Best High Efficiency Solar Panels for Homes in 2021: Pros and Cons

Solar has been one of the fastest-moving industries over the last decade, which is why it can be difficult to know where to start when shopping for the best solar panels for your home, and how to make important decisions while weighing your options.

Residential rooftop solar panels installed on the south-facing side of the roof on a two-story house.

To help homeowners in the United States and beyond, we’ve developed this guide, which explores everything you need to know about today’s best high efficiency solar panels designed for residential use.

Now that you’ve decided to take the first step to lower your home’s carbon footprint and utility expenses, it is time to find the right solar panels, equipment, and installer to carry out the job.

Table of Contents:

Understanding High-Efficiency Solar Panels

First, let’s begin with sufficient information to bring even the newest solar panel novices up to speed.

It doesn’t take an expert to recognize that “high-efficiency” solar panels imply a high-quality product, but the term has somewhat lost its true meaning as every reputable manufacturer claims that their solar panels are “high-efficiency.”

The efficiency rating of a solar panel is expressed as a percentage and indicates the efficiency with which a given panel can generate usable electricity from direct sunlight.

Majority of solar panels available on the market today are rated for 15% to 20% solar energy conversion efficiency. However, there are also ultra-premium residential PV panels from companies like SunPower, LG, and Panasonic that achieve energy conversion efficiency ratings of 20% to 23%.

In the context of this guide, we refer to high-performance solar modules with efficiency ratings between 19% and 23% as high-efficiency panels.

Did you know? All solar panels lose efficiency and degrade over time. When looking at a specific solar panel, we are not only concerned with the initial efficiency rate but also with how well that initial efficiency will be retained over time. – This is known as the solar panel efficiency degradation rate. The slower a specific panel’s performance degrades over time the more premium and valuable it is.

Most premium, high-efficiency and high-power home solar panels on the market today will retain at least 85% of their initial conversion efficiency at the 25-year mark, while the best of breed panels will retain over 90% of the initial efficiency at the 25-year mark.

When a given solar panel harnesses the sunlight and produces electricity, its actual efficiency performance will vary based on the ambient temperature aka the air temperature of the panel’s immediate surroundings, shade, cloudiness, weather conditions, and sun angle/conditions.

While low-efficiency solar panels may work for yard lights or calculators, midrange to high-power efficiency modules are entirely necessary when considering most home installations with limited rooftop space.

So, while many solar salesmen are eager to tout their “high-efficiency” panels, it is important to recognize that every reputable residential solar company should exclusively install high-quality solar panels with efficiency rating that are appropriate for your home’s needs — for a worthwhile renewable energy investment.

What are High-Efficiency Solar Panels?

Today, monocrystalline PERC and N-type IBC solar cells have been developed for efficiencies of 18% to 20% and above. This has set the new standard for high-efficiency residential solar panels of the future, as commercially available panels are beginning to exceed 20% to 22% peak operating efficiencies.

More so, extensive research is being conducted into photovoltaic (PV) solar energy, with new technologies debuting constantly at high-efficiency ratings. For instance, InsoLight has recently unveiled hyper-efficient solar panel designs with working efficiencies of over 30%.

Monocrystalline Solar Cells vs. Polycristalline

Today, most high-efficiency solar panels utilize monocrystalline solar cells, not polycrystalline. However, there are some decent quality polycrystalline solar panels like the ones from Trina Solar that can achieve efficiencies of over 17%, making them an affordable and economical choice for some of the more-spacious and larger-sized residential rooftops.

Solar Industry Jargon: “Poly” or “mono” for short, mono cells are generally more efficient than poly cells but they are also usually significantly more expensive.

Relatively speaking, solar panels can be considered highly efficient if they are sold with a manufacturer’s efficiency rating above 17%. What this means is that the solar cells within the panel can convert 17% of the energy from sunlight that hits the panel’s surface area.

While 17 percent Sunlight-to-Electricity conversion efficiency rate may not sound like a lot, it is important to understand that all energy conversions experience some energy loss, and that the amount of sunlight that earth receives is truly abundant! 😊

For our guide’s purposes, we define high-efficiency solar panels as those with efficiency ratings of 19% or higher and efficiency degradation rates of 85% or higher at the 25-year mark.

Note that we’ve also included Jinko Solar on our list of the most efficient solar panels in spite of Jinko solar panels having only about 81% of their initial efficiency remaining after 25 years in service.

However, our view is that Jinko’s relatively high initial efficiency rate and their superior value pricing, make Jinko solar panels a compelling option for budget conscious homeowners.

Our view and that of the industry is that premium quality panels will degrade at a slower rate than basic or midrange panels.

Here are the top 11 most efficient solar panels and brands to consider for home solar power system installations:

Rank Make Model Power Efficiency 25-year Efficiency
1 SunPower Maxeon 3 400 W 22.6 % 92 %
2 LG Neon R 405 W 22.3 % 92.5 %
3 REC Alpha 405 W 21.9 % 92 %
4 Panasonic EverVolt 380 W 21.7 % 92 %
5 Jinko Solar Tiger Pro 6Rl3 585 W 21.4 % 80.7 %
6 FuturaSun Silk Pro 440 W 21.16 % 87 %
7 Trina Solar Vertex S 405 W 21.1 % 83.1 %
8 Canadian Solar HiDM 420 W 20.4 % 83.1%
9 Solaria PowerXT 400 W 20.2 % 86%
10 Q Cells Peak Duo G6+ 345 W 19.5 % 85%
11 Mission Solar Energy 385 SX5R 385 W 19.3 % 84.08 %

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Rooftop Solar Panel System Cost per Watt in 2021: 5kW-7kW, 6kW-8kW

This is a good time to install a photovoltaic solar power system on your property. Residential rooftop PV solar panels cost per watt installed has been dropping and newer technology is enabling a far greater efficiency – that’s more solar energy converted into electricity for home usage – for less money.

A new asphalt shingle roof outfitted with PV solar panels

Your options for buying, leasing, Purchasing Power Agreements (PPA, see below) are expanding, and many homeowners are getting solar panels installed on their rooftops for zero down.

In this guide:

  1. Cost per Watt
  2. Total System Cost
  3. Cost Factors
  4. Rooftop Installation Considerations
  5. PV Solar Panels
  6. Buying, Leasing, and PPA Options
  7. BiPV Solar Tiles
  8. Thin-Film Solar Laminates
  9. PACE Solar Finance Program
  10. Solar System Payback Period

Cost per Watt

The national average residential solar cost per watt installed is $2.96 for a typical 5kW (approximately $14,800) to 7kW (approximately $20,720) PV solar panels system when installed by local installers, before the 26% solar investment tax credits from the federal government.

Did you know? The 26% solar tax credits have recently been extended by congress through the end of 2022. Notably, solar ITC apply to the full amount paid for the installation of a new solar panels system.

Depending on the state you live in, your quoted cost per watt can range from $2.78 to $3.22, on average, when installed by a (small) local solar panel installer, before the 26% federal tax rebate.

Note that solar investment tax credits (ITC) are being phased out, gradually, with the amount of tax credits decreasing from 26% to 22% in 2023 (the final year for solar ITC).

How Solar Pricing Has Decreased Over Time In 2008, the cost of a solar power installation was $8.82 per watt.

Average System Cost for residential PV Solar Panels installed by Local Installers:

Small Home Average Home Large Home
Home Size 1 – 2 bedrooms 3 – 4 bedrooms 5 bedrooms
System Size 5 – 7kW 7 – 8.5kW 9 – 10kW
System Cost $14,800 to $20,720 $20,800 to $25,160 $26,640 to $29,600
After Tax Credits $10,952 to $15,333 $15,350 to $18,618 $19,714 to $21,904

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Top 6 Energy Efficient Home Improvements and Their Costs in 2021

Are your ready to make your home greener and more energy-efficient? If so, consider the following five home improvement upgrades that can be completed by a professional remodeling contractor, as well as by an experienced DIY enthusiast working collaboratively with a handy friend. 😉 1. Cool Roofs vs. Traditional Asphalt Shingles and Dark EPDM Rubber … Read more