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New solar panels: what’s coming to market in 2018?
On April 19, 2018 By Luke Richardson In Buyer's Guide
Reading Time: 8 minutes
In today’s fast expanding solar industry, there are already hundreds of different panel models and designs available to the modern day solar shopper. A growing number of premium technology brands (think Panasonic and LG) have entered the residential solar market, leaving homeowners across the country wondering: what’s next? What new technologies can we expect for solar panels in 2018? In this article we will discuss all of the new developments with photovoltaic (PV) panels, including new aesthetics like clear solar panels, bi-facial (double-sided) panels, efficiency improvements and solar inverter integration.
The cost of solar is dropping across the nation. See prices in your area and get free solar quotes on the EnergySage Marketplace.
What are the new solar panel designs and aesthetics?
One of the most common criticisms of the solar panels available today is their appearance on a roof – many homeowners considering solar are looking for a product that will both generate energy and offer a stylish and aesthetic improvement for their property. In response, solar panel manufacturers are developing new solutions to give solar the makeover homeowners have been asking for.
Frameless solar panels
A major factor in the critique of solar’s aesthetic is the solar panel frame, which many homeowners find to be the least attractive part of a PV panel. To solve that problem, major manufacturers such as SolarWorld, Canadian Solar, and Trina are
producing frameless solar modules. The main hinderance for these aesthetic panels is the lack of suitable mounting equipment that can work without a frame. As a result, manufacturers are producing specialized mounting apparatus to match their frameless panels. One example of this is Lumos Solar, which offers the LSX Frameless Module as well as its own dynamic mounting solution.
Clear solar panels
Many frameless panel designs are entirely enclosed in one material, typically glass. Glass solar panels use the same silicon cell technology and materials of a standard panel, but rather than being mounted on an opaque backing material, the cells are sandwiched between two glass casings. In most scenarios, glass panels are bi-facial, but we will save that concept for later in the article.
Glass solar panels are an innovation in multiple ways because, in addition to being more visually attractive, glass panels are more durable than a typical silicon cell panel. These panels are known to be significantly more resistant to fire hazard and are also less prone to erosion. Prism Solar, DSM Advanced Surfaces, Topray Solar and Sunshine Solar are some of the leading solar glass manufacturers in the industry today. Though glass-on-glass panels are often integrated into a skylight or building window (as in the image below), they are not truly “building integrated photovoltaics” because they are attached to the building rather than incorporated into the building envelope.
Genuine solar windows are a new residential concept we will be watching for in 2018. This solar window product, sometimes referred to as “clear solar panels,” would be a legitimate example of BIPV. To date, this type of window replacement glass solar has only been used for utility scale solar installations, primarily in Europe.
PV integration: solar panel with inverter
A big factor in the world of PV is the concept of solar efficiency, which refers to the rate at which silicon cells can convert rays of sunlight into electricity. And while panel efficiency gradually increases every year, the efficiency of solar panel manufacturing and installation is also improving. Curious how solar panel efficiency and cost has changed over time? Read our article
A new innovation seen across the industry is the concept of a solar panel plus inverter. For solar installers, inverter installation and connection can add significant time to a typical rooftop installation. To solve this problem, innovative manufacturer Enphase is making inverters easily attachable to the back of the panel. The U.S. inverter specialist has announced partnerships with a number of leading panel manufacturers in the past few months in an effort to create a module that does not require the installation of an inverter. Instead, the modules will be manufactured with small inverters already in place on the back of the panel. For the solar market as a whole, this seemingly minor technical innovation will contribute to significant reductions in installation time, which results in reduced installation costs. To date, Enphase’s major partnerships in the panel-inverter integration effort have been with SolarWorld, LG and Jinko Solar.
Three Tips for Solar Shoppers
Homeowners who get multiple quotes save 10% or more
As with any big ticket purchase, shopping for a solar panel installation takes a lot of research and consideration, including a thorough review of the companies in your area. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recommended that consumers compare as many solar options as possible to avoid paying inflated prices offered by the large installers in the solar industry.
To find the smaller contractors that typically offer lower prices, you’ll need to use an installer network like EnergySage. You can receive free quotes from vetted installers local to you when you register your property on our Solar Marketplace – homeowners who get 3 or more quotes can expect to save $5,000 to $10,000 on their solar panel installation.
The biggest installers typically don’t offer the best price
The bigger isn’t always better mantra is one of the main reasons we strongly encourage homeowners to consider all of their solar options, not just the brands large enough to pay for the most advertising. A recent report by the U.S. government found that large installers are $2,000 to $5,000 more expensive than small solar companies. If you have offers from some of the big installers in solar, make sure you compare those bids with quotes from local installers to ensure you don’t overpay for solar.
Comparing all your equipment options is just as important
National-scale installers don’t just offer higher prices – they also tend to have fewer solar equipment options, which can have a significant impact on your system’s electricity production. By collecting a diverse array of solar bids, you can compare costs and savings based on the different equipment packages available to you.
There are multiple variables to consider when seeking out the best solar panels on the market. While certain panels will have higher efficiency ratings than others, investing in top-of-the-line solar equipment doesn’t always result in higher savings. The only way to find the “sweet spot” for your property is to evaluate quotes with varying equipment and financing offers.
For any homeowner in the early stage of shopping for solar that would just like a ballpark estimate for an installation, try our Solar Calculator that offers up front cost and long term savings estimates based on your location and roof type. For those looking to get quotes from local contractors today, check out our quote comparison platform.