Solar Panel Tiers: What Homeowners Need to Know

solar panel tiers

In your research before getting solar panels, you’ll find out that not all solar panels are the same and that a tier system created by BloombergNEF classifies panels based on their quality, efficiency, and manufacturer reputation. This article will explore the solar panel tiers to help you identify and choose the best solar panels for your specific needs. 

The Ins and Outs Of The Solar Panel Tier System 

Tier 1

Tier 1 solar panels refer to high-quality solar panels manufactured by well-established and reputable companies in the industry. These manufacturers typically have a strong track record of producing reliable and efficient solar panels. These are some key features solar panels should have to be considered tier 1:

  • Manufacturing Quality: tier 1 manufacturers adhere to strict quality control processes throughout the manufacturing cycle to ensure the efficiency of their products. These companies often use cutting-edge robotic procedures, minimizing or eliminating human error.
  • Vertical Integration: many tier 1 manufacturers are vertically integrated, meaning they control the entire production chain, from solar cell manufacturing to solar module assembly. This allows them to maintain seamless quality control and optimize their panels’ performance.
  • Research and development: Tier 1 companies invest in research and development to stay at the forefront of solar technology. They often introduce innovative features in their panels to improve efficiency and durability.
  • Third-party testing: Many solar companies that want to prove their panels’ quality further invest in getting them tested by an independent third party. A well-known third-party test is the PV Magazine test, which includes a range of indoor and outdoor performance tests.
  • Warranty support: Tier 1 companies often provide robust warranties for their panels, including performance warranties, product warranties, and a linear performance degradation guarantee. 
  • Reputation: Tier 1 manufacturers have a good reputation in the industry and among solar professionals, and their products are often recommended.
  • Global presence: Tier 1 manufacturers often have a global presence, with distribution networks and service centres in various regions. This makes it easier for consumers to access their products and receive support.

As of 2023, examples of companies that are considered tier 1 are LONGi, Sunpro Power, and Huasun. We at Solar YYC use LONGi solar panels in our installations.

Tier 2

Although BloombergNEF didn’t create criteria to classify tier 2 solar panels, people in the industry needed a way to describe the panels that didn’t match tier 1 characteristics; hence, tiers 2 and 3 were created.

Tier 2 panels are typically produced by smaller or less established manufacturers than Tier 1 manufacturers in the solar industry. While they may offer competitive pricing, Tier 2 panels are associated with certain risks and characteristics:

  • Quality and performance: The quality and efficiency of tier 2 solar panels vary widely. Some tier 2 panels may offer good performance and reliability, but others may have lower efficiency or be more prone to issues over time.
  • Manufacturing: tier 2 companies use partially robotic processes, relying more on manual production processes, which increases the risk of human error.
  • Innovation: Tier 2 manufacturers may not invest as heavily in research and development as Tier 1 companies, so they may not always incorporate the latest technological advancements into their products.
  • Company size and reputation: Tier 2 manufacturers are generally smaller in scale and may not have the same brand recognition or reputation level as Tier 1 companies. They are usually emerging companies in the solar industry.
  • Price: One of the primary appeals of Tier 2 solar panels is that they’re more affordable than Tier 1 panels. This can make them an attractive option for those with limited budgets. However, weighing the lower cost against potential long-term performance and warranty considerations is important.
  • Warranty and support: Tier 2 panels may have less comprehensive warranties than Tier 1 panels. Additionally, the level of customer support and availability of replacement parts may be less reliable.
  • Risk factors: There is a higher degree of risk associated with Tier 2 panels. This includes potential issues with product quality, performance, and long-term durability.

Tier 3

Tier 3 solar panels are typically considered the lowest tier or category of solar panels. These panels are produced by young companies with smaller market presence and fewer resources than Tier 1 and Tier 2 manufacturers. Here are some characteristics and considerations associated with Tier 3 solar panels:

  • Manufacturer reputation: Tier 3 manufacturers are typically new companies and may lack a proven track record of producing high-quality panels or providing reliable customer support.
  • Quality and performance: Tier 3 panels often have lower quality control standards, leading to a higher risk of defects, lower efficiency, and a shorter lifespan. These panels may not perform as well as Tier 1 or Tier 2 panels regarding energy production and long-term reliability.
  • Risk Factors: Tier 3 panels come with a higher level of risk. They may be more prone to premature degradation, lower energy production, or even complete panel failure. 
  • Lack of warranty and support: The warranties offered with Tier 3 panels are typically less comprehensive and reliable than those provided with Tier 1 and Tier 2 panels. Manufacturers may have limited resources for providing customer support and addressing warranty claims. 
  • Long-term uncertainty: There is a high risk that tier 3 manufacturers may not remain in business long-term. This could pose challenges for getting warranty service and support in the future.
  • Pricing: Tier 3 solar panels are the most affordable option among the three tiers. While this can be tempting, it’s essential to consider the potential downsides in terms of quality and performance.

The Choice Is Yours

While tier 2 and tier 3 solar panels offer cost savings, assessing and understanding their potential risks is crucial. In some cases, these panels may be suitable for specific applications, particularly when budget constraints are a significant consideration. However, going solar is usually a long-term investment, which is why reliability and performance should be on top of mind when choosing your panels. 

In all cases, consulting with a knowledgeable solar installer will help you make the best decision based on your needs and circumstances. If you are in the Calgary area and need to know more about solar panel tiers or any other questions regarding solar energy, contact us to book a free consultation.