Solar panels for sale is the kind of phrase that evokes the feeling of a discount sale. However, as in all purchases, especially those of such significance and with the level of investment involved in such a purchase, there a number of key considerations that must be borne in mind in order to make a well informed and successful purchase. What must be avoided at all costs is simply chasing the lowest headline cost in the belief that this will deliver the best deal.
Solar panels and solar systems are a long-term investment, and therefore there are several key questions that need to be answered with clarity and confidence in order to determine if the purchase will meet its desired objectives.
Solar Panels for Sale, But Which Type?
Solar panels are so commonplace these days, one could be forgiven for thinking (at least in very simplistic terms, for the purpose of illustration), “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” However, even though the principle of solar panels is very simple at its most basic level, solar energy systems still contain sophisticated technology that can be used in a variety of distinctly different ways. So although on one level, solar panels have become a commodity, with prices dropping significantly year-on-year, buyer discernment is still called for in several key respects.
To start with, when faced with the offer of solar panels for sale, the first discerning question needs to be not “How much?”, but “What type?”. This may be patently obvious, but that question is vital in order to flesh out two key considerations that are critical to determine at this stage:
- What type of solar energy system will the solar panels be used for?
- What type of solar panels are suitable for that type of solar energy system?
Solar Energy System Types
At fundamental level, there are three types of solar energy systems:
- Photovoltaic (PV) solar energy systems – These are the most common type, and are used for the full spectrum of solar power solutions, to convert sunlight into electricity to power anything from hand-held gadgets, to homes and offices, to standalone charging stations to solar power generating plants. These systems use photovoltaic (PV) panels.
- Solar water heaters – These systems convert sunlight into heat, to (as the name suggests) heat water. These systems are overwhelmingly used for homes and other individual solar energy installations. These systems use solar water heater panels, which are not the same as PV panels.
- Concentrated solar power (CSP) – These are utility-scale facilities that use special reflective solar panels in one of a few different configurations to generate electricity on an industrial scale. The panels used in these installations are similar to PV panels, but not the same, due to their reflective nature, and the fact that they may be parabola-shaped, depending on the specific type of CSP installation.
Solar Cell Types
Although the original solar panels were made from silicon, there are now several other options, as the technology continues to evolve, to provide the optimum mix of efficiency, cost and suitability for certain applications.
The types are as follows:
- Monocrystalline silicon – These cells are sliced from a single cylindrical silicon crystal.
- Polycrystalline silicon – These cells are sometimes known as multicrystalline cells, and are made from ingots of melted and recrystallized silicon.
- Thick-film silicon – These cells are made from depositing silicon onto a base material, rather like applying icing to a cake, to produce a fine grained, sparkling appearance.
- Amorphous silicon (also known as thin-film) – Amorphous silicon cells are made from a thin homogenous layer of silicon.
- Other thin film – There are now alternative materials such as cadmium telluride (CdTe) and copper indium diselenide (CIS) that are now being used to create photovoltaic cells.
The nature of these materials means the cells can be manufactured at notably lower cost than crystalline silicon cells. In addition, these cells are typically have higher efficiency ratings than amorphous silicon cells (10-13% for CIS and 8-9% for CdTe).
Solar Panels for Sale, But What Price?
Once the type of solar panel has been settled, the next thing to determine when approaching solar panels for sale is, “Yes, but at what price?”. There are several key considerations to assess here:
Solar Panel Quality
As the old adage goes, “You get what you pay for.” The key factors to understand and balance off here are reliability and efficiency.
Reliability is fairly straightforward: Firstly, the performance needs to be of a high standard. High quality solar panels should operate at 95% efficiency or better for something like the first 15 years of use, and at 88% of its rated efficiency or better up to the 25-year point.
And then there is the basic issue of robustness, that is, the assurance that the panel will not develop a structural fault or failure within a certain period, say 10 years. Both of these issues need to be covered within the guarantee.
The other aspect of quality is efficiency. Solar panels come in various efficiency ratings, which also has a bearing on price (to varying degrees, depending on how the seller sets their pricing). In a nutshell, the question to answer here is:
Which solar panel provides the best mix of energy output for the given solar panel price?
When considering solar panels for sale, it is important to be aware of any financial incentives that may offset the price. These come in two forms: government incentives (grants, tax credits etc.) and commercial incentives (e.g. discounted or deferred loan terms). Given that solar systems are a non-trivial investment, it is essential to secure the best financing deal possible, and any available incentives.
Solar Panels for Sale, But What Cost?
On the face of it, this may seem an odd question, given that price was discussed above. However, at the risk of semantics, when making a decision about solar panels for sale, there needs to be a distinction made between the price of solar panels and the full cost, at the time of purchase and over the lifetime of the solar energy system.
The essential factors to assess are:
Full System Components Cost
Since the solar system also requires supporting equipment (principally, an inverter and a controller) to accompany the solar panels, pricing these in is essential.
System Planning, Installation and Commissioning Costs
This is where most of the costs are incurred, and it is vital to understand and account for all of these costs, getting multiple trusted advisors to provide their input to ensure everything has been included (and that the installation can proceed smoothly).
Of course, one of the main drivers for installing a solar system is to save money on electricity bills to the extent that over time, the investment in the system goes into profit. Getting these calculations right (with sensitivity analysis) is absolutely vital, to have confidence in the investment returns before committing to the system purchase.
Solar Panels for Sale – Conclusions
Solar panel purchases are rarely simply a matter of buying panels off a shelf. The foregoing considerations will make the decision much safer and lead to a far higher likelihood of the system meeting its intended functional and financial objectives.
Key references for this article:
- What Is The Current Cost Of Solar Panels? – CleanTechnica – 2016
- Most Efficient Solar Panels – Which Ones? – CostOfSolar.com – 1 Jul 2013
- How Long Do Solar Panels Last? – CostOfSolar.com – 14 Oct 2015
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Other Articles in This Section
Given your interest in this article, here is our current list of all articles in this section:
- Solar Panel and Solar Cell Performance Versus Cost Improvements
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Cells and Solar Panels
- Photovoltaic Cells – The Foundation of a Revolution
- Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Energy Explained
- Solar Battery Key Facts
- Solar Panels for Sale – Key Considerations
- Solar System Typical and Minimum Site Requirements