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best solar panel

While there are hundreds of solar panel manufacturers to choose from, there are only a few brands that are exceptionally popular with homeowners. Most of the solar power market is business-to-business, since manufacturers know that for regulatory or public images reasons, the demand for commercial solar panels is far greater than residential panels. Homeowners looking for the advantages of solar panels on a residential scale often find comparison shopping a confusing experience.

A typical mini solar panel for home use consists of any array of solar cells that deliver between 150 and 240 watts in a unit priced between $500 and $1500 plus shipping. Unfortunately, getting exact prices online is not recommended for inexperienced shoppers. The exact same panel will differ in price by hundreds of dollars. Often, reading the fine print will reveal that these panels are only sold in bulk, and that that price shown is wholesale.

In addition to a solar panel, the homeowner will need to purchase in inverter, which converts the panel’s DC output to the AC power used by the house. The benefits of solar panels can extend around the clock with batteries. To keep the supply of power constant during low light or nighttime conditions, panels can feed their power into one or more 24v batteries. The number of panels needed for a particular house will depend on the size and energy requirements of that house, so homeowners are highly encouraged to contact a professional domestic solar panel installer instead of attempting to estimate the energy requirements themselves.

There are three main types of silicon wafers used in domestic solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film. Most panels for residential use are comprised of polycrystalline silicon wafers. The most popular types of home solar systems are grid tie systems (also known as grid-tied, grid-connected or on-grid), which are connected to the public electrical utility grid, and can route any excess power back to the utility for credit by way of net-metering.

The Top 4 Solar Power Manufacturers

Based on extensive customer feedback, here are the best solar panel manufacturers that make units for home use.

Suntech. Founded in 2001 in China, Suntech has become the world’s preeminent manufacturer of residential and light commercial solar panels. Their most popular panel, the STP180-24/Ab-1, outputs 180 watts at 35.6 volts. The MSRP is $1046.00 per panel, but many online resellers offer them for as low as $800. With this and the other panels that follow, it definitely pays to comparison shop thoroughly.

BP. It may seem odd for an oil company espouse solar energy benefits. But even if some cynics question their motivations, no one argues that BP makes second-class panels. The BP 175B is the latest follow-up to their extremely popular SX 170B panel, upgrading from the original 170-watt/24-volt output to the current 175-watt/24-volt specification. Online reseller prices less frequently cited for this unit (most sites ask you to call), but a couple of sources show that this panel can be purchased for around $600. The company also makes EnergyTile roof shingles, whose design mimics the shape of flat concrete roof tiles. Check with a BP-partnered retailer, like Home Depot.

Kyocera. Formed in 1959 as a ceramics company in Kyoto, Japan, this manufacturer eventually branched out to telecommunications and office electronics before moving into the solar energy space. The Kyocera KD-205-GX-LP is the company’s most popular solar panel for households, delivering 205 watts at 26.6 volts. The MSRP is $530, but it’s fairly easy to find online resellers offering it for under $500. As always, make sure that an individual unit can be purchased for the listed price, as many prices are for volume purchases.

Evergreen Solar. Like Suntech, Evergreen Solar core competency is solar panels, but with their own unique technology. The company’s proprietary Solar Ribbon panels are comprised of wafers that are manufactured by stretching molten silicon between two parallel high-temperature filaments, rather than die cast and cut like traditional wafers. Their main panel in North America, the ES-A-201-fa3, is compliant with both U.S. and Canadian UL standards, outputting 210 watts at 12 volts. The MSRP is $940, but online resellers list them for as low as $550.

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