Choosing PV Modules: Page 3 of 3

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Solar panels on a rooftop
Solar panels on a rooftop.
Garage roof is good location for solar panels
This large, south-facing garage roof has access to a wide-open solar window—the perfect location for a future PV array.
Module from Helios Solar Works
This 420 W module from Helios Solar Works is manufactured in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and has a +3/0 power tolerance.
SunPower module
This SunPower 435 W module is 20.1% efficient. High-efficiency modules allow a higher-capacity array to fit within a limited area.
Peak Energy module from REC
This Peak Energy module from REC has a PTC-to-STC ratio of 0.91.
SunPower Signature black solar modules
Using high-efficiency modules can reduce the mounting space required. This 12 kW array uses SunPower Signature black solar modules for aesthetics.
Silicon Energy Installation
In some programs, purchasing components made in-state qualifies the system for larger incentives.
Lumos Solar frameless modules
An awning that uses Lumos Solar frameless modules with clear back sheets allows light to filter through.
Trina Solar modules
Zep Solar-compatible modules from Trina Solar have grooved frames to accommodate hardware for rail-less mounting.
Upsolar modules
Zep Solar-compatible modules from Upsolar have grooved frames to accommodate hardware for rail-less mounting.
Jinko Solar module
This Jinko Solar 245 W module has 10-year materials and 25-year linear power warranties.
PV modules can be both a science and an art
Every residential installation is unique—and selecting PV modules can be both a science and an art, where production, budget, and aesthetic goals are balanced within a given space.
Solar panels on a rooftop
Garage roof is good location for solar panels
Module from Helios Solar Works
SunPower module
Peak Energy module from REC
SunPower Signature black solar modules
Silicon Energy Installation
Lumos Solar frameless modules
Trina Solar modules
Upsolar modules
Jinko Solar module
PV modules can be both a science and an art

Compromises Are Inevitable

Weighing all of these factors can be a time-consuming process that inevitably ends up in compromise. And each system designer or homeowner will have to establish their own priorities.

This will be the third PV array our family has installed, and cost, while important, is no longer at the top of the list. With our two previous homes, low module cost was the highest priority, and I simply jumped on “deals.” The first array used Astropower modules, which are no longer under warranty since the manufacturer is long gone. The second array contained a few underperforming modules (see “Potential PV Problems” in HP143). While both arrays are still pumping out energy, I have learned to consider more than just cost. Unfortunately, there is no long-term module quality specification, so it is difficult to know if a module is and will continue to be a top performer—manufacturers are not required to publish module failure test data.

As the PV industry matures and module-level monitoring becomes more common, we’ll likely have more data on how specific modules perform over the long term. Pressure from within the industry (such as larger system integrators and project developers) also may help remedy this situation. It is an unfortunate reality, but not a reason to keep me from investing in my next array. Will my next array perform as expected five or 10 years from now? I don’t know. Will the manufacturer I buy from be around to honor a warranty claim? That’s an uncertainty, too.

What I do know is that my last two arrays are still working—in spite of a defunct module manufacturer and a few underperforming modules. And with that confidence in basic PV technology, I will optimistically move forward with my next solar adventure.

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Justine Sanchez is a Home Power technical editor and an instructor for Solar Energy International. She is certified by ISPQ as a PV Affiliated Master Trainer. Justine is hoping to close on her new family home soon, so she can start ordering the equipment to make her next dream PV system a reality.

Comments (4)

Justine Sanchez's picture

Hi Stephanie,
Thanks for posting your comment about Colored Solar modules. Folks can check out their specs and compare to other modules on the list if you go to: http://www.homepower.com/web-xtras
and click on "2012-2013 PV Modules Buyer's Guide"
Best,
Justine
Home Power Magazine

stephanieb's picture

These factors are all important when comparing apples to apples, but introduce an aesthetic US made pv panel like from Colored Solar into the equation. 1) Do we need to put a imported product on every roof in America? 2) Does solar have to detract from traditional American architecture? 3) Homeowners are proud of their home's look and appearance and have to only choose black to outfit their home with 4) Colored modules perform better, than black panels

Michael Jacobs's picture

I really enjoyed the article. I shared it with my students. We were discussing the selection of pv cells for student design projects. The article explained the criteria used for making their pv cell selection which was helpful to the class in their student design project. Worked very well with a real world experience. Love this magazine. I have learned so very much from the articles. People know me by the magazine i carry with me at all times. Thanks so much!!!

Michael Welch's picture

Hi Michael. Thanks for the kind words, and we're glad you and your students are finding good value in the magazine.

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