Key takeaways


s consumers, we are always on the hunt for the best deals and quality products, striving to strike that perfect balance between cost and value. This quest for the best solution extends to photovoltaic (PV) panels as well. Can we truly harness the sun's power without breaking the bank? Can affordable solar panels deliver the performance we desire? Today, we'll explore the viability of low-cost solar panels, unveil the best budget-friendly solar panel options, and arm you with essential insights to ensure you make a savvy, cost-effective solar choice without compromising on performance.

Solar panels: are they a cost-effective choice?

Solar panels have been a hot topic of debate lately, with advocates touting them as a clean, sustainable energy solution and skeptics questioning their long-term viability. Forbes Home recently conducted a survey shedding light on one of the main concerns surrounding solar panels: their high initial costs. A whopping 36% of respondents cited this as the primary reason for not switching to solar power, indicating the common belief that solar panels may not be a financially wise choice despite their eco-friendly advantages.

However, the long-term financial benefits of solar panel installation should be factored in when determining whether it's feasible. Once in place, solar panels can significantly reduce or even eliminate monthly electricity bills, leading to substantial savings over time. On average, Americans save about $1,500 annually by going solar – that's $37,500 over 25 years. Homeowners generating excess solar energy can even sell it back to the grid in some regions through net metering programs, effectively transforming their solar panel systems into an income stream. Moreover, various government solar incentives, tax credits, and rebates are available to offset the upfront costs of solar panel installation, making it more affordable for homeowners.

Besides, solar panels can uplift your property’s value, providing an extra financial incentive for homeowners who choose this sustainable technology. Zillow's research shows that homes with solar panels sell for an average premium of around 4.1% compared to similar homes without solar installations. This premium can translate into tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the property's value, making solar panels a potentially lucrative investment for homeowners planning to sell their property in the future.

Are cheap solar panels worth it?

Evaluating cost vs. Performance trade-off

As the popularity of solar power skyrockets, homeowners are confronted with the age-old question: should they opt for budget-friendly solar panels or splurge on high-quality solar alternatives? When making this decision, it's crucial to consider the trade-off between solar cost and performance.

Cheap solar panels can seem a better choice because of their lower upfront cost, so they may attract individuals with a limited budget or those who want to minimize their initial investment in PV panels. However, it's vital to weigh these immediate savings against the long-term consequences of choosing less efficient solar panels. Lower efficiency can result in reduced solar energy production per square foot, affecting the overall ROI and the time needed to recoup your initial solar investment.

Another factor you should take into account is that budget solar panels usually have a lower wattage rating, meaning they generate less power per panel and could require a larger solar installation to meet the same energy demands, resulting in higher solar project costs and taking up more valuable roof or yard space.

Nevertheless, it's essential to bear in mind that budget-friendly solar panels can also deliver ample power and financial benefits, though there may be some disadvantages that should be considered.

Reliability and durability concerns

Buying solar panels that are reliable and long-lasting is crucial as they directly impact your system's lifespan and the amount of money you can save over time. Cheaper solar panels may be made with lower-quality materials and less rigorous quality control procedures, increasing the chances of problems like hotspots, delamination, and micro-cracks, which can significantly affect the performance and longevity of the solar panels.

Furthermore, inexpensive solar panels are easily affected by environmental conditions, such as extreme temperatures, strong winds, and heavy snow loads. As a result, solar owners may need to replace damaged panels more frequently, offsetting any initial cost savings. However, there are still budget-friendly solar panels that are highly durable, but finding them may require some time and research.

Warranties and after-sales support

When you are investing in a solar panel system, it's essential to consider solar warranties and post-purchase support that the manufacturer provides. Best quality solar panels typically come with lengthy warranties that last for as many as 25 years, which offer peace of mind and protection against any defects or performance-related problems. However, inexpensive solar panels may have shorter warranty periods, putting homeowners at risk of unexpected repair or replacement costs.

Moreover, established solar panel manufacturers are more inclined to offer exceptional post-sales support, including troubleshooting assistance, technical guidance, and swift service. This can be incredibly helpful in ensuring the efficiency and durability of your solar panel system. Conversely, low-cost solar panel manufacturers may offer restricted or undependable support, leaving homeowners to resolve issues on their own.

Key factors that should be considered to buy the best solar panels

Panel type: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, or thin-film?

To select the best solar panel, you must take into account the type of cell used, such as monocrystalline, polycrystalline, or thin-film cells. In this trio, those made with monocrystalline cells are the most efficient and expensive, while the less expensive but less efficient ones are those based on polycrystalline and thin-film cells. If you're looking for a solar panel system that fits your budget, then solar panels with polycrystalline cells may be the best choice for you, as they provide a decent balance between solar efficiency and cost.

Solar efficiency and power output

Solar cell efficiency and power output are essential considerations in choosing solar panels in any price range. Efficiency indicates the amount of sunlight a solar panel can convert into electricity, while power output refers to the amount of electricity a solar panel can produce.

When buying budget-friendly solar panels, your priority should be panels with a high efficiency rating and a decent output. If the cost of the most efficient solar panels is beyond your budget, you should aim for panels with an efficiency rating of at least 17% and a power output of at least 250 watts.

Size and space constraints

Your solar panel system's size and space necessities will depend on the amount of electricity you need to produce and the amount of space available for solar installation. When buying economical solar panels, you'll want to consider both the physical size of the panels and the amount of space they require.

Costs to install and maintain the solar system

When you are investing in a solar panel system, make sure to take into account solar installation and maintenance expenses. In the low-cost segment, it's crucial to strike a balance between initial costs and long-term benefits. The charges you are going to face may vary based on the installation's intricacy, location, and labor rates. Similarly, maintenance charges are subject to change depending on the solar panel system type, location, and weather conditions. Note that the quality of solar panel installation and maintenance heavily relies on selecting a reputable and knowledgeable installer.

Local solar incentives and rebates

Finally, it's important to research local solar incentives and rebates before making a purchase. Homeowners can receive solar tax credits or other incentives from states and municipalities for buying and installing solar panel systems. These incentives can significantly reduce the cost of your solar system and make it more affordable to install higher-quality solar panels. It's a good idea to check your local government or utility company for information on available incentives.

Best budget-friendly solar panel brands to consider

Silfab: High-quality solar panels at a competitive cost

Silfab, a Tier 1 solar panel manufacturer based in North America, crafts some of the best solar panels that are designed specifically for the North American climate. Renowned for its extended warranty period, Silfab guarantees its solar products for up to 25 years, with an additional performance guarantee for 30 years.

Silfab's solar panels are engineered to deliver outstanding performance, with efficiency ratings surpassing the industry standard. Their Elite and Prime models boast an impressive efficiency mark of 20% or more. Silfab's solar panels range from $2.85 to $3.05 per watt installed, making them much more affordable options than other premium brands like SunPower. With Silfab's 30-year performance warranty, customers are assured that their solar panels are capable of maintaining 83% of their original output for up to three decades, and if not, the company will cover the maintenance and repair costs.

Q Cells: Best solar panels in terms of price to benefit ratio

If you are a homeowner looking for a budget-friendly way to go solar, Q Cells is an excellent choice. With a starting cost of only $2.40 per watt, Q Cells offers some of the most competitive prices on the solar market, making them a popular option.

Q Cells solar panels are equipped with advanced PERC technology that maximizes absorption rates, making them a popular choice for areas with shading throughout the day. However, it's worth noting that some Q Cells solar panels require more roof space than competitors and have a lower efficiency range of 15-20%.

Despite being less efficient, Q Cells panels are highly sought-after by professional solar installers because they are backed by a 25-year guarantee on both product and performance, promising that its panels will produce at least 98% of their rated output during that time and will not reduce output by more than 0.5% per year after installation.

Trina Solar: Top-notch solar panels in the value segment

Trina Solar is one of the best options for those who want to go solar without breaking the bank. Their solar panels are reasonably priced and offer ample efficiency, making them a cost-effective solution for homeowners.

Half-cut, monocrystalline panels by Trina Solar are available in two different types for residential use, each with a slightly different efficiency rating and power generation capacity. You can pick between the TSM DE06X.05(II) panel, with an efficiency rating of 20.6% and capacity between 355-380 W, or the TSM DD06M.05(II) panel offering slightly lower efficiency of 19.9% and producing between 310-335 W. Trina Solar also provides a remarkable 25-year warranty that covers both product and performance, an impressive upgrade from their previous 12-year product warranty.

LONGi Solar: Inexpensive yet dependable solar panel options

LONGi Solar is another excellent manufacturer for those looking to invest in a cost-effective mid-tier solar panel option. Their products offer mid-range efficiencies and are priced lower than premium brands. There are several sizes and efficiencies to choose from when considering LONGi, with three panels in the Hi-MO 4m series. Although their efficiency range is lower than high-end solar brands reaching up to 22%, LONGi still provides above-average performance at a reasonable cost, with an efficiency range between 18.7% and 21.2%. Homeowners can rely on a trustworthy 83% production guarantee after 25 years of usage.

It's worth noting that solar panel options available to residential customers from LONGi are limited, and their product warranty only covers 12 years, which pales compared to other top-tier brands. Nevertheless, homeowners seeking efficient and budget-friendly solar panels should consider LONGi Solar a solid option.

Canadian Solar: Economical solar panels with great quality

Canadian Solar is a trusted and reliable option for homeowners who want quality solar panels at an affordable price. With three panel lines - HiKu, HiDM, and HiHero - there's something for everyone, depending on your efficiency and budget needs. The HiKu panels boast some of the best efficiency ratings of up to 20.9%, while the HiDM line provides affordable options with an efficiency rating of up to 20.46%. Meanwhile, the HiHero panel line is the newest addition to the company's lineup, featuring the industry’s best solar efficiency of 22% with HJT technology.

Canadian Solar provides homeowners who want to switch to solar power with cost-effective panels that are priced at an average of $2.70 to $3.20 per watt and a standard 6 kW system costing roughly $16,200 to $19,200 (excluding tax credits or state incentives). Plus, their product warranties meet the solar industry standard of 12 to 15 years, and their performance warranties last for 25 years.

Jinko Solar: The best blend of performance and affordability

Jinko Solar holds the title of the world's largest solar panel manufacturer and is renowned for delivering economical and dependable solar panels. Installers often laud Jinko Solar's panels as best for those seeking affordable entry-level solar options. Like most competitors, Jinko produces panels based on regular mono PERC cells using P-type silicon, but they are now upping their game by releasing the Tiger series, built with higher-purity N-type cells, and now boast an impressive 22% energy conversion rate for their most advanced panels.

Compared to other top-tier solar panel brands, Jinko Solar provides a more pocket-friendly solution. Their solar panels are typically priced at $0.25-$0.50 cheaper than premium rivals like SunPower and REC, translating to savings of $1,500-$3,000 for a 6 kW system. However, Jinko Solar falls short in their warranty coverage, as it is comparatively weaker than the warranties offered by the best premium brands for both product and performance.

Tips for getting the best return on your solar panel investment

Investing in cheap solar panels doesn't necessarily mean compromising on quality or returns. Here, we present some savvy pointers to help you optimize your solar panel investment and achieve the best possible returns while buying budget-friendly solar panels.

Taking advantage of solar incentives and rebates

To get the best return on your solar panel investment, you should explore all available government incentives and rebates. These solar programs can help offset the initial cost of purchasing and installing solar panels, making them even more accessible. Research local, state, and federal solar incentives, as well as utility company rebates, to determine what solar programs you are eligible for.

Ensuring the best panel installation and orientation

Solar panel efficiency is largely influenced by installation and orientation. To ensure you're getting the best performance out of your solar panels, it's crucial to have them installed and positioned correctly. This means choosing a location that receives ample sunlight throughout the day and ensuring that solar panels are tilted at the optimal angle. Hiring a professional solar panel installer can help guarantee proper installation and orientation, ultimately leading to higher energy production and better returns on your solar investment.

Integrating solar panels with energy storage solutions

Energy storage solutions, such as solar batteries, can significantly increase the overall effectiveness of your solar panel system. By storing excess solar energy produced during peak sunlight hours, you can use this stored power during periods of low sunlight or outages.

Ongoing solar maintenance and monitoring

Regular maintenance and monitoring of your solar panel system are crucial in detecting and resolving potential issues before they escalate, ensuring your system's efficiency and longevity. Clean your solar panels periodically to remove dust and debris, and keep an eye on your solar system's performance using monitoring software or mobile apps.

Conclusion: Balancing quality and affordability for best results

To wrap it up, your quest for affordable solar panels should not overshadow the importance of quality and long-term worth. Striking the perfect balance between quality and affordability is paramount for harnessing the best results from solar energy. After all, adopting renewable energy is a long-term investment in our future, our environment, and our wallets.

Cheap solar panels may initially appear attractive due to their lower upfront costs, but they are often accompanied by hidden downsides such as lower efficiency, shorter lifespans, and potentially higher maintenance costs. As a conscientious consumer, it is essential to conduct thorough research, read reviews, and evaluate solar warranties before making a decision.

While it may be tempting to focus solely on the initial cost, it's crucial to consider the long-term benefits, performance, and environmental impact of the solar panels you choose. By seeking out solar options that balance quality and affordability, you'll make a wise investment that pays dividends for years. In the end, the pursuit of affordable solar panels should not be a race to the bottom but rather a journey to find the sweet spot where sustainability, performance, and cost-effectiveness meet.

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Key takeaways

May 5, 2023
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