The world of solar has advanced dramatically. Whether it’s through ever-increasing solar panel efficiency, state-of-the-art manufacturing processes, or sleek, low-profile roof mounting systems, solar’s clean energy is becoming more accessible every day. Throughout this guide, you’ll find valuable tools and information to help you move forward confidently in your search for a solar solution that’s right for you and your home.

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Solar Panels 101: 3 Facts to Know

As you launch into the world of solar, there are a few concepts that are useful to understand. Our short quiz will get you familiar with the terms of the trade:

The word photovoltaic
(PV) means:

A. Solar Energy

B. Sun Light

C. Light Electricity

D. Sun Rays

Light Electricity

The word photovoltaic comes from blending “photo,” the Greek word for light, and “volt,” the term for electrical potential.

The most common PV
cells today are:

A. Crystalline Silicon Cells

B. Plastic Cells

C. Polymer Cells

D. Hybrid Cells

Crystalline Silicon Cells

Created in 1954 by Bell Labs, these cells are still the most common solar cells.

In solar, the word
efficiency means:

A. The amount of space a solar panel takes on a roof

B. The time it will take a contactor to get an array installed

C. The portion of sunlight that a solar panel converts into electricity

D. The amount of money you can save with a solar array

The portion of sunlight that a solar panel converts into electricity.

Just as the costs have gone down, efficiency in solar panels continues to rise.

Source: Energy.gov

Solar Panels by the Numbers

While information on specific solar panels, prices, and manufacturers can be tough to pin down, we’ve done our best to provide a comprehensive look at a variety of panels to get you started. Check out our interactive rankings charts and then sort the information for yourself based on what factors are most important to you.

Expert Advice on Solar Panels

What are some of the big questions you get from homeowners coming into your showroom about home solar systems?

Normally they want to know how solar systems work, how the panels work, what the differences are between different panels. The biggest questions are always, “What is the cost?” and “How will I save money with solar?”

Find Out What Costs Go Into Building a Solar System

What do you tell them?

It depends on how much power the customer needs. So we look at how the customer uses power, then look at the roof space and determine how much power we can put up. There are a number of factors, but a current ballpark figure per-panel, fully installed (including the inverter, labor, etc.) is about $800 to $1,400 a panel, depending on the equipment pairing that the customer selects.

Learn More About Inverters, Roof Mounts and Complete Solar Systems

How about pricing for the panels themselves?

Here in California, almost all of the panels you see are tier-one panels and are all pretty standard at this point. So what you get with less expensive panels is often the same amount of power as the more expensive panels. When it comes to specific panel choice and price, it generally comes down to roof space and other factors like aesthetics. The reality is that power is power once it’s created.

Is Wholesale Pricing an Option for You?

Just as a reference, we offer three different panels: a 260W, a 280W and a 305W. The 260W is the least expensive, but if there’s enough roof space on the customer’s home to get the total power that they need, that’s usually the panel we recommend. Additionally, that panel has one of the best warranties in the industry. Some customers will prefer a more efficient panel because it takes up less space on the roof, for example.

Learn More About Solar Panel Efficiency

How important to your customers is the appearance of the solar panels?

It depends on the customer. Most of the panels used in the residential market today have the black frame around them and the commercial [market] panels use the silver frame. Also, there are basically two types of panels in use today, the monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Polycrystalline panels tend to be that navy blue color, where the monocrystalline ones have the black color. And those customers who are concerned more about aesthetics tend to choose the monocrystalline panels because the black color blends into the house a little bit better than the navy blue.

Pros and Cons of Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline, and Thin Film Solar Panels

Other than color, what is the difference between a monocrystalline and polycrystalline panel?

The two types use different technologies. Polycrystalline is the newer technology. They cost less [than monocrystalline] to manufacture, so they tend to be less in price for the consumer. They are a bit less efficient. [Polycrystalline] is what you see on most houses today. Monocrystalline is the older technology. They’re typically more efficient and generally cost more to manufacture, but the cells tend to not break down as fast or as easily. Most major manufacturers today build both types.

Quick Quiz: Find Out Which Solar Panels Are Right for You

Do you have customers come in to your showroom looking for a particular brand of panel?

Not really. Many of them do not want to purchase a panel manufactured in China, but most are not conversant enough to know the differences in the brands. I’ve had some customers come in and talk about a specific brand because of that brand’s warranty, but most of it has to do with wanting an American brand instead of one made in China.

Does the Solar Panel Manufacturer Really Matter?

Do you think that has to do more with patriotism or a perceived difference in quality?

It depends. I think for most people it’s a concern about quality.

American Made vs. Foreign Solar Panels

What would be your one or two biggest pieces of advice you would give a person new to considering a solar PV system for his or her home?

I would say, first, get the most bang for your buck. Also, if someone is offering you only one thing, it’s probably not the best thing for you. You definitely want to make sure you know what equipment you are getting because there are some companies that won’t tell you that, they’ll just tell you that you are getting panels and an inverter, and that they’ll create power. Make sure you have a better understanding of the equipment you are getting than just that.

Finding the Most Affordable Solar Panels

Take Our Quiz to Find the Perfect Solar Panel Installer for You

Financing Your Solar Panels

Understanding solar panels, inverters and installation is an important piece of the residential solar system commitment, but it’s only half the challenge. Now it’s time to figure out the best way to pay for your panels and get the highest return on investment possible for years to come.

A typical installed residential solar system in the United States will cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000.

If you have that amount on hand, awesome! You’re ready to continue with your solar system research and find yourself a solar contractor. But if your wallet is a little less fat, don’t think solar is out of reach. There are financing options for almost every homeowner:

Lease

With the solar lease, a homeowner contracts with a solar company to have a solar system installed on the home. The solar company owns the solar array, and the homeowner leases the system through monthly payments and ideally, through lower utility bills, the homeowner keeps more money in his or her pocket each month.

Is Solar Lease a Good Choice for You?

Loan

A solar loan is similar to any other home improvement loan and has the added benefit of the homeowner actually owning the solar system on the house. Owning the system entitles the homeowner to all tax incentives and rebates, which can be significant.

Find Out If Solar Loan Is the Way to Go For You

PPA

Similar to a solar lease, a power purchase agreement involves a contract with a solar financing company to install a solar system on your home. The financing company owns the panels and the homeowner purchases the power produced.

Learn More about Power Purchase Agreements

Check Out Our Side-By-Side Comparison of All Your Financing Options