2021 Guide To Choosing The Best Solar Panels

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choosing the best solar panels

When it comes to solar, there is no one-size fits all solution. In fact, there are several factors that influence which solar panels will best suit your home. In particular, your roof size and the amount of shade your roof receives, as well as the overall climate in your area, will help determine which solar panels are the best for your home.

However, Smart Solar Energy Co. works with several solar panel manufacturers that we stand behind proudly. Our solar manufacturers have solutions that meet the needs of most homeowners in Oregon, Washington, and the Pacific Northwest.

Below, we’ll explain the reasons we chose our manufacturers to help show you how it’s possible to purchase high-quality solar panels at a good value. The key components you should look for in your solar panels are production quality, solar panel durability, and the actual production power of the panels. Let’s break down each of these factors.

House In The Sun

Solar Panel Production Quality: Look for American-Made Solar Panels

Our solar panels are German-engineered and manufactured in Irvine, California. This is an important distinction because many solar manufacturers that are headquartered in the United States actually manufacture their solar panels overseas. Many solar panels are manufactured in Asia, and production standards vary across several of the countries in Asia that produce large volumes of panels, such as China and Malaysia. When you purchase solar panels that are manufactured here in the United States, you can be sure that your solar panels are high-quality because they have been inspected and manufactured according to US regulations and standards. You can also feel good about your solar panels with the knowledge that you’re supporting American manufacturing jobs with your purchase.

Our providers have been selected by meeting a series of rigorous standards, but one if them is the location of their manufacturing: The United States. While, “American-made,” can sometimes be synonymous with “expensive,” luckily, that is not the case with our American-made solar panels. Due to our high volume of solar install projects, Smart Solar is able to purchase our solar panels in bulk, resulting in the best possible cost savings. We then pass these savings on to you—the customer—ensuring you are getting the best quality and the best pricing. In fact, our bulk purchasing deals are so cost-effective that many boutique solar resellers purchase their panels through our company, rather than through the distributor, to access our volume pricing.

Solar Panel Durability: The Manufacturer Warranty

One of the biggest distinguishing factors between solar panels are the warranties that accompany them. There’s a common misconception that solar panels degrade quickly. While this may be truer with lesser-quality solar panels, high-quality solar panels should continue producing significant solar energy for upwards of forty to fifty years. All solar panels degrade over time, and the rate of degradation varies depending on the quality of the solar panels. However, environmental factors can also influence the degradation rate of solar panels. One of the benefits of going solar in the Pacific Northwest is the moderate climate’s minimal effect on the degradation of solar panels. In hot, sunny climates like Arizona and Florida, solar panels degrade more rapidly because the nonstop heat and sun cause more microscopic damage to the cells in solar panels. In Oregon and Washington, we benefit from moderate temperatures and sunny (but not scorching) summers, which benefit the lifespan of your solar panels.

Solar panel manufacturers all offer manufacturing warranties, which guarantee the integrity of the solar panels themselves. Some manufacturers may offer a 10-year warranty, but we recommend looking for a 15-year manufacturing warranty. This information should always be available on the manufacturer’s website. Your solar installer should typically provide you with a detailed fact sheet from the manufacturer.

At Smart Solar, we work exclusively with manufacturers that offer 15-year manufacturing warranties on their solar panels. If there are any malfunctions or damage to your solar panels (which is highly unlikely), the manufacturer performs the repairs at their expense. Additionally, we offer our own 25-year guarantee. This means that, once the manufacturer’s warranty has lapsed, any malfunctions in the following 10-year window (in the 15-25 years after you install your solar panels) will be performed at our expense.

Solar Panel Production Power: The Production Warranty

The second warranty you should look for is the production warranty. While the solar panel manufacturer typically provides a manufacturing warranty, look for an additional production warranty from the manufacturer or solar installer. A robust warranty from the solar installer is a good sign that that the solar installer stands behind the quality of the solar panels they’re using to create your solar system.

The production warranty guarantees the minimum amount of power that your solar panels will generate after a given number of years. This warranty essentially ensures that your solar panels will still produce a specified amount of their original production power within the provided timeframe. Both 20- and 25-year warranties are common, but we recommend seeking a 25-year production warranty, which is what the highest-quality solar panel manufacturers will offer.

Our solar panels also come with a 25-year warranty that guarantees your solar panels will still produce 85% of their production power 25 years from now. In the solar industry, you’ll more commonly find 25-year warranties that guarantee 80% production power 25 years after you installed your solar panels, making our warranties some of the best on the market. Due to the quality of our solar panels, our guarantees, and the climates we benefit from in the Pacific Northwest, your solar panels will continue to produce solar energy for a very, very long time.

Let’s do some math to illustrate our 25-year 85% production power warranty. If you purchase solar panels with a 300 watt production power in 2020, your solar panels will still generate at least 255 watts of solar energy in 2045! If you chose solar panels that offered a more standard warranty of 80% production at 25 years, your solar panels would instead generate 240 watts of solar power in 2045.

The Way Solar Panels Look

Although it may be less important than the quality and durability of your solar panels, one thing homeowners should consider when installing solar panels is the way the panels look. After all, you will be looking at your solar panels every day when you step outside your house. There are two different types of solar panels that have distinctly different visual effects: polycrystalline solar panels and monocrystalline solar panels. Polycrystalline solar cells are blue-ish with a crystal pattern, while monocrystalline solar cells are all black. Polycrystalline solar cells are created by blending many silicon crystals together, and cutting cells from the crystallized blend of silicon. Monocrystalline cells, on the other hand, are created from one single silicon crystal. Most homeowners choose monocrystalline solar panels for the clean and simple look of an all-black solar panel array. And, as luck would have it, monocrystalline solar cells are also the more efficient of the two options due to the better integrity of the monocrystalline cells’ silicon wafer.

Solar Panels On A Roof

The Best Solar Panels for Washington & Oregon Homeowners

For our homeowners in Washington, we typically install monocrystalline solar panels from German-engineered companies that manufacture their solar panels in the United States. Some of the solar brands we recommend include Axitec—a German-engineered solar energy brand with a 25-year, 85% production power guarantee. We also recommend Q Cells solar panels, which is another German-engineered solar panel company that provides an industry-leading 25-year, 85% production power guarantee. In 2019, Q Cells and Axitec were both recognized with the “Top PV Brand” award by EUPD—a research firm in Europe that focuses on rigorously testing and scoring renewable energy consumer products.

Conditions That Affect the Durability of Solar Panels

As we mentioned above, there are some locales where solar panels lose efficiency more quickly than others. Extreme fluctuations in temperature, extreme sun, extreme heat, and heavy snow can all cause solar panels to degrade more rapidly. These conditions will cause microscopic cracks inside the solar cells that accelerate degradation over time; extreme weather can also contribute to wiring failure or cell corrosion. High temperatures and humidity can also trigger a process called potential-induced degradation (PID) which happens when sodium ions migrate from the solar panels’ glass to the solar cells themselves.

Fortunately for homeowners in the Pacific Northwest, extreme weather is not an issue when it comes to solar panel durability. Our climate is ideal for solar panels. The mildness of the Pacific Northwest’s temperatures is ideal for solar panel longevity, while our long sunny days in the summer (that aren’t overly hot) allow homeowners to produce plenty of solar energy.

Even if you live in a locale where extreme weather is a factor, or you experience a freak weather incident, your solar array will be covered by your manufacturer warranty if there are any damages, and your production warranty covers any undue degradation of your solar panels’ production power. This is why selecting a reputable solar installer that uses high-quality solar panels is so important.

solar snow

Other Decisions to Make When Going Solar

Choosing your solar panels should be an easy decision if you’re working with a good solar installer. Your installer should guide you to the best panels for your home’s needs after performing a solar audit that determines your home’s solar production power. Remember: you’re looking for high-quality, American-made solar panels, 15-year manufacturer warranties, and a strong production guarantee (we recommend looking for an 85% production power warranty).

Some of the other choices you will make when you go solar will be whether you install a less expensive grid-tied system that allows you to benefit from net energy metering (this is by far the most common choice) or whether you want to opt for a more expensive off-grid system that allows you to be completely energy independent.

Read more about grid-tied solar systems here; read about off-grid solar systems here.

If you opt for a grid-tied system, you will also need to decide if you want to opt for a hybrid system, in which you install a battery to store the excess energy that your home’s solar panels produce. This is more common for homeowners who are working with utility companies that don’t offer one-to-one net energy metering incentives. Installing a battery is more expensive, but it will allow you to store and use all of the energy you produce, rather than giving excess energy back to the grid, thereby resulting in less power purchased from the utility company.

Read more about net energy metering here.

Once you’ve decided on the size and type of your solar system with your solar installer, you will then need to decide how you’re going to pay for your system. There are three primary routes for financing a solar install: you can pay cash up front, you can finance your system, or you can lease your solar system. We always recommend financing, as this option guarantees you will be in the green long-term—even if you sell your home before your solar panels are paid off. At Smart Solar Energy Co., we work with a variety of local banks and credit unions to provide competitive low-interest financing for our customers.

Learn more about the costs and payment options for going solar here.

Finally, you have to consider the timing of when you go solar. Solar is a technology, and like any technology, it’s tempting to wait and see if it improves over time. However, solar technology is currently at an all-time high, and there are a number of incentives in place right now that make 2020 and 2021 the ideal time to switch to solar. Right now, there is a Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) that offers homeowners who install solar a 26% dollar-for-dollar tax rebate on the overall cost of their solar installation. In 2021, this credit will drop to 22%, and in 2022, it will go away entirely. The ITC is worth thousands of dollars, but soon it will be gone.

Additionally, net energy metering incentives currently allow most homeowners in Oregon and Washington to benefit from receiving energy credits from the power company in exchange for the excess solar energy that they send to the utility grid. However, many power companies are beginning to change this model by reducing the value of solar credits. Fortunately, homeowners are grandfathered into the net energy metering incentive that is in place at the time of their install, regardless of the power company’s rate changes over time.

For these reasons, there’s never been a better time to go solar. Start by getting a free solar audit, either safely in-person or virtually, to find out how much you can save by switching to solar!

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