most cost effective solar panels

When it comes to the initial outlay of cash, which solar panels are the most cost effective for homeowners, most efficient solar panels in the world and the best cost effective solar panels? Those looking to get their solar panels up and running with as little impact on their bottom line as possible can check out these top 25 most cost effective solar panels on the market today.

best cost effective solar panels

most cost effective solar panels

RankManufacturerModelPower (Watts)PricePrice per watt
1ReneSolaJC255M-24/Bb255$173.40$0.68
2SharpND245QCJ245$176.40$0.72
3SharpND-F4Q300300$216.00$0.72
4Trina SolarTSM-PA05270$210.60$0.78
5Jinko SolarJKM310P-72310$251.10$.81
6Jinko SolarJKM315P-72315$255.15$0.81
7GigaWatt Inc255W255$229.50$0.90
8SharpND250QCS250$225.00$0.90
9Canadian SolarCS6P-250-P250$235.00$0.94
10Canadian SolarCS6X-310-M310$291.40$0.94
11Hanwha Q CELLSBFR-G3255$239.70$0.94
12RECREC280TP280$263.20$0.94
13Hanwha Q CELLSBFT-G3265$251.75$0.95
14RECREC255PEBLK255$247.35$0.97
15Canadian SolarCS6X-315P315$308.70$0.98
16REC01102570315$311.85$0.99
17Trina SolarTSM-PA05.08225$225.00$1.00
18SunivaBP1100763265$275.60$1.04
19Solar WorldSOLW-00778270$299.70$1.11
20Solar WorldSW275275$313.50$1.14
21Solar WorldSW285285$324.90$1.14
22LGLG275S1C-B3275$316.25$1.15
23SunivaOPT275-60-4-1BO275$321.75$1.17
24Trina SolarTSM-260PA05A260$314.60$1.21
25Yingli GreenYL260C-30b-H4260$361.40$1.39

Please note: Solar panel technology changes quickly and what is very affordable today might be replaced by something even more affordable tomorrow. To be certain of prices, check with the manufacturer or contractor before ordering panels, but this chart will give you an understanding of approximate costs from a variety of manufacturers and for a variety of solar panels. This chart is based on the pricing of single solar panels; however, purchasing by the pallet or through a contractor can usually make the per-panel price significantly cheaper.

Factors Affecting Solar Affordability

The cost of solar panels is set by the manufacturer based on many points such as the efficiency and expected longevity of the panels. As you might imagine, the higher the efficiency over a long period of time, the more expensive the panels will likely be.

How the panel is made matters. There are various types of units, including monocrystalline (single crystal), polycrystalline (multiple crystals), gallium arsenide, cadmium telluride, and amorphous silicon – and that’s just what is available at the moment. With the ever-changing technology of solar, it is entirely possible that more varieties of solar panels units will hit the market soon.

Typically, monocrystalline panels generate the most watts per area, which means fewer panels can be used to produce the needed amount of electricity, and that takes up less space. This higher efficiency usually means that monocrystalline panels are more expensive; however, other factors come into play as well, such as warranties, durability and more.

Finally, remember that solar panels are only one part of the total cost of the system. Though this page will teach homeowners how to calculate panel value and showcase a few points that are necessary to make the right choices concerning their solar panels, there are other parts of a system a homeowner needs to consider.

So going with the least expensive panel might actually cost more in the long run? 

It’s absolutely worth the cost to hire a quality installer to help you through the process. Ten years ago, the panels were by far the single largest cost in a PV installation, often accounting for 70 to 80 percent of the installed cost of a system. But today, panels are less than 30 percent of the cost of an installation. Because of this, buying panels at wholesale and finding a contractor to install them will almost certainly end up costing you more than if you just have the contractor purchase directly. For example, my company, Brilliant Harvest, LLC, works with our distributors to obtain pricing that no homeowner can get. This is because of the volume of panels we purchase, our creditworthiness, and our reputation with existing clients. We search every day among our distributors to ensure we are getting the best price for the panels we install, and we stand behind our work 100 percent. If you have an issue, we are there to take care of it.Anything else we need to know about solar panel affordability? 

Solar panels should last and produce an output of more than 80 percent of the rated power for at least two decades. The lifetime of solar panels varies depending on quality of materials and the manufacturer. If a panel has a warranty of less than 10 years, you should exercise caution. A warranty of 25 years is much more desirable.

You should be able to find out the names of and do research on the kinds of equipment the contractor will use in your system. You should learn about the brand of solar panels before having them installed on your home. If you don’t recognize the name or can’t find any information about a brand, you may not want to use them – or the company – on your job.

Lifespan of a Solar Panel

Though cheaper panels might look really good when it comes to the initial cost, there can be a hefty price to pay for going with the lowest estimate. Though all solar panels are designed to be very robust and stand up to the elements for several decades, the power output for some can begin to wane within the first year of installation.

A standard solar panel warranty should help alleviate concerns; it guarantees that over the span of 25 years, the power output should not be less than 80 percent of the rated power. This helps ensure that homeowners will get continuous high performance from the panels they purchase.

Panels that come with a lesser warranty might wind up costing more in the long run – for instance, a panel might show a dramatic drop in power during year eleven, but if the warranty ran out at year 10, the homeowner is out of luck and might need to go to the expense of a replacement panel.

What is solar power and why should you consider it?

Solar power systems are also called solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. They work by collecting solar energy in solar panels which are normally roof-mounted, but can be mounted on the ground. The solar energy collected is converted into alternate current (AC) with an inverter. While solar panels will only work during the daytime, battery storage units are available that allow the excess power to be used at night.

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Solar power has been through three stages. Until about 2011, solar panels were expensive and the payback period was longer. After 2011, they started coming down in price and today, the price of solar panels has stabilised and is far more affordable than in the past.

Solar panels have also improved in efficiency and reliability. In the past, solar panels were expensive and most homeowners bought smaller systems up to 2kW. Today, a 5kW system is about the same price as a 2kW system was before 2011 and is a better system to have because it can account for most if not all of your energy requirements. To know more about what is solar energy read this.

How much does solar power cost?*

Today, the average cost of a 5kW system is around $6500, but it can be more expensive in some areas.  For example, in Darwin, a 5kW system costs around $11,000 while in Adelaide, it costs under $6000. In Sydney and Perth, solar power costs just over $5000 and in other states, it costs around $6000.

When you consider buying a 5kW solar system, you also need to think about the payback period. Average payback periods in different cities are around:

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  • 4.2 years in Adelaide
  • 4.7 years in Darwin
  • 4.8 years in Sydney and Perth
  • 5.4 years in Brisbane
  • 6.4 years in Canberra
  • 7.4 years in Melbourne
  • 8.2 years in Hobart

These figures take into account the cost of electricity in different areas and that is why Darwin, which has the highest costs has a low payback period. The average payback period in Australia is 5.8 years, but even at the highest payback period of 8.2 years in Hobart, solar panels are well worth investing in. It’s also worth noting that electricity prices rise steadily, so the payback period could even be shorter.

Estimates of households in Australia that already have solar power range from 1.5 million to 2.0 million. This number will probably increase in the future as the cost of electricity rises.

Many solar panels have warranty periods of up to 25 years, making them a wise investment considering their payback period of just 5.8 years on average.

How to get the right sized solar system

Solar panel systems are made up of several panels and the size of the system is based on the number of panels and the efficiency of the panels. Estimates vary because solar panels can be installed in areas where the sun rarely shines or in sunny areas. Solar panels can also be installed on roofs that have partial shade during the day, which decreases their efficiency. These are averages and your solar power installer can tell you how efficient your solar power will be in your area.

Solar power is measured in “self-consumption” which is an indication of how much energy you use during the day. These are some estimates of how much energy you will save for different energy consumption levels with a 5kW to 10kW system measured in kilowatt hours (KWh):

  • 5-10KWh will save 30 percent
  • 11-15KWh will save 48 percent
  • 21-25KWh will save 66 oercent
  • 31-40KWh will save up to 82 percent

It is possible to get a solar system that is too large for your household, but you don’t want to get a system that is too small for your household. Solar power retailers and installers can help you find the perfect system for your needs and a smaller system for a smaller household will cost less than a larger system.

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Why investing in a solar system battery is a good idea

The prices above are for solar panels only and a battery will cost more. A battery is a good investment because you are likely to be able to store energy in the battery during the day and have it to use at night. This will decrease your use of electricity from the grid and lower your electricity bills.

Solar batteries are a good choice, but you don’t want to buy a solar battery that is too small or too large for your solar panels. Sizing of batteries is based on average electricity usage and the size of the solar system you have. Batteries don’t just store enough energy to keep your house powered overnight. If you get the right sized battery it can give you “energy autonomy” for three to five days.

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image copyright Nationwide Solar Solutions

Solar batteries cost between $2000 and $12,000, with the higher cost being batteries for large systems and a large battery can weigh up to 290kg while a smaller battery may weigh only 25 to 45kg. Even at the higher end of the scale, batteries have a payback period of three to five years and their warranties are far longer than their payback periods. Better batteries have a 10 year warranty and others may have a seven year warranty. Even at seven years, you still save money since the payback period is five years maximum.

It’s probably a good idea to buy lithium batteries because lithium batteries generally have 10 year warranties and are highly effective. They aren’t hard to find because about 80 percent of solar batteries on the market are lithium batteries.

Batteries with inverters and chargers can be more expensive than batteries only. A battery for an 8kW system may cost around $7700 while the same sized battery with an inverter/charger may cost around $11,800. These prices include the battery and installation costs. Most households don’t require an 8kW system, but this is an indication of the price differences. The key thing also to remember is to know how to keep solar panels clean to make them last. 

Choosing a solar panel supplier and installer

While state rebates have been phased out, government rebates are still available. “Rebates” take the form of Small Scale Technology Certificates (STCs) which vary in price depending on market conditions and other factors. In order to qualify for STCs, you must buy solar panels and batteries from a certified retailer who will offer a discount for the price of the STCs. This discount can be from $500 to $1000 depending on the system you buy and can represent a substantial savings.

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Finding a certified solar panel supplier is fairly easy because most solar panel suppliers are certified. However, they also sell different products and you want to find good solar panels and batteries with long warranty periods.

It’s always best to get quotes from three solar panel suppliers and compare their services and products. They will give you supply and installation costs as well as the discount for STCs. Compare the prices carefully and choose a high quality system at the right price. Some other things to look for are:

  • Solar installers must be licensed
  • They should be fully insured
  • They should give you itemised quotes
  • Their warranty periods should be stated
  • Their products must meet Australian Standards

HOW TO BUY SOLAR PANELS

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How to Buy Solar Panels

Are you thinking about buying a solar panel system but don’t know where to start? You came to the right place!SEI PV Design ManualA Really Great Read

Before we dive in to the specifics of solar panels (a.k.a. PV modules, solar electric panels), let us remind you that energy efficiency and conservation are the best ways to reduce your energy foot print and your electrical bill (see our Energy Efficiency and Your Home article). Please actively explore and incorporate all avenues of efficiency before pursuing a home solar panel system. That being said, solar power is an exciting clean-energy option that is becoming more and more popular. Solar electricity is a fascinating topic. To really feed your curiosity, we highly recommend the book PHOTOVOLTAICS: DESIGN & INSTALL MANUAL.

What shapes, sizes and types do solar panels come in?

Solar panels vary in length and width and are often about 2 inches thick. They are generally about 30 pounds or less, but the larger solar panels can be cumbersome to carry onto the roof. We carry a wide selection of solar panels for home use: framed, foldable, and rollable.

  • Framed solar panels are the industry standards. They are the most cost effective and applicable for most home solar panels applications.
  • Foldable solar panels are lightweight (less than 5 pounds) and can fold up and fit easily in a backpack.
  • Flexible (or rollable) solar panels are also lightweight but bulkier than the foldable panels. Many people use these rollable solar panels on boats because they are durable and can be easily stowed after use.

Generally thin-film laminate type of solar panels (foldable & flexible) are more expensive per watt and require more square footage to produce the same wattage of an equally sized framed module.

What size solar panels do I need for my home and how many?

The number of solar panels you will need depends primarily upon the amount of electricity you are trying to produce and the insolation in your area. Solar insolation can be thought of as the number of hours in the day that the solar panel will produce its rated output. This is not equivalent to the number of daylight hours. Read more about insolation in our How To section and get an idea of the insolation in your area: Solar Insolation Map – USA.

You’ll find solar panels in a variety of wattages. Watts are the main measure of a solar panel, along with nominal voltage. For a rough idea of how many watts of solar panels you will need for your home, start by dividing your electrical usage (in watt-hours per day) by the solar insolation in your area. Bump that number up by 30-50% (to cover system inefficiencies) and you’ll have an idea of the number of watts of solar panels total you will need. If that number is more than 1000 watts, you are talking about $4K to $8K or more for the solar electric system. (Could we take this opportunity to mention the importance of energy efficiency again?!) If you could still use a little help with the math, please give us a call and tell us how much electricity you are trying to produce (in kwh/month or watt-hours/ day) and your location, and we’ll help get you started.

What types of solar panels are there?

Most solar panels can be classified as monocrystalline, polycrystalline or amorphous. This is based on the silicon structure that comprises the cell. It’s not quite as complicated as it sounds. Basically a 100 watt monocrystalline solar panel should have the same output as a 100 watt polycrystalline solar panel and a 100 watt amorphous solar panel. The main difference is the amount of area which the solar panel occupies. Because the monocrystalline structure is more efficient than amorphous (and only very slighlty more so than polycrystalline) in turning sunlight into electricity, the amorphous solar panel of the same wattage will be physically larger. By the way, when talking about efficiency of solar panels, keep in mind that solar panel efficiency is still only about 13-18% efficient in turning sunlight into electricity. Often amorphous solar panels are less expensive than the crystalline panels. If space is not an issue, then an amorphous panel could be a great option. Additionally, amorphous solar panels perform better than crystalline solar panels in very hot temperatures and are also slightly more tolerant of partial shading.

Solar Energy for Home Heating & Cooling

Please keep in mind that solar panels produce electricity, and should not be used to produce electricity for heating or cooling sources. If heating is your main issue, be sure to check out Solar Air Heaters and Solar Water Heaters. Solar air heating and solar water heating are examples of solar thermal technologies which produce heat, but not electricity (and are much more cost effective than solar panels). While solar electric panels are not an economically feasible choice to power your air conditioning, a solar panel can power an attic fan that can help reduce the amount of time you use your AC.

Locating your Panels – Very Important!

A key factor in the effective use of solar electricity is proper placement of the solar panels. Make sure to locate the panels where they will receive full sunlight between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm. Be sure that the solar panels will not be shaded by shadows from tree branches, chimneys, other structures, etc. Once again – NO SHADE! You will be mounting the solar panels on the roof, the ground or a pole. For more information on the proper placement solar electric panels, please checkout the How To for Solar Panel Mounting article.

How Long will Solar Panels Last?

Solar panels use the sun’s light to generate electricity. They generate electricity during sunny daylight hours and can be used in a system with batteries so that the electricity can be used at other times as well. Also known as Photovoltaic (PV) modules, solar panels are the main component of a solar electric system. Along with an inverter, mounting system, batteries and Solar Charge Controllers, solar panels can produce electricity to power the energy efficient appliances and lights and appliances in most households. Solar panels themselves generally last over 25 years, and require little maintenance. Many of the first solar panels produced in the 50s are still in use today. Many of the solar panels have a 20 year warranty or more. A common warranty states that the panels will produce at least 80% of their rated power after 20 years.

What else will I Need with a Solar Panel?

In addition to the solar panel mounting hardware, there are additional components that you will need for a safe installation. If you plan on using just one solar panel in a battery based system (an off-grid system), you will need a solar charge controller and overcurrent protection to protect each major component of your system: solar panels, solar charge controller, deep cycle batteries, and inverter. If you plan on using more solar panels in your system, you will also need to safely wire the photovoltaic solar panels together and to the charge controller. An easy and safe way to do this is by using MC (multi contact) connectors. These connectors connect to the cables coming from the solar panel and can be cut in half to expose bare wire. Combiner & pass-through boxes are used to collect the bare ends of the wire from multiple solar panels; then from the combiner box you can run just one set of wires to the solar charge controller. For each series string of solar panels, you will need an appropriate sized breaker.

That’s a lot of components to figure out! If after reading all this you are a little confused but even more excited about solar energy, what’s next? Well, you can read more about solar panel systems. Also, our AltE U offers in-person workshops in Massachusetts and Ohio, as well as free education online videos. If you are considering installing your own solar electric system or installing PV (photovoltaic panels) as a business, be sure to check out our series of three classes beginning with our Basic Photovoltaic and Site Assessment class.

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