What Are The Different Tiers of Solar Panels?

As promised in our article about how to understand the four main parts of a solar PV system in 15 minutes, here is some deeper information into the various parts that will help you better understand your future solar power system.

A solar power installation is not only an awesome investment, it’s also an important one. In this article, we are going to talk about the different tiers or rather “quality levels” of a solar panel. Not to over use an old cliche, but not all solar panels were created equal. And just like anything you buy, there are different manufacturers that produce better quality or lesser quality solar panels.

But different to many things you buy, in the solar industry we have specifically categorized the different levels of quality solar panels and we call these “tiers”. Tier 1 being the best, tier 2 being the next down and tier 3 being the last.

This doesn’t mean a tier 3 solar panels is bad, or that if you choose a tier 2 or 3 solar panel you’re doomed. But it’s important to understand the difference.

The Main Difference Between Tier 1, 2 and 3 Solar Panels

To start with, let’s talk about the single biggest difference between the different tiers of solar panel quality: PRICE.

Tier 1 solar panels tend to be 10-30% more expensive than tier 2 and 3 solar panels. Tier 1 solar panel manufacturers have a better manufacturing process and due to this, a large reason why they cost more is because they generally come with longer and better warranty plans. 

The 3 tiers of solar panels

When you buy a solar panel, you are essentially buying two things: 

  1. Physical solar panels that produce electricity and,
  2. A guarantee or promise from the manufacturer that the solar panel will continue to produce a certain amount of electricity from the sun for a certain amount of time. 

Some of the most immediate concerns that you should ask about are: 

  1. Pricing.
  2. How long will the solar panels last and,
  3. If there is a problem within the first 25 or 30 years of its life span, what kind of warranty does the manufacturer offer and what are the chances of them honoring it?

Tier 1 solar panel manufacturers have to meet specific criteria, which include:

  • They have been producing solar panels for more than 5 years.
  • They are either a public company, traded on the stock market, or have very stable balance sheets. 
  • They have a fully automated production line and a very high degree of vertical integration.
  • Invest heavily into research.
  • Invest heavily in marketing their brand. 

Tier 2 solar panel manufacturers are generally smaller or medium sized manufacturers that do not fit the above requirements. 

Tier 3 solar panel manufacturers generally only cover the assembly of solar panels and do not produce all the various components. 

Here is a diagram that gives you a good idea of each different tier:

diagram of the three tiers of a solar panel