panels. There is a good argument to make that for an all-black solar panel, for the price and efficiency, this may be a viable choice for your home.  

Citations:

  1. Bloomberg Tier 1 Solar Panels List 2019: https://www.renvu.com/Learn/Bloomberg-Tier-1-Solar-Panels-List-2019



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