When researching solar panels, it’s important that you understand the basics. Our easy Solar Panel Guide contains everything you need to know about solar energy and what you should look out for when choosing the best solar panel system for your home or business.
What are solar panels?
Solar panels crown millions of rooftops around Australia. Their role within a solar energy system is to capture as much sunlight as possible and convert it into energy.
Solar panels, or ‘modules’, are made up of many individual photovoltaic ‘cells’. When sunlight hits a solar panel, it activates the electrons inside the photovoltaic cells, which begin to move around and create DC electricity.
When multiple solar panels are wired together in series, they form a 'string'. Typically all the panels on a single roof plane would form a 1-2 strings, determined by the input voltage of the chosen inverter. All of the 'strings' connected into a single inverter is which is referred to as the solar ‘array’. The more panels in your array, the more energy you can produce.
The average solar panel array will operate at around 15-21% efficiency. In order to boost your panel efficiency, you can minimise or remove efficiency killing factors by cleaning dirty panels, eradicating shading and optimising panel placement.
See our glossary of terms.
Solar Panel Types
In Australia, there are three main types of solar panels to consider: Thin Film, Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline. When choosing which panel type is right for your property, you should consider factors such roof space, roof pitch, roof age and material, and of course your budget.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels
- Have the highest efficiency rates, so fewer panels are required.
- Most expensive panel type due to their complex manufacturing process
- Efficiency can suffer in extremely high temperatures
Polycrystalline Solar Panels
- More affordable than monocrystalline panels as polycrystalline silicon is relatively simple to manufacture
- Less efficient than monocrystalline panels so you need more panels to get the same output
- Efficiency can suffer from extremely high temperatures
Thin Film Solar Panels (TFSP)
- More affordable than monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels
- Performance is not impacted by extremely high temperatures, making them a good choice for hot climates
- Less efficient than and monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels, so you require more panels to get the same output.
- Tend to degrade faster than monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels
Solar Panel Efficiency
PERC and Half-cell may improve efficiency depending on your household environment.
What is PERC
PERC, or Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell technology, is an additional layer that is added to the underside of a solar panel. This additional layer provides a second chance for solar absorption in your panels, boosting you’re the overall efficiency of your system. PERC technology is a great option for all households, but particularly those in low lit and hot climates.
Half-cell solar panels
Half-cell solar panels have the ability to provide a better output when the panel is partially shaded. Due to its design, in theory, if part of a panel is shaded the remainder of the panel will continue to generate power. This is a great way to reduce the effect shading has on your solar system.
What size panels should I get?
The size and number of panels you need will depend on four key factors:
1. Your available roof space;
2. How much energy you require
3. If you will be using a battery
4. and of course, your budget
If you are short on roof space and want to generate as much energy as possible with a limited amount of panels, you should opt for higher wattage panels to ensure you can generate the maximum output per square metre.
How do I choose a reputable Solar Panel brand?
When researching solar panels, you may come across the following points of differentiation, let's check out what each of them mean, and which we feel are important
Tier 1 panels:
When researching, you may notice some solar panel brands are stated as Tier 1.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) created 3 tiers as a way to distinguish between manufacturers in the renewable energy space. Bloomberg’s Tiered system is based on the 'bankability' of solar manufacturers around the world. For solar companies, they can only achieve Tier 1, by owning their production facilities and selling their own brands. While Tier 1 is more a measure of industry acceptance versus an industry endorsement, it still is a good indicator of quality.
Warranty: the different types
Performance warranty: is to warrant the degradation of the cells over a number of years; e.g. 25 years. The manufacturer may state that the performance will only reduce by say 10% after the first 10 years and then another 10% over the next 15 years. Be careful to read any specific warranty terms of the performance warranty as it may be quite difficult to make a claim if the panel has failed completely, or may require removal and laboratory type testing.
Panel product warranty: is to cover defective materials or workmanship of the panel. It is provided by the manufacturer of the panel, not the solar installation company. Panel product warranties are typically 5 or 10 years, with some premium brands offering 12 years.
Inverter warranty: whilst this article is about solar panels, interters carry their own manufacturer's warranty. These are usually 5 years, sometimes being offered with 10+ years as optional, or included with some premium inverters.
Installation warranty: If provided by your installer and typically covers the remainder of the materials used in the installation as well as workmanship. They are usually 1 or 2 years, however some installers offer up to 10 years.
While warranties provide peace of mind, having a local presence is important for that rare occasion which you need to make a warranty claim. As the first port of call, we always recommend choosing a strong local installer who has been in the market for some years. At the same time, it is worth asking your chosen installer about the Australian presence of the solar panels they are quoting. Does the manufacturer have an Australian office? who is the panel distributor? how long have they been in the Australian market? Ultimately if need to get one or more panels replaced under warranty you need to be able to go to your installer, and failing that the manufacturer or distributor of that brand.
Country of manufacture:
Some sources boast country of origin, it is not a good indicator for choosing your solar panels. Brighte instead suggests looking at the reputation and quality of the manufacturer.
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