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The future of solar energy is looking bright. Known as “the sun”, this piping-hot powerhouse in the sky has bags of potential – we just need to work out how to make the most of it. Solar panels are doing an excellent job, but scientists are always trying to make them more efficient.
Thinking of switching to solar? This article will tell you all about the most efficient solar panels on the market, as well as our top tips for maximising your solar panels’ efficiency.
To receive free quotes for solar panels from a local, professional installer, simply fill in the short form at the top of this page.
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What is solar panel efficiency?
Solar panel efficiency is a measure of how much sunlight a solar panel can convert into usable electricity. The majority of residential solar panels typically have an efficiency of 15 to 18%, although premium models can reach over 21%. Canadian Solar currently produces the most efficient solar panel on the market, at 23.8%.
Generally speaking, the two most important factors to consider when choosing solar panels for your home are efficiency and maximum power output (measured in kilowatts).
If you’re thinking about taking the money-saving option and buying cheap, low-efficiency panels, think again. Check out our page on why cheap solar panels aren’t worth the risk (and why it’s wise to buy reliable, premium models from top brands).
The most efficient solar panels in 2019
These are the most efficient solar panels for residential properties in 2019, complete with some bafflingly complicated names:
Solar panel manufacturer
PANDA Bifacial 60CL
NQ-R Series 258W
72-cell Mono PERC
Information updated in March 2019.
Here’s a bit more detail about the most efficient solar panels on the market, including maximum power, cell material, and warranties:
• Canadian Solar’s BiKu CS3U-365PB-FG is a real mouthful, but it can reach up to 23.80% efficiency and a maximum power of 380 watts. Made of polycrystalline cells, the panel has a ten-year product warranty and a 30-year performance warranty (i.e. after 30 years, the panel’s power output will be no less than 83% of its original output).
• SunPower’s X22-370 DC is the company’s most efficient residential panel, with 22.7% efficiency and up to 370 watts of power. It’s composed of monocrystalline cells, and comes with a superb 25-year combined power, product and service warranty. SunPower does have a solar panel with 25% efficiency, but it’s small and built for seafaring (e.g. on boats).
• LG’s NeON® R will look sleek, black and stylish on your roof, offering 21.4% efficiency and a maximum power of 370 watts. Made of monocrystalline cells, the NeON® R has a 25-year combined product and performance warranty.
• Yingli Solar’s PANDA Bifacial 60CL certainly comes with the cutest name, and is capable of 20.1% efficiency and 330 watts of power. Comprising monocrystalline cells, the PANDA panel has a ten-year product warranty and a 25-year performance warranty.
• Sharp’s NQ-R Series 258W is a highly reliable bit of solar kit, with exactly 20% efficiency and a maximum power of 258 watts. Made of monocrystalline cells, the Sharp panel has a ten-year product warranty and a 25-year performance warranty.
• JA Solar’s 72-cell Mono PERC Module takes its name from the clever PERCIUM cells inside it, combining 19.8% efficiency with 385 watts of power. It’s another monocrystalline model, coming with a 12-year product warranty and a 25-year performance warranty.
• Panasonic’s HIT N250 is the perfect option for small roofs, measuring just 160cm x 80cm. With an efficiency of 19.8% and a maximum power of 250 watts, the HIT N250 is made from amorphous thin-film silicon layers, not monocrystalline or polycrystalline cells. It has a 25-year combined product and performance warranty.
Who makes the most efficient solar panels?
Every solar panel manufacturer is constantly tweaking their technology, trying to get the most out of the sun. There’s nothing like a bit of healthy competition, and it just means better solar panels for homeowners.
Here are the highest, lowest, and average efficiencies for the solar industry’s top manufacturers:
Solar panel manufacturer
To find out more about the leading solar companies and their range of solar panels, visit our guide to the best solar panels.
How do you calculate solar module efficiency?
To calculate a solar panel’s efficiency, scientists test it in a lab. People in white coats look really closely and check exactly how much sunlight a panel can convert into electricity, before releasing it onto the market. The Standard Test Conditions (STC) for calculating solar panel efficiency aim to simulate a clear 25°C summer’s day, which means an irradiance of 1000 W/m2.
Obviously, not every day is a 25°C summer’s day (especially not in the UK), so most ‘maximum efficiencies’ are rarely achieved in the real world. Fortunately, some solar panels are starting to come with a Performance Test Conditions (PTC) rating, which is a more accurate measure of the efficiency you can expect from a panel on your roof.
Better still is the ‘system PTC rating’, which takes into account the efficiency of a solar panel as well as that of the inverter (the device that converts the solar panel’s electrical power into usable electricity for your home). Even if your solar panel has a high efficiency, it won’t be able to spread its wings if there’s a low-efficiency inverter dragging it down.
Which type of solar panel is the most efficient?
The vast majority of residential solar panels are made from silicon cells, but there are three different types of cell: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film. Each cell comes with a different level of efficiency:
Monocrystalline is the crème de la crème of solar panel materials, constructed from just one single piece of silicon. It’s a solid block with no imperfections, making it super efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. Monocrystalline is the most expensive option, but you certainly get what you pay for.
Polycrystalline is a small step down, created by using a poured mixture of multiple silicon crystals. If monocrystalline is like single malt whisky, polycrystalline is like blended whisky. In contrast to monocrystalline’s “solid block” state, polycrystalline comes with imperfections and spaces, and has a distinctly bluish, flaky appearance. You’ll get larger solar panels with lower efficiency, but you’ll pay less for them.
Thin-film (or amorphous) solar cells are the least efficient of the three, involving just a thin layer of silicon on top of the electrical components (as opposed to a whole block). Although thin-film rarely achieves efficiency levels over 15%, they are popular for their low weight and high flexibility.
What is the maximum efficiency of solar panels?
The only “maximum” in solar panel efficiency is 100%, and we’re nowhere near that level. Back in 2014, a bunch of clever scientists reached a new world record with a remarkable 46%, but residential solar panels aren’t quite as good. The highest efficiency you’ll find on the market at the moment is around the 25% mark, and the majority of ‘high-efficiency’ solar panels fall somewhere between 18% and 23%.
Do solar panels lose efficiency over time?
The unstoppable march of time leaves its mark on everything, solar panels included. The efficiency of a solar panel tends to fall by about 0.5% each year (this is called the degradation rate), but most manufacturers provide a 25-year performance (or ‘linear output’) warranty. This typically guarantees that the panel’s output won’t drop below about 85% of its original efficiency within the first 25 years, although this figure can vary.
Is it worth buying high-efficiency solar modules?
If you’re keen for a piece of the solar energy scene, but have limited space, high-efficiency solar panels are the answer. The models are often compact and small, allowing you to power your property without requiring a vast roof.
How to maximise efficiency
As we’ve already mentioned, your solar panel will rarely perform at maximum efficiency because of the influence of other factors – some of which you have control over, and some of which you don’t. Here are the four key factors:
1. The direction and angle of your panels. It would be great if you could make your solar panels follow the sun throughout the day (a bit like a sunflower), but unfortunately they are static. Ideally, you should have your panels facing southwards (although east or west is still sufficient), and positioned at an angle between 10-60 degrees. If your roof is flat or bizarrely steep, you can use racks to ensure your solar panels are at an optimum angle.
2. The amount of shade on your roof. Huge trees are a wonderful thing to have growing by your house, until they start obstructing your new solar panels. It’s a common misconception that solar panels need sunlight to function (daylight is enough), but it certainly helps. We’re not saying you should kill the trees, but pruning them back a bit will make a big difference.
3. The temperature. Once the weather gets too hot (over 25°C), solar panels become less efficient – not that this is a significant problem in the UK. Surprisingly, solar panels actually perform better in colder temperatures (like most electrical equipment), so a clear, sunny day in winter is ideal for your home’s solar energy.
4. The amount of debris on your solar panels. As dust and dirt gradually build up on your solar panels, their efficiency will decrease. Rain will do some of the cleaning for you, but you’ll have to do the rest yourself (or hire the services of professional solar panel cleaners). If your home is regularly prey to belligerent pigeons, you might want to get your house some sort of roof scarecrow.
Finding an installer
This is where we come in – the Eco Experts can help you find local, professional solar panel installers with the best prices. To start collecting quotes for your home’s new solar energy system, simply click the orange button below, fill in the quick form, and our suppliers will get back to you.