No, “bestest” is not a word. Just joking around… Now that you’re here, let me ask you a quick question: Are you a Cadillac person or a Kia person? Can you identify exactly why that is?

In solar, there are different grades of module (panel). A module’s efficiency and brand name are the primary factors that determine which “grade” it falls into. Over the years we’ve had many customers who come to us and demand we quote them with “THE MOST EFFICIENT MODULE.” That makes us chuckle to ourselves. Sometimes. Because solar economics just don’t support their demands.

Before we proceed, let us just preface that we are not talking down the quality or nature of any specific brand, we are simply providing an educated analysis of performance vs cost in order to provide a simply stated value guide.

A Tale of Four Customers

Here I describe four customers, each with their own “personality,” living in homes identical to one another, with identical annual usage.

Customer

Customer A Customer B Customer C Customer D
Personality

Needs the BEST: Highly brand conscious.  Wants the strongest combination of recognized brand and efficiency

Must have the highest power residential module Brand conscious but with an eye on utility and savings

Prefers no-frills. Wants utility and reliability at a good price

Array Area

South facing, room for 50 panels, zero shade

Same as Customer A’s Same as Customer A’s

Same as Customer A’s

Annual Usage 12,000kWh Same as Customer A’s Same as Customer A’s

Same as Customer A’s

 

A Tale of Four Choices

Here I describe four different systems chosen to fit the “personality” of each customer. Notice that the inversion warranty on each is about the same. When it comes to module warranty, Customer D opts for a module which has a weaker workmanship warranty. See our explanation of warranties here.

Customer

Customer A Customer B Customer C

Customer D

System Selection

SunPower 360 AC modules (X22-360-WHT-AC 22.2% efficient) with integrated micro inversion

LG 365 Modules (LG365Q1C-A5 21.1% efficient) with SolarEdge inversion Panasonic 330 modules (HIT-330-VBHN330SA16 19.7% efficient) with SolarEdge inversion

Canadian Solar 320 PERC modules (CS1K-320MS – 18.86% efficient) with SolarEdge inversion

Module Size

61.3” x 41.2” (17.4 sq. ft)

66.9” x 40” (18.58 sq. ft) 62.6” x 41.5” (18.04 sq. ft)

67.3” x 39.1” (18.27 sq. ft)

Module Warranties

25 Years Workmanship, 25 Years Power 25 Years Workmanship, 25 Years Power 25 Years Workmanship, 25 Years Power

25 Years Workmanship, 25 Years Power

Inverter Warranties

25 Years Optimizers: 25 Years, Inverter: 20 Year SolarEdge Extended (EcoMen policy)* Optimizers: 25 Years, Inverter: 20 Year SolarEdge Extended (EcoMen policy)*

Optimizers: 25 Years, Inverter: 20 Year SolarEdge Extended (EcoMen policy)*

Monitoring

Lifetime SunPower Lifetime SolarEdge (with 12 Year Cellular plan) Lifetime SolarEdge (with 12 Year Cellular plan)

Lifetime SolarEdge (with 12 Year Cellular plan)

 

A Tale of Four Installed Systems

Customer

Customer A Customer B Customer C Customer D

System Size

8.64 kW DC / 7.68 kW AC 8.76 kW DC / 7.6 kW AC 8.58 kW DC / 7.6 kW AC

8.64kW DC / 7.6 kW AC

Module Count

24 24 26

27

Energy Production

12,096 kWh 12,264 kWh 12,012 kWh

12,096 kWh

Solar Offset

101% 102% 100%

101%

Array Area

421 sq. ft 446 sq. ft 469 sq. ft

493 sq. ft

Centralized String Inverter?

No – micro inverters are integrated in the modules Yes – mounted in garage (17.7” x 14.6” x 6.8”) Yes – mounted in garage (17.7” x 14.6” x 6.8”)

Yes – mounted in garage (17.7” x 14.6” x 6.8”)

Material Cost

$19,786** $14,775** $13,385**

$10,800**

Material Cost /  Year 1 Production

$1.636 / kWh** $1.205 / kWh** $1.114 / kWh**

$0.892 / kWh**

 

So What Are The Take-Home’s Here?

1) High efficiency really implies that LESS surface area is required to produce an amount of power.

2) High efficiency comes with high price. The higher the efficiency, the greater the cost of the materials (which simply results in saving space if warranties are basically equal).

3) Customer A, who requires the very best, pays 35.7% more than Customer B, who has a HIGHER PERFORMING SYSTEM, and pays 83% more than Customer D for a similar performing system.

4) Customer A gets a system that requires 3 less panels than Customer D, and that saves 72 square feet of space on his roof and a box from being installed in his garage (which is almost always something homeowners don’t give a second thought to as far as being unsightly, or obstructive in any way). One way to frame Customer A’s system relative to Customer D’s is that Customer A spent a whopping $8900 to save 72 square feet of space (about 4 modules worth of area – and remember, the roof can accommodate about 50 panels). Yes, the warranties are a bit different, but is that difference really worth it?

5) Call us frugal, or whatever you like, but EcoMen Solar has a tough time recommending System A or System B for any type of purchase in any case where there is ample array surface.

6) As a matter of economy and benefit, EcoMen recommends System C and System D in cases where there is plenty of installation space.

7) System C offers a superb module warranty and an excellent price-performance balance.

8) System D offers the best price-performance balance, albeit with a slightly lesser warranty.

 

If you want to save money and get great value, DO NOT FIXATE ON EFFICIENCY!

 

*EcoMen standard SolarEdge warranty

**This is NOT a pricing guide for EcoMen Solar products and services. The figures represented here are for the system capacity and specific supporting materials. These numbers cannot be used to determine an installation price.

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