Cheap Solar Panels

by Solar Selections on March 12, 2012

Not only does our free service provides instant comparisons of local installers – we tackle the larger issues for the UK solar industry at large as well. This article examines how there is a great deal of speculation in the UK solar industry regarding what makes a solar panel ‘cheap’ or ‘expensive’. At the heart of the issue is the quality variance that exist between the cost competitive end of the market and the ‘premium’ products that are thousands of pounds more expensive. Ultimately it comes down to whether or not the price difference is justifiable. Whilst many people have different opinions on how much they would like to spend and what they expect to get for their investment, we all know we want a good deal. Let’s explore how to find one through the relative costs of our solar panels components. 

What is a Solar Panel

Here is a breakdown of what a solar module is comprised of:

Solar Cell

When we talk about Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline solar panels this is specifically what is being referred to; the solar cell. Apart from the relatively insignificant differences between Mono and Poly a solar cell is a fairly rudimentary wafer of silicon, arranged on the face of a module. They are connected up together with thin conductor strips for moving the electrical energy from one end of the panel to the other. There are not significant differences between the solar cell of a ‘premium’ or ‘cheap solar panel’ because the cell creating process has been standarised. Any differences are reflected in the overall power rating (wattage) of the panels, one of the easiest and most obvious measurements of a panel’s effectiveness.

Front Glass

Made up of tempered glass that is rated for impact resistance, is waterproof and as transparent as possible. AR (anti-reflective) coated tempered glass is the standard across most brands. The notions of ‘self cleaning’ glass are used by some panel manufacturers however all panel glass by it’s nature is relatively friction-less. A decent enough downpour or spray with a hose will clear debris. Glass thickness and clarity are two somewhat important factors that can affect performance. Most brands in the UK maintain a high standard in both however verification via the panel specifications is advisable.

One important caveat involves sea salt spray which can build up in certain areas on the glass and restrict performance. Sea salt, like Ammonia, is also corrosive and only certain solar panels are certified to be salt and ammonia resistant. TÜV run the accreditations for salt mist and ammonia testing that is used for most solar panels. Check with the manufacturing specifications for further details, but unless the project is installed on agricultural land or in close (less than 1 mile typically) proximity to the sea this isn’t a major factor.

Junction Box & Connectors

A straightforward electrical junction box essentially receives the electrical energy coming from the conductors through the cells and converts it into a larger current.  Junction boxes are usually full gel sealed as waterproofing is of obvious importance. Two removable DC cables available in dual-qualified (TÜV and UL) or single-qualified (TÜV) versions connect panels up to one another creating strings that are then connected to inverters. This is also where the Bypass Diodes exist, which help to isolate and shut down small parts of the array in times of partial shading/obstruction. Most solar panels have minimally effective Bypass Diodes at every junction box, meaning sections of multiple panels are shut down during such interference. Technology such as the Solar Edge are expensive alternatives to standard installations to be used when shading on site is considerable.

Framing 

The final aspect of a solar panel is the framing, which is usually stainless steel aluminium or equivalent. The international IEC standards cover the minimum requirements and ensure no drastic differences between premium and expensive exists here. An anodized frame is usually standard, meaning the material has been treated to protect against oxidisation.

Summary

So where can the price disparities exist? Well everywhere in principle, from the rigidity of the glass used to the gel sealed nature of the junction boxes. However the IEC standards maintain that no panel can be commercially available that has a tangible possibility of being ‘unsafe’ or in delivering less performance over the 25 year minimum than 80% of it’s original stated wattage. So whilst the sales pitches of absolute high-end steel grade used for the framing and individually hand-inspected conductor runs down the cells sounds convincing, performance is guaranteed with warranty and wattage rating.

By all means allow the unique characteristics of your preferred solar panel stand out to you, but whether that be its price or it’s sleek black sea-mist proof framing is entirely up to you.

Written by Jarrah Harburn

jarrah@solarselections.co.uk

T: 020 7205 2267

© 2011 Solar Selections Ltd

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