Nike. Apple. Budweiser. The Gap. When you’re shopping for running shoes, a laptop, a beer or a sweater, you probably have a pretty good idea what you’ll get with those brands.

Now try it with solar panels: ReneSola. Trina. Yingli. Jinko.

If none of those names ring a bell, you aren’t alone. Most people considering solar for their homes are starting at square one, and differentiating between solar manufacturers can seem impossible. But with a little insight into how the solar panel-manufacturer world operates, you’ll be on firm footing to find the right solar panels for your needs.

Don’t judge a solar panel by brand name alone. There are other essential factors that will determine if a particular panel is right for you:

25 Top Solar Panel Manufacturing Companies

Solar panels are manufactured all over the world and the largest firms have global distribution. Some of the players, such as Trina, have consistently stayed at the top of the solar heap. Others, such as Solar World, are smaller but still offer decades of experience. Getting the most out of your solar investment goes deeper than buying a brand name solar panel, but choosing a solid manufacturer that can offer protection for the long haul.

Manufacturer Headquarters Year Founded Panel Types Output Range (w)
Astronergy
Astronergy

MAP VIEW

China 2006 poly
240
325
BYD
BYD

MAP VIEW

China 1995 poly
185
310
Canadian Solar
Canadian Solar

MAP VIEW

Canada 2001 mono / poly
200
325
Eging
Eging

MAP VIEW

China 2003 mono / poly
190
285
ET Solar
ET Solar

MAP VIEW

China 2005 mono / poly
195
320
First Solar
First Solar

MAP VIEW

Tempe, Arizona 1999 thin film / mono
225
325
Hanwha Q Cells
Hanwha Q Cells

MAP VIEW

South Korea 1952 mono / poly
255
280
Hyundai Heavy
Hyundai Heavy

MAP VIEW

South Korea 1972 mono / poly
230
295
JA Solar
JA Solar

MAP VIEW

China 2015 mono
210
330
JinkoSolar
JinkoSolar

MAP VIEW

China 2006 poly
215
320
Kyocera Solar
Kyocera Solar

MAP VIEW

Scottsdale, Arizona 1971 poly
140
330
LG
LG

MAP VIEW

South Korea 2004 mono
285
365
ReneSola
ReneSola

MAP VIEW

China 2005 mono / poly
210
320
Risen Energy
Risen Energy

MAP VIEW

China 1986 mono / poly
50
310
Seraphim
Seraphim

MAP VIEW

China 2009 mono / poly
210
335
SFCE
SFCE

MAP VIEW

China 2015 mono
185
260
Solar Frontier
Solar Frontier

MAP VIEW

Japan 1990 thin film
150
170
Solar World
Solar World

MAP VIEW

Germany 1998 mono / poly
250
350
SunPower
SunPower

MAP VIEW

Silicon Valley, California 1985 mono
320
345
SunTech
SunTech

MAP VIEW

China 2001 mono / poly
255
320
TrinaSolar
TrinaSolar

MAP VIEW

China 1997 mono
245
315
Vikram
Vikram

MAP VIEW

India 2006 poly
240
315
Winaico
Winaico

MAP VIEW

Taiwan 2003 mono / poly
260
300
Yingli Green
Yingli Green

MAP VIEW

China 1998 mono / poly
250
325
Zhongli Talesun
Zhongli Talesun

MAP VIEW

China 2010 mono / poly
220
325

Rankings:
How to Evaluate Solar Panel Makers

Selecting a brand of quality solar component can be complex and overwhelming even for informed homeowners. One tool in understanding solar panel brands is the Tier System. The Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 distinctions were developed by Bloomberg New Energy Finance as a way to evaluate the bankability of manufacturers, that is, whether banks are likely to provide loans for projects using a particular manufacturer’s solar products. The tiers tell buyers less about particular panels than they do about the companies themselves. While the tiers don’t necessarily differentiate the quality of solar panels, they can demonstrate stability and consistency, so they can be used to help homeowners find quality solar products.

Tier 1 companies are the top of the heap. However, in an industry as heavily evolving as solar, manufacturers, their products and output can change drastically from year to year. According to Bloomberg’s standards, Tier 1 companies control all phases of production process within a heavily automated facility so that panels are standardized without variation. The Tier 1 manufacturers use a higher grade of silicon in their panels, which can make them more expensive. To stay on top, these companies invest in research and development so they can constantly improve their products and processes in the relatively new field. Potential solar owners, however, should do their homework and find out more about the products before buying based on a Tier 1 distinction.

More and more companies are claiming Tier 1 status, leaving Tier 2 for smaller and newer manufacturers looking to break into the industry. Bloomberg does not gather a list of Tier 2 and Tier 3 companies. However, companies that are considered Tier 2 are ones that are smaller and newer and have less money to invest in research and development. Buying a Tier 2 or Tier 3 solar panel is typically less expensive, but it also can be risky if the manufacturer uses a lower-quality silicon. However, many decent Tier 2 solar panels are available to potential solar owners who do their due diligence before purchasing.

Bloomberg does not compile a list of Tier 3 manufacturers. The companies considered Tier 3, or bottom of the industry, includes those who provide little data on their products or who have filed for insolvency protection. Tier 3 companies are also the newest in the industry, typically just a couple of years. The newest solar PV manufacturers are mostly assemblers of panels. These companies typically do not manufacture their own solar cells. They also assemble their panels manually with human labor, so there is the potential for inconsistency within the components.

  • Vertical integration at all phases of production
  • Heavily automated and standardized
  • Investing in research and development for continued improvement
  • Been in business at least five years

Tier 1 companies are the top of the heap. However, in an industry as heavily evolving as solar, manufacturers, their products and output can change drastically from year to year. According to Bloomberg’s standards, Tier 1 companies control all phases of production process within a heavily automated facility so that panels are standardized without variation. The Tier 1 manufacturers use a higher grade of silicon in their panels, which can make them more expensive. To stay on top, these companies invest in research and development so they can constantly improve their products and processes in the relatively new field. Potential solar owners, however, should do their homework and find out more about the products before buying based on a Tier 1 distinction.

  • Smaller and newer companies with some industry reputation
  • Some of their projects have bank financing
  • Little investment in research and development

More and more companies are claiming Tier 1 status, leaving Tier 2 for smaller and newer manufacturers looking to break into the industry. Bloomberg does not gather a list of Tier 2 and Tier 3 companies. However, companies that are considered Tier 2 are ones that are smaller and newer and have less money to invest in research and development. Buying a Tier 2 or Tier 3 solar panel is typically less expensive, but it also can be risky if the manufacturer uses a lower-quality silicon. However, many decent Tier 2 solar panels are available to potential solar owners who do their due diligence before purchasing.

  • Assemble using other manufacturers’ solar cells
  • Use human manual labor rather than automation
  • Newer companies, typically 1 to 2 years in business

Bloomberg does not compile a list of Tier 3 manufacturers. The companies considered Tier 3, or bottom of the industry, includes those who provide little data on their products or who have filed for insolvency protection. Tier 3 companies are also the newest in the industry, typically just a couple of years. The newest solar PV manufacturers are mostly assemblers of panels. These companies typically do not manufacture their own solar cells. They also assemble their panels manually with human labor, so there is the potential for inconsistency within the components.

The Future of Quality: New Standards

With the $100 billion boom of the photovoltaic industry from 1996 to 2014, the solar industry needed a way to reassure retailers and consumers that the PV modules for sale were reliably and consistently high quality without unreasonably high power output degradation. PV modules, after all, are the most expensive and noticeable parts of a solar system. Consumers, no matter where they live nor their region’s weather conditions, need to be assured that their solar modules will work in their installations.

In 2015, The National Renewable Energy Laboratory along with the International Electrotechnical Commission and the International PV Quality Assurance Task Force developed a set of quality standards for PV manufacturers. The goal was to help manufacturers replicate their PV design on an industrial scale without compromising quality and consistency.

PV manufacturers can use the new standards to increase confidence in their products’ safety and reliability. This standardization could help lower overall costs, which could help lower the cost of solar financing.

The new standard includes:

  • testing the PV modules for the chosen climate
  • improved product traceability through the supply chain
  • ensuring that the final installation of PV modules is functional and reliable

Learn more about how NREL and the solar industry are working to ensure consistent quality and reliability.