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Solar energy

A guide to solar panels

When researching solar panels, it’s important that you understand the basics. Our solar panel guide contains everything you need to know about solar energy and what you should look out for when choosing the best solar panel system for your home.

By Carly Nichols

26 March 2019

What are solar panels?

Solar panels crown millions of rooftops around Australia. Their role within a solar energy system is to capture as much sunlight as possible and convert it into energy.

Solar panels, or ‘modules’, are made up of many individual photovoltaic cells.  When sunlight hits a solar panel, it activates the electrons inside the photovoltaic cells, which begin to move around and create DC electricity.

When multiple solar panels are wired together in series, they form a 'string'. Typically all the solar panels on a single roof plane would form 1-2 strings. All of the strings connected into a single inverter is what's referred to as the solar ‘array’. The more panels in your array, the more energy you can produce.

The average solar panel array will operate at around 15-21% efficiency. In order to boost your solar panel efficiency, you can minimise or remove efficiency-killing factors by cleaning dirty panels, eradicating shading and optimising panel placement.

Solar panel types

In Australia, there are three main types of solar panels to consider: Thin Film, Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline. When choosing which panel type is right for your property, you should consider factors such as roof space, roof pitch, roof age and material, and of course, your budget.

Monocrystalline Solar Panels 

Advantages:

  • Typically have the highest efficiency rates, so fewer panels may be required

Disadvantages:

  • Generally most expensive panel type due to their complex manufacturing process
  • Efficiency can suffer in extremely high temperatures

Polycrystalline Solar Panels

Advantages:

  • Generally more affordable than monocrystalline panels as polycrystalline silicon is relatively simple to manufacture

Disadvantages:

  • Typically less efficient than monocrystalline panels so you may need more panels to get the same output
  • Efficiency can suffer from extremely high temperatures

Thin Film Solar Panels (TFSP) 

Advantages:

  • Typically more affordable than monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels
  • Performance is not impacted by extremely high temperatures, making them a good choice for hot climates

Disadvantages:

  • Generally less efficient than monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels, so you may require more panels to get the same output.
  • Tend to degrade faster than monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels

Solar Panel Efficiency 

PERC and half-cell may improve efficiency depending on your household environment.

What is PERC?

PERC, or Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell technology, is an additional layer that is added to the underside of a solar panel. This additional layer provides a second chance for solar absorption in your panels, boosting the overall efficiency of your system. PERC technology is a great option for all households, particularly those in low-lit and hot climates.

What are half-cell solar panels?

Half-cell solar panels have the ability to provide a better output when the panel is partially shaded. Due to its design, in theory, if part of a panel is shaded the remainder of the panel will continue to generate power. This is a great way to reduce the effect shading has on your solar system.

What size solar panels should I get?

The size and number of panels you need will depend on four key factors:

  1. Your available roof space
  2. How much energy you require
  3. ⁠If you will be using a battery
  4. Your budget

If you are short on roof space and want to generate as much energy as possible with a limited amount of solar panels, you should opt for higher wattage panels to ensure you can generate the maximum output per square metre.

How do I choose a reputable solar panel brand?

When researching solar panels, you may come across the following points of differentiation. Let's check out what each of them means.

Tier 1 solar panels 

When researching, you may notice some solar panel brands are labelled as Tier 1.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) created three tiers as a way to distinguish between manufacturers in the renewable energy space. Bloomberg’s Tiered system is based on the 'bankability' of solar manufacturers around the world. Solar companies can only achieve Tier 1 status by owning their production facilities and selling their own brands. While Tier 1 is more of a measure of industry acceptance versus endorsement, it still is a good indicator of quality.

Warranty types

Performance warranty: warrants the degradation of the cells over a number of years e.g. 25 years. The manufacturer may state that the performance will only reduce by say 10% after the first 10 years and then another 10% over the next 15 years. Be careful to read the specific terms of the performance warranty as it may be quite difficult to make a claim if the panel has failed completely, or it may require removal and laboratory-type testing.

Panel product warranty: covers defective materials or workmanship of the solar panels. It is provided by the manufacturer of the panel, not the solar installation company. Panel product warranties are typically 5 or 10 years, with some premium brands offering 12 years.

Inverter warranty: whilst this article is about solar panels, inverters carry their own manufacturer's warranty. These are usually 5 years, sometimes being offered with 10+ years as optional, or included with some premium inverters.

Installation warranty: this typically covers the remainder of the materials used in the installation as well as workmanship. They are usually 1 or 2 years, however, some installers offer up to 10 years.

Local presence

While warranties can provide peace of mind, a local presence is important for that rare occasion in which you need to make a warranty claim. We always recommend choosing a strong local installer who has been in the market for some years. At the same time, it is worth asking your chosen solar installer about the Australian presence of the solar panels they are quoting. Does the manufacturer have an Australian office? Who is the panel distributor? How long have they been in the Australian market? Ultimately if you need to get one or more solar panels replaced under warranty, you need to be able to go to your installer, and failing that, the manufacturer or distributor of that brand.

Country of manufacture

Some sources boast country of origin, but this is generally not a good indicator for choosing your solar panels. Brighte instead suggests looking at the reputation and quality of the manufacturer.

Ready to purchase a solar power system? Use the Brighte Marketplace.

The information provided in this article is general in nature and does not constitute advice. Please consider your own personal circumstances prior to making any decisions.