A solar power system offers a guaranteed return on investment, but only if you use high-quality products installed by professionals. Remember that solar panels are electrical devices, and they need adequate wiring and protections like any other system with voltage and current.
Also, consider that solar panels are intended to operate for decades, and they need a reliable racking system that resists high winds and other harsh weather conditions.
Before installing solar panels for a home or business, a very important step is choosing your product brands and installation company. Keep in mind that solar panels are only one part of a functional photovoltaic system, and you need to ensure that all components are safe and durable.
For example, you need a high-quality inverter to convert the output of solar panels into a stable AC voltage supply, and you need a tough racking system to hold the modules in place.
In this guide, we will provide some recommendations when choosing solar panels, inverters, and other system components. We will also discuss what to look for when comparing solar installers, to ensure that all elements of your PV system are properly installed.
The last thing you would want is purchasing a top solar panel brand, only to have your warranty voided by a poor installation procedure.
Choosing Solar Panels: Importance of Quality and Availability
As mentioned above, the quality of your solar panels is critical if you want a power generation system that will stand the test of time. However, you should also focus on brands with a local presence.
Even the best products can suffer performance issues and malfunctions, and you will want to have access to technical support if this happens.
In the age of e-commerce, it’s possible to purchase almost any product online and have it delivered at your door. This also applies for solar panels, but you can run into several issues when using a brand without a local presence:
- Local solar installers may not be familiarized with the brand, which means the installation procedure will be less efficient and errors will be more likely.
- Getting defective solar panels is rare when you purchase a quality brand, but it can happen. If you use a brand without local representatives, you will have to deal with the warranty claim on your own.
- When you use solar brands with a local presence, the manufacturer manages the supply chain directly or with authorized retailers. On the other hand, when you purchase a solar panel brand that is shipped from somewhere else, the delivery involves third parties who may lack experience handling solar panels and other photovoltaic components.
Using solar components that are locally available is also helpful if you plan to expand your system in the future. When solar installers are familiarized with components, they can easily expand or modify an existing installation.
On the other hand, if your PV system uses brands that are not normally found in your area, upgrading your installation may involve some trial and error.
There are many solar manufacturers who offer high quality products, and this means you will generally have many options available. When you want to compare solar brands that are considered the best in the industry, EnergySage is a great source of information. Their top 10 list for 2022 includes the following brands:
Buying solar panels can be compared with buying a car. There are premium brands that offer the highest efficiency ratings in the market at a higher price, and there are value brands with less efficiency but also lower prices.
Monocrystalline solar panels have a higher efficiency than their polycrystalline counterparts, but they are also more expensive. There is a common misconception that a lower efficiency indicates a lower quality, but you can find excellent solar panels of both types with solid warranty coverage.
As a bare minimum, you should look for solar manufacturers who offer at least a 10-year product warranty and a 25-year power production warranty. However, most leading brands now offer 25-year product warranties, and the power production warranty sometimes reaches 30 years.
Keep in mind that solar panels need racking to remain in place, and you also need to ensure that this part of the system offers high quality. Some leading brands in the US market include SnapNrack, Unirac, and Ironridge.
If you have a home that needs a roof replacement soon, you also have the option of installing a solar roof with built-in photovoltaic cells. In this case, your new roof and solar panels are combined into a single system. The following are some leading solar roof providers:
A solar roof is more expensive than a traditional solar panel system since it involves a partial or complete replacement of your roof. However, if you need a new roof for your home anyway, the cost of a solar roof is often less than the combined cost of a new roof and solar panels.
Choosing the Right Type of Solar Inverter
The inverter is the device that converts the DC power generated by solar panels into the AC power required by your home devices. The inverter also synchronizes with the grid voltage and frequency, so you can use electricity from both sources without having to switch between them. However, you need to make sure you choose the right type of inverter before proceeding with the installation.
The main question that determines the type of inverter you need is: Do you plan to add energy storage? If the answer is yes, you should install a hybrid inverter, which can manage solar panels and batteries simultaneously.
A traditional inverter can only handle the electricity output of solar panels, and you will need a separate battery inverter if you want to add energy storage capacity in the future. By installing a hybrid inverter from the start, you can connect both solar panels and batteries to the same device.
- SolarEdge manufactures string inverters, which means your solar panels are connected in series circuits or strings and connected to a central inverter.
- Enphase manufactures micro-inverters, which are directly installed on solar panels. This means each module has its own inverter and there are no string circuits.
Each configuration has advantages and disadvantages. Solar PV systems with string inverters have lower installation costs, but all solar panels in the same string become dependent: if one of them is covered by shadows or malfunctioning, all of them will suffer a drop in performance.
On the other hand, a solar PV system with micro-inverters has a higher cost because there are more individual devices, but solar panels operate independently, and the overall system efficiency is higher.
The list of inverter brands recommended by EnergySage also includes SMA and Tigo. These brands are less popular than SolarEdge and Enphase, but they also offer top quality.
Choosing a Solar Installation Company: What to Look For?
You can purchase the best solar panels and inverters in the market, but you also need a professional installation to achieve good results. This means your solar panels must be properly wired and anchored with a reliable racking system.
Like any electrical installation, your solar power system must be protected by DC and AC circuit breakers. All components must also be sized properly according to the expected voltage and current.
- You should look for a solar installation company who is licensed in your state, and ideally, they should also have a NABCEP certification. NABCEP stands for the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. When an installation company has the certification, it indicates that their knowledge has been validated by experts through an unbiased assessment.
- Remember you can also look for company reviews online using Google or social networks. In the modern world, it’s almost impossible for a company to hide its online presence. However, companies with a good track record have no reason to hide it in the first place.
The best solar installers will often offer warranties beyond those offered by equipment manufacturers. This makes solar power an even safer investment: there are two companies who will respond if anything goes wrong while your system is covered by their warranties.
Depending on the solar panel brand used, you may get better warranty conditions if your installation company meets certain requirements. For example, a solar manufacturer who normally offers a 15-year product warranty may increase the coverage to 25 years if your photovoltaic system is set up by one of their approved installers.
Good Solar Panels, Deficient Installation? Be Careful!
You can expect higher savings and reliability when using high-quality solar panels and inverters, but only if you also get professional workmanship.
Even the best equipment in the market can give you trouble when not installed properly, and manufacturer warranties are also voided. In other words, high-quality solar products become a wasted investment when installed incorrectly.
The opposite scenario is much less likely: having a professional installation but deficient products. Qualified solar installers will protect their reputation, and this means they will generally avoid projects where solar components are of low quality.
Even if the installation procedure is completed perfectly, these products can fail in the short term and hurt the installer’s reputation. Solar installation companies will generally have partnerships with leading brands, ensuring you get top-level workmanship combined with product quality.
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