October 24, 2014

Today we’re going to discuss the basics of a solar panels and solar panel choices for creating clean, cheap energy for your home. The heart of the PV system is the solar panel or module. This is where the magic happens and solar photons are converted into direct current electricity. Each panel is roughly 3.5 feet by 5.5 feet and weighs about 45 pounds. Most solar panels are composed of silicon solar cells encased in a tempered glass and aluminum frame. The panels are very sturdy and the tempered glass is hail impacted tested as part of the certification process.

Let’s talk warranty. Most panels have two warranties. The first is a power warranty and that is usually 25 years. The second, and more important warranty, is the defect warranty. Almost all panels have a 10 year defect warranty. One company offers a 25 year defect warranty, which we will get to soon.

We at CAM Solar like to provide our customers with a choice in their solar panels and not just sell whatever panel we could get cheapest that week. To assist in the decision, we have divided panels into three tiers. Since the panels are the heart of the system and the most important component, we like to inform our customers fully on the ins and outs of each panel tier. With over 400 solar panel manufacturer’s out there, CAM Solar wants to help make choosing the best one for your home or business as easy as possible.

Let’s start at the lowest tier. Tier 3 panels are manufactured by companies that do not have a strong financial backing and that do not meet a minimum threshold in terms of the number of panels produced. Tier 3 companies are ones that, after extensive research and market analysis, we feel will not survive the continuing consolidation of the solar manufacturing industry. Choosing a panel from this category has a strong risk that the company will not be around to support the warranties, should an issue arise. Though, generally cheaper, we like to tell our customers that choosing a Tier 3 panel requires that they “self insure.” Those savings should be assumed to cover the potential for lost warranty. Almost none of our customers choose this option.

Now let’s look at Tier 2 panels. These are panels are made by companies that market analysts believe will survive the consolidation. These companies have strong financial backing and are global top 10 manufacturers. Panels in the category also have high real world production numbers as shown in the PV USA Test Conditions Ratings. Buying panels from Tier 2 companies helps to ensure that you have warranty coverage for the entire warranty period. Our top selling Tier 2 panel is the Canadian Solar panel. Nearly 40% of our customers choose this option.

Sitting alone in Tier 1 is the Sunpower panel. We at CAM Solar have separated Sunpower into its own Tier due to their longevity, robust quality, unsurpassed warranty, and top efficiency. Sunpower has been around for 28 years and has been a leader in the industry. They offer panels with 20 to 22% efficiency vs. the 14-16% efficiency of Tier2 and Tier 3 panels. In the same frame size as a 250W Tier2 panel, the Sunpower panel offers 327W. Additionally, each watt produces more energy than a Tier2 or Tier3 panel. Sunpower also offers an industry leading warranty. Not only providing a 25 year power warranty, but also a 25 year defect warranty, which covers the cost to remove, ship, and replace any defective panels. This is by far a superior offering. About 60% of our customers choose Sunpower panels for their solar needs.

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