There were approximately 98GW of solar power installed globally in 2017, versus 70GW in 2016. That represents 40% volume growth in a single year! Woo, yeah!
The top 10 module suppliers delivered about 57GW of those volumes – 58% of the total. Even though these groups mostly tilt toward utility-scale work, here we’ll talk about some of their residential solar panels to get you up to speed.
The great list of the Top 10 module suppliers in 2017 was put together by Finlay Colville, Head of Solar Intelligence (that’s the coolest job title I’ve seen in a while!). Thank you!
An important piece of data first – these large manufacturers generally have financial stability that is trusted by finance groups. ‘Bankability’ is the industry term – and it means that Wall Street types trust, statistically, the company’s ability to deliver a product that will last 20+ years, and if panels do blow, that these companies have a structure in place to support replacement.
Not being on the Top Ten list doesn’t mean you aren’t bankable, but being top ten is a good start. Here’s a list of 30 bankable module manufacturers from Bloomberg as of end of 2016.
On to the panels!
Jinko Solar ‘Eagle PERC 60’
JinkoSolar is number one on the list – and going through their list of solar panels – the EaglePERC 60 is the top residential product. The panel tops out at 18.3% and 300W. Its solar cell technology base is ‘monocrystalline Passivate Emitter Rear Contact (PERC).’ If you live near the ocean, the manufacturer notes a high level of salt corrosion resistance.
I like the panel because I want to see big companies like JinkoSolar pushing cutting edge into mainstream, and I want consumers to drive that. This product has a lot of leading technologies built-in – and the company sets records.
Since a lot of panels will use these two technologies, here’s a definition: Mono vs Poly – mono costs a bit more, but is also more efficient.
Poly is cheaper, and more widely available. PERC – cutting edge technology that allows solar cells to generate electricity from the backside of the panels – upping efficiency.
Trina Solar ‘DuaMax Twin’
Trina Solar, the second largest solar panel supplier in the world, has product involved in the lowest priced solar project on the planet – the Mexico sub-2¢/kWh 104MW project. They’ve also got the DuoMax Twin bifacial glass on glass – and the potential of hitting up to 22.5% efficiency in a perfect world. Have you got a white rooftop?
Bifacial glass on glass means the backside of the solar panel is actually made of clear glass, instead of a white or black ‘backsheet.’ This allows light to reflect from the environment into the panel – similarly to how PERC solar cells work.
Canadian Solar ’60 Cell Standard’
Professionally, I’ve installed more Canadian Solar than any product – and that’s why I’m picking their standard 60 cell solar panel family. These will be among the best priced products you can get. The efficiency is average – 16-17% – but it is Toyota Camry average by doing its job for decades, and at its price it’ll be a great investment.
JA Solar ‘JAM6-PERCIUM’
JA Solar is the fourth largest solar panel supplier on the list, they’re also – for now – the world’s largest manufacturer of solar cells. And, a few weeks ago they had the highest rated efficiency – 19.97% – for a monoPERC residential solar panel. For now though, you’re going to have to ‘settle’ with their 18.35% PERCIUM Solar Cell based panels.
JA Solar likes to remind us that they were the first company to break 20% using a monoPERC solar cell back in 2013. They deserve some cred for staying in the lead.
Hanwha Q-Cells ‘Q Peak Duo’
Hanwha Q-Cells is cool because they make solar panels, and the robots that make the machines that make solar panels. You could say they know their work. They also lead in research and design – having deployed techniques like half cut solar cells and six busbars.
The Q Peak Duo reaches up to 19.9% efficiency partly because of those two advances – and if they need to look good, it also comes in black.
GCL-SI – A whole lot
At the most recent Solar Power International in Las Vegas, GCL-SI talked up their technology: black silicon, PERC, diamond wiring, Black Silicon 5 Busbar (5BB), Multi-Busbar (MBB) and Double-glass modules. More buzz words than we want to deal with – but new research, and cutting edge designs are GCL’s strength.
GCL offers solid pricing on standard hardware because of the aforementioned technology and since they produce silicon, cells and panels, you get to buy the whole supply chain from one company. I’ll not pick a panel here, as they’re kinda regular – but instead I’ll show you all their hardware because it’s all respectfully made.
LONGi is a recent favorite of mine – probably because in 2016 they were the fastest growing panel manufacturer. They’re new in the upper tier of manufacturing, much like GCL, having grown up focused being one of the world’s largest producers of monosilicon and manufacturers of monosilicon solar cells. The company is racing with efficiency leaders, and their solar cells are in some of the highest quality solar panels on the planet made by other manufacturers – they’re also in a record-setting monoPERC panel that just hit the newswires.
The two panels shown below are the LR6-60PB – because it looks good dressed in black on black while quietly powering your home – and the LR6-60PD – picked because its beautiful picture of a glass on glass panel that will give you more energy production due to LONGi setting ‘bifaciality’ records.
Risen Energy is a lesser known name to me, but looking at their website they sell everything – including a lot of solar panels. I’ve never used them, have read about them a few times – but nonetheless they are one of the world’s largest suppliers. I’ll leave you with a link to their black monocrystalline panel.
Suntech ‘Tigo Smart Modules’
Suntech was the world’s largest solar panel manufacturer from 2008-2012. When the price of solar panels collapsed in 2012, the company went bankrupt. They were purchased by Shunfeng (who also purchased the failing Suniva).
I want to point out that Suntech, like many other manufacturers, offers ‘smart panels’ – solar panels that come with hardware from companies like Enphase, SolarEdge and Tigo connected at the factory. Solar panel level electronics – hardware to monitor and optimize production – might be in every single panel before too long. If you want to simplify your installation a bit – consider this type of panel.
I tried to show a broad variety of panels from the largest manufacturers on the planet. This way you understand the types of options you have. Each of these product lines exist for a reason – much like cars: standard models to get the job done, sexy models that care about aesthetics and high-efficiency for when performance matters.
These models from the big players aren’t always where you should be looking either! Groups like SunPower and LG – with really the two highest efficiency panels available – didn’t make the top ten, but are still quite sizable corporations. Then we’ve got the boutique shops like Solartech Universal and Solaria focusing on making the highest quality product that a craftsperson can.
One last note, there are a lot of panels – and you might not get a chance to buy exactly the panel you want because your favorite installer doesn’t have access – so use a list like this to probe the installers access, and get close enough.
Considering residential solar? Understand Solar will connect you with local contractors, Tweet Me an I’ll give you some feedback or allow me to give you a professional residential consultation that will save you money.
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