ccording to Fortune Business Insights, the global solar PV panels market hit $146.08 billion in 2021 and is on track for a 7.8% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2022 to 2030. The concerns about carbon emissions from fossil fuels boost the demand for sustainable and carbon-free solar power, which opens up vast room for development for solar panel manufacturers worldwide.
Best solar panel makers: countries with the best developed solar panel production
There are hundreds of solar manufacturers worldwide. And even though solar panel production is gaining traction in many parts of the world, China remains the absolute leader in the global solar panel market. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) report, the country controls over 80% of the world’s solar panel supply chains - more than twice as much as its share of global solar energy demand. Almost 75% of solar panels made today come from China. And on top of that, the country dominates in all manufacturing stages producing 79% of polysilicon, 97% of solar wafers, and 95% of solar cells. China is also home to the biggest suppliers of solar manufacturing equipment. The country’s solar panel manufacturing growth isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon as the government continues bolstering industrial capacity in strategic sectors.
India ranks second in solar panel production, accounting for 2.8% of all solar panels fabricated globally. The country is the second most polluted in the world and the fifth most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which fuels its demand for solar power. However, a massive surge in demand for solar requires an increase in local solar panel manufacturing, particularly given that India seeks to discourage solar import dependence from China. This nudged the government to review its current energy policies and actively support the solar industry. There are currently over 30 solar panel manufacturers in India, and this number is expected to grow.
The Asia-Pacific region is also a significant contributor to global solar panel production, with a market share of over 15%. Although North America and Europe represent a massive share of the world demand for solar panels, these regions account for only 2.4% and 2.8% of global solar panel production, respectively. Meanwhile, their proportions in other stages, such as solar cell and solar wafer manufacturing, don’t even exceed 1%.
World’s best solar PV panel brands: a review
- SunPower: solar panels with the best efficiency
SunPower is among the early pioneers of the residential solar panel market. The California-based PV panel brand was founded in 1985, and over the years, it has secured a market position as one of the best solar panel providers in the US. SunPower has developed a positive reputation and holds multiple prestigious certifications from The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) and The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
The company used to fabricate solar panels itself before it reviewed its strategy and created a spinoff company Maxeon Solar Technologies, to which it transferred all the manufacturing processes in 2020. Headquartered in Singapore, SunPower’s subsidiary engineers and manufactures solar panels under the brand names Maxeon® and SunPower®.
SunPower offers four lines of residential solar panels: M Series, A Series, X Series, and E Series. It also has commercial panel versions of the A, X, and E Series, as well as P Series panels best suited for large-scale installations. All these products differ in wattage and efficiency and therefore come with different price tags. The SunPower production facilities are located in Mexico, Malaysia, and the Philippines, with most of the final assembly carried out in Mexico. The only exception is P-Series panels entirely fabricated and assembled in China.
The company produces only monocrystalline solar panels with efficiency no lower than 20%. The best SunPower solar products currently are M Series solar panels. These premium panels are based on cutting-edge solar cell technology, the Maxeon Gen 6. The cells that make up M Series solar panels are larger than the cells used in all other company’s panels, which results in the best efficiency available on the residential solar panel market today – up to 22.8%. M Series solar panels feature built-in microinverters to transform direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) with a reduced energy loss.
The A Series is SunPower’s second best product line. Introduced in 2019, the A Series solar panels at the time boasted the most innovative technology in the market. They featured Maxeon Gen 5 solar cells, which were 65% larger than previous generations, delivering the best in class performance. The M Series and A solar panels carry a higher price tag than other SunPower panels.
X Series and E Series solar panels are considered more standard panels with slightly lower power ratings and efficiency. Nevertheless, they are still among the best solar panel options on the market in terms of performance and durability. These SunPower panels degrade no more than 0.25% each year and are backed by industry-leading 25-year warranties.
While SunPower residential solar panels showcase some of the best quality, they are also among the most expensive, with a minimum cost of $3.30 per watt. Thus a standard 6 kW solar panel system would start at $19,800 before tax credits or incentives.
- REC solar: provider of the industry’s best solar panel innovations
REC Group is the largest solar panel manufacturer in Europe. The company is headquartered in Norway, with most of its production facilities located in Singapore, and has regional hubs in Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America. REC was acquired by a subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned chemical company ChemChina in 2014, which sold it to the Indian multinational conglomerate Reliance Industries in 2021. As Reliance pointed out, this acquisition is the most considerable contribution by a single company to India's goal of achieving 450GW of renewable energy by 2030.
REC is vertically integrated, that is, it controls every stage of solar panel production, including silicon ingots, wafers, cells, and the final assembly of the panels. The company is an industry-leading innovator with a robust portfolio of next-generation products, such as half-cut cell panels.
REC introduced the first half-cut solar cells in 2014. Half-cut cells are basically the same as traditional silicon cells, the only difference being that they’ve been cut in half with a laser. Consequently, we get 120 half-cut cells in a panel instead of the typical 60 cells. The primary benefit of this technology is increased efficiency due to lower power loss. By cutting the cells in half, the current within them is also halved, reducing resistive losses as electricity travels throughout cells within a solar panel. On top of that, the output of half-cut cell panels is less affected by shade due to a different wiring system, making them the best choice for low-light conditions.
REC took it a step further in 2018 by launching REC N-Peak 2 Series – half-cut solar panels manufactured from highly efficient N-type silicon instead of the more common P-type silicon, meaning the basis of the solar cell is made of a silicon layer doped with phosphorus gas instead of boron.
The company has developed several PV panel product lines, including N-Peak 2, REC Twinpeak 4, REC Alpha, and REC Alpha Pure panels. The Alpha series became the first residential half-cut cell panel made using heterojunction (HJT) technology: REC added a thin-film layer of amorphous silicon onto the bottom and top of the solar cell, increasing the number of busbars on a panel. This helped increase the efficiency to 21.9% and improve heat tolerance with one of the best temperature coefficients on the market of -0.26%/degC.
The company later refined its HJT half-cut technology, which went on to be used in REC Alpha Pure and Pure-R solar panel series. They feature a gapless cell layout allowing the best efficiency while keeping the panel compact. Another critical advantage is lead-free production which results in one of the best environmental outcomes possible. The REC Alpha panel series comes in several versions, with power ratings ranging from 385W up to 410W, while the power output of Pure-R panels ranges from 410W to 430W.
N-Peak 2 solar panels are another high-end product line. Premium n-type monocrystalline panels use half-cut cell technology and offer power ratings of up to 370 Watts. The REC Twinpeak panel series includes REC’s most affordable panels often considered the best mid-priced options. They use p-type monocrystalline cells and offer a power output of up to 375W and efficiency between 19.1% and 20.3%.
- Silfab Solar: one of the best in class efficiencies for a reasonable price
Canadian company Silfab entered the market in 2010 and currently ranks among the world’s best solar panel manufacturers, providing a range of PV panel options for home- and business owners. With its headquarters in Mississauga, Canada, the company produces its panels in Toronto and Bellingham. As Silfab solar panel production is entirely located in North America, the company can closely supervise all stages of solar panel fabrication.
Silfab currently offers three series of residential solar panels: Silfab Prime panels and Silfab Elite panels. Silfab Prime panels are top quality half-cell monocrystalline models. They come in an all-black design and feature 9-busbar technology that results in exceptional efficiency. With a maximum output of 370 watts and 20.2% efficiency, the Silfab Prime solar panels can be an ideal choice for homeowners looking for the best combination of price and quality. They come with a medium price tag of $2.85 per watt.
Silfab Elite is among the best solar panels 2021. The company’s flagship product line enjoys the best efficiency of all Silfab options. These panels come in 370W and 380W power ratings and use the advanced back-contact solar cell architecture, where all negative- and positive-polarity electrical contacts are on the same surface at the back of a cell. This frees up space on the front of the panel to collect more sunlight, thus reducing optical losses and bringing the efficiency to a maximum of 21.4%
- Trina Solar: the best price-performance ratio on the solar market
Founded in 1997, Trina Solar is one of the first solar panel manufacturers in China that grew into one of the world's best solar panel brands. The company has a solid vertically integrated business model which allows close monitoring of all production processes.
Trina Solar has set 25 world records for silicon solar cell performance, the last for reaching the maximum efficiency of 25.5%. However, the company is not competing with the best premium solar panel makers. Instead, it seeks to strengthen its position as the top player in the lower-price segment providing reasonable quality at a moderate price.
Trina sells monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and bifacial solar panels with power ratings of up to 600W. The company’s residential solar products include newer Vertex and older Honey models. Trina Vertex S are p-type monocrystalline solar panels fabricated using 12-wire multi-busbar contact technology. They are based on a triple-cut solar cell design that enables even more minor resistance power losses than half-cut equivalents. Power ratings of Vertex S panels range from 380 to 400W, and their efficiency exceeds 21%.
Vertex S+ panels are the most advanced and efficient residential models produced by Trina. They have one of the best power ratings in the market (up to 425W) and, unlike Vertex S modules, use highly durable n-type solar cells. In addition, Vertex S+ panels utilize cutting-edge tunnel oxide passivated contact (TOP Con) technology – a structure on the surface of a semiconductor that combines the properties of a passivation layer and a contact. As a result, 21.8% efficiency puts them on par with the best products in the market.
Honey panels are Trina’s most affordable product line. They come in both monocrystalline and polycrystalline configurations with 120 half-cut cells. With wattage ranging from 330W to 380W, these panels offer 20.7% efficiency and high reliability, which makes them a great value-for-money PV panel option.
- Canadian Solar: the best option among mid-performing panels
Canadian Solar was founded in 2001 in Guelph, Canada. Nevertheless, the PV panel brand is deemed by many as semi-Chinese, as it is owned by physician Shawn Qu who came to Canada from China, and the country hosts a large proportion of the company’s manufacturing facilities. Along with China, Canadian Solar produces its panels in Canada, Brazil, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
The company provides a wide range of options for residential and commercial applications. The most popular choices with homeowners are Ku, HiKu, and HiDM lines. Ku and HiKu solar panels are available in polycrystalline and monocrystalline solutions and feature half-cut cells with five or multi busbars. The wattage of Ku models ranges between 295W and 335W, and of HiKu models between 325W to 375W. Ku and HiKu panels lose to competitors in performance with an efficiency of just over 20% for monocrystalline modules and about 18.6% for polycrystalline modules, which is justified by a lower price.
Along with pretty standard Ku and HiKu panels, Canadian Solar offers quite a unique product: the HiDM series featuring PERC solar technology and a 320 – 420 W power range. Their top stand-out feature is shingled cell configuration. Solar shingles, or solar roof tiles, are a relatively new photovoltaic technology utilized to make solar systems look similar to traditional roof shingles. They are installed by overlaying or replacing the existing roof tiles creating a sleeker appearance than conventional large-sized panels that sometimes look too bulky on the roof.
Most Canadian Solar PV systems are retailed between $2.70 and $3.20 per watt, which means a 6 kW residential system would be priced from $16,200 to $19,200.
Top criteria for choosing the best solar panel company
Now let’s quickly review the factors you should consider when deciding on a solar panel brand and choosing the PV modules to install on your roof.
Solar panel technology
The first place to start is solar panel technology. You don’t need to get into too much detail, but it is essential to learn some of the basics so that you know what performance and durability to expect from your solar panel system. Grasp the differences between monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film panels and decide which panel type suits you best.
Efficiency of solar panels
The PV panel efficiency rate is critical for boosting your ROI and ensuring the best performance. Even a one percent difference in efficiency can significantly impact your future savings, so ensure you get the best value for money.
Heat tolerance of solar panels
This tip is crucial for those who live in hotter regions. Even though solar panels can withstand temperatures up to 149°F, their efficiency decreases as soon as the temperature reaches 77°F. So if it is hot in your area, make sure your solar panels have the lowest temperature coefficient possible.
Solar panel warranties
And finally, pay attention to solar panel warranties. Most panels sold today come with a 25 to 30-year performance warranty which guarantees they will produce a certain percentage of their initial capacity during a specific period. Solar panels are also covered with a product warranty to protect you against manufacturing defects; these warranties usually last for 15-25 years.