CNET’s best overall solar panel
The solar panel brands SunPower Maxeon and REC top CNET’s list of best solar panels for 2023. Both brands of solar panel are highly efficient and come with strong production guarantees over a 25-year span.
You can find out which major solar installers carry these brands on CNET’s list of the best solar companies.
If you’re shopping for solar panels — to reduce your energy bill, green up your electricity consumption or even go off-grid — it’s important to point out that you may not need the best solar panels to achieve your goals. I’ve spent hours reading solar panel spec sheets and devising a scoring methodology that measures what’s important to solar customers (more on that below). While there are differences among solar panels, most experts have told me that finding the best installer is likely more important than getting the very best equipment. The best solar panels for you are the ones that fit your energy goals and budget.
Why go solar now?
Against the backdrop of recent price volatility and inflation, some people are adopting solar panels to lock in predictable energy prices for the next two decades and more. While solar panels cost a lot up front, they can lock in energy savings for years to come.
Can solar panels save you money?
Interested in understanding the impact solar can have on your home? Enter some basic information below, and we’ll instantly provide a free estimate of your energy savings.
Solar panel installation is booming. In 2022, residential solar installations increased by 40% compared to 2021. This trend is likely to continue, thanks to 30% tax incentives for solar and other renewable energy technologies. On the other hand, with interest rates high, financing a solar installation is more expensive. That makes leasing solar panels more attractive, though buying outright is likely to save you more money over time.
That’s all occurring within the context of a warming planet driven by the burning of fossil fuels. Climate scientists say we need to reduce warming emissions rapidly to avoid the worst effects of climate change and sustainability is another reason some homeowners are installing solar.
Best solar panels of 2023
Other solar panel brands we evaluated
JA Solar: Solar panels from JA Solar max out at 21.5% efficiency and have warranties guaranteeing nearly 90% of their rated production after 25 years. (JA Solar’s warranties are actually 30 years long, guaranteeing 87% at that time.) They also have a temperature coefficient of -0.35%
Jinko Solar: Jinko’s solar panels have high efficiency ratings, with at least three in the group topping out over 22%. Their 25-year production warranty lags behind many of the others on this list; it’s set at 83.1%. Jinko does make all-black solar panels. Jinko has an American factory in Jacksonville, Florida, which was raided by federal authorities in an apparent probe, about which few details are known.
Trina Solar: Trina’s solar panels line are comparable to the other panels on this list, landing near the Qcells’ specs. Trina efficiencies peak a bit higher, near 22%, and the panels come in slightly larger sizes. Trina panels come with a 25-year guarantee of nearly 85%. Some models are all black.
Longi Solar: Longi’s solar panels have great efficiency ratings of 21.3% and 25-year production guarantee set at nearly 85%, right in line with industry standards. Their temperature coefficients are also in the normal range at -0.34%.
Talesun Solar: Solar panels from Talesun have peak efficiencies at 21% or slightly above. They are also guaranteed to operate at 84.8% of their rated production after 25 years, again a fairly standard number.
Silfab: Panels from Silfab have efficiency ratings between 20% and 21.5%. They’re guaranteed to produce above 85% after 25 years, according to the warranty posted by Silfab. All the panels we looked at from Silfab had an all-black look. Silfab also manufactures panels in the US, with factories in northwest Washington.
Compare the best solar panels of 2023
In evaluating solar panels for this list, we looked at the residential offerings from solar panel manufacturers and judged them as a whole. In general, if one company has a model that stands out in one area, like efficiency, its entire suite of panels will be more efficient. While some Maxeon solar panels will have lower efficiency ratings than offerings from other companies, as a whole they’ll be more efficient than others. The table below shows maximum values for the group of residential solar panels, not necessarily a specific model.
|Company||Max efficiency rating||Temperature coefficient||Length of production warranty||Guaranteed production at 25 years||All-black model?|
|Canadian Solar||22.80%||-0.28%||25 years||88.85%||Yes|
|Hanwha Q Cells||20.90%||-0.34%||25 years||86%||Yes|
|JA Solar||21.50%||-0.35%||30 years (87%)||89.60%||No|
|Talesun Solar||21.30%||-0.35%||25 years||84.80%||Yes|
|ZNShine Solar||21.55%||-0.35%||30 years (82.5%)||85.40%||No|
Data accurate as of June 16, 2023.
Do you need the best solar panels?
If you’re shopping for solar panels, you should look for the solar panels, batteries and installer that best fit your needs. Those might not be the panels that come out on top of our list or those of any other publications. We left price out of our scoring methodology because it’s hard to find reliable numbers, but it’s likely to be a consideration for you.
Experts have told CNET that you shouldn’t get too starry-eyed about a solar panel’s specifications, like efficiency. You should instead aim for a solar array that meets your energy needs in an affordable and reliable way.
“The bigger question for the end user is the economics and how it’s paying off,” Daniel Ciolkosz, professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Pennsylvania State University, told CNET in April. You’ll want to find a solar installer you can trust, too, just like you would find a contractor for any home improvement project. A poor installation could be a bigger drain on electricity production than a slightly lower efficiency rating or slightly weaker 25-year production guarantee.
How much do solar panels cost?
The cost of installing solar panels at home varies depending on your specific context. While national averages pin the cost somewhere between $3 and $4 per watt, your actual cost can be higher or lower depending on how many solar panels you need installed, local permitting costs, the price of labor in your area and more.
The estimates below don’t arrive at the same answer. In general, smaller systems have a lower overall cost but have a higher cost per watt. Prices rose over the last year, but at a slower rate than inflation, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said.
Factors that might increase the cost of your specific solar installation include the complexity of your roof and additional equipment you have installed, such as solar batteries or electric vehicle chargers. Factors that lower the cost of solar include the federal solar tax credit and incentives from your state.
The best way to get an accurate idea of solar costs in your area is to get multiple quotes from reputable solar companies. Just as important as the cost of going solar is the solar payback period, how long it will take for your solar panels to save as much money as they cost. You can roughly calculate your solar payback period with just your solar costs and estimated monthly savings.
Factors to consider when choosing solar panels
The solar panels installed by solar companies are capable of meeting most energy goals. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty details of solar panels, here are some to start with.
The different types of solar panels
Almost all residential solar panels are monocrystalline models (named for the silicon their solar cells are made from), according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They typically produce more electricity and offer a better return on investment than polycrystalline or thin-film solar panels, their less common counterparts.
Solar panel efficiency
Solar panel efficiency is simply the amount of energy in sunlight that a solar panel turns into electricity. That means a solar panel with a 20% efficiency is leaving 80% of the sun’s energy on the table. But modern solar panels have been getting more so over the years. In 2007, only about 17% of solar panels were 19% or more efficient. In 2022, more than 97% exceeded that mark, according to the Berkeley Lab.
Efficiency also comes into play elsewhere in a solar panel system. Both solar inverters and batteries are rated for their efficiency as well.
Solar panels get less efficient as temperatures rise. Temperature coefficient measures the amount solar panel efficiency changes for every degree Celsius over 25 (77 degrees Fahrenheit). A temperature coefficient of -0.34% means the solar panel will lose that much production each degree Celsius the temp rises.
A solar panel’s size is measured in watts. That means that, under ideal conditions over the course of an hour, a 400-watt solar panel will produce 400 watt-hours of electricity.
Conditions are rarely ideal in the real world, however. A passing cloud, a thin layer of dust on the panels, wildfire smoke — anything that comes between a solar panel and the sun is going to eat away at its production. But the higher the wattage rating, the more power the panel will produce.
Even if you find a solar panel that makes your heart sing, it’s probably smarter to focus on finding a reputable solar installer you trust. Solar panels are just one part of the system and, on the chance something goes wrong, you want to know you’ll be getting quality service for many years to come.
What should I consider when choosing a solar installer?
The best thing you can do to set yourself up for solar shopping success is to get multiple quotes from reputable installers. Unless you’re an expert in your local solar market, you won’t be able to judge the quality of a proposal except comparisons against one another. Casting a wide net, along with educating yourself about your local solar policies and incentives, is your best defense against a dishonest salesperson. (This isn’t to suggest that scammy solar sales tactics are widespread.) Even the best solar companies might not always be the best fit. If you have neighbors who have solar panels, ask about their experience with their installer.
Make sure you understand your energy usage, whether or not you have net metering available to you and the ins and outs of available incentives like the solar tax credit.
The Department of Energy recommends working with a solar installer licensed or certified by a reputable third party. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners runs a database of installers it has certified. Ask installers about their company’s certifications.
How we chose and ranked the best solar panels
The solar panels on this list are some of the most widely installed solar panels in residential solar applications in the United States. If you’re collecting and comparing quotes for a solar installation at home, you’re likely to come across one of these brands. Luckily, we did the legwork for you and compiled specification data from the most popular solar panel brands to compare against each other.
If your preferred panel, or those you’re quoted, aren’t on this list, you can find their specs the same way I did. Most solar panel manufacturers make their products’ specifications and warranties readily available online on their websites. It’s just a matter of finding where on the website it’s listed.
The five best solar panels listed at the top of this article came out on top after all the solar panels we looked at were put through our scoring methodology.
We scored the panels on their efficiency (25% of the final score), maximum wattage available (15%), temperature coefficient (15%), production warranty level (25%) and production warranty length (15%). The final 5% of the score comes from whether or not the company offers an all-black option, which has a more attractive look to some people.
Here’s how the scoring breaks down.
|Temp. coefficient||0 to -0.29%||-0.3% to -0.34%||-0.35% to -0.39%||-0.4% to -0.44%||-0.45% and below|
|Production warranty level||>90%||85-89.9%||80-84.9%||75%-79.9%||<75%|
|Production warranty length||30 years||25 years||NA||NA||NA|
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