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  #1  
Old 10-06-2010
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Which brand of solar panel is the best right now

I'm about to embark on a solar panel project for our B343. Traditional wisdom has said Kyocera 135 Watt panels are the best for marine applications. But I've noticed a trend of rapidly dropping prices for panels lately - especially major brands like GE and BP. For whatever reason, Kyocera's are maintaining their price premiums.

Now I know the old adage - you get what you pay for. But a 25-40% premium just seems a bit tough to swallow. For those that are up to speed on solar panel trends - what panel would you fit out your boat with if you were to kick off the project tomorrow. Would you stick with Kyoceras or move on to capture some of the savings of a brand like GE or BP. Would you even entertain a no-name like Sunwize or Evergreen?

Thoughts?
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Old 10-06-2010
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I used to make solar wafers that ended up in panels. Most of the panel manufacturers use a few cell manufacturers who in turn use a few large scale wafer companies in combination with several small scale companies. The industry has pretty standard specifications for cell and wafers. So, the core technology will most likely be similar across different panel manufacturers. You will want to look at the quality of materials (glass, extrusion, etc.) used in the panels to make your decision.

At the beginning of summer there was a huge increase in demand for solar and the supply was behind the demand. If you are seeing reduced price panels they are probably older technology or less efficient (less power output for the same area).

I worked for BP until this past May. They used to make good panels. If you see a manufacture date before Dec 2009 they will be good panels. After that I would look elsewhere.
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Last edited by nickmerc; 08-18-2011 at 06:41 AM.
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Old 10-06-2010
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I recommend the Solar Stik.
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Old 10-06-2010
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Hmm, nice looking system, but no prices listed.
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Old 10-06-2010
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I had Evergreen. No good, if they get a little little shade, like let's say, the shade of a wind generator, they efficiency drops dramatically.
I now own 2 kyoceras. They have a new frame, which makes them extremely rough. I bought the KD210LPU. why? they have a 20 year warranty, they can put up with heavy surface loads (which you'll have with very strong winds), and they are very efficient. I also bought this because they were cheap on sunelectronics dot com.
But i totally agree with Nick. Only a few companies manufacture the cells.

hope to help

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Old 10-06-2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by carl762 View Post
Hmm, nice looking system, but no prices listed.
Sorry. Some of the guys who have been around here for a long time will get the joke.
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Old 10-07-2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by US27inKS View Post
Sorry. Some of the guys who have been around here for a long time will get the joke.
Looks VERY expensive and may have have some big time maintenance issues!!!
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Old 10-07-2010
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I sell solar to boaters and homeowners, and Kyocera still outsells every other brand for boating. They are tested for salt water spray, and the new 135W even have an extra bracing bar across the middle to give it more strength if you want to just mount it from the end. I'm not sure where you are looking, but the price of the Kyocera dropped dramatically this year, we've got them for $353.

P.S. Evergreen's not a no-name, they have a huge plant here in Massachusetts, and they also just got rated for salt spray. They have a different manufacturing method for the silicon, which they make themselves, so it does react differently to shading than polycrystalline cell. That said, I would still recommend Kyocera for boats over Evergreen.

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Old 10-07-2010
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Thanks for all the information. Solar is on my spring to-do list, so this has been great reading.

While I am no expert in solar, I do know first hand that two manufacturers using the same base components does not make their products even close to equal. I am in the computer industry, and worked in a hardware related position for a long time. Consumers tend to get wrapped up in processor speeds, RAM sizes and hard disk sizes, however these things do not make equal systems. There are so many other things that will effect the speed and reliability of a computer using the same processor...

-Bus speeds on the motherboard(how fast can data flow from the processor to the RAM, video card and network card?)
-Hard disk read write speeds and RPMs
-L2 Memory caches if available
-Quality of RAM (More errors = slow speeds even with lots of RAM)
-Damage from static electricity during manufacturing if precautions are not taken during manufacturing and assembly.
-Length of processor instruction piplines (If looking at x86 vrs. SPARC vrs. RISC processors)

These are just a few simplified examples to make the point. I am sure there is a lot that goes into solar panels as well that will effect the quality, even if the same base wafers are used. Some guesses would be

-Type and quality of wires and connections internal to the panels.
-Internal, unseen damage due to bad handling practices during manufacturing
-Dust or dirt trapped inside the panels
-Clarity and quality of glass panels
-Overall strength and robustness of construction.

Perhaps someone in the industry could come up with a better and more complete list of what makes a good panel vrs. a bad panel even when using the same base components.
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There really are not many components that go into a solar panel. From a rigidity standpoint it all has to do with the frame and how it supports the cells. That is easy to see.

From a waterproof standpoint you really have to look at the laminate that encloses the cells. Ask around about how different manufacturers last. Once water gets in there the panels are done.

From a power standpoint, keep in mind that the panel ratings are peak watts in ideal conditions. You can get a rough gauge of the efficiency of a panel by the total area of the cells compared to the peak watts. You will see several methods to maximize the captured sunlight such as different colors of backing material, anti-reflective glass, the anti-reflective coating on the cells (that's the blueish color you see), and the collection line pattern.

I have an older 40Wp panel that was made for the Canadian CG that is almost bullet proof. It is not large, but fits my needs. It is mounted on my sea hood over my companionway hatch. I can stand on it with no ill effects. I need to watch out for falling winch handles, hail, and any stray shackles.

All panels will be severely effected by shade due to the combination of series and parallel wiring needed to get the proper voltage from the panel.

Look at what the warranty covers. Panel warranties should be at least 20 years. Make sure salt spray is covered though they should all be fine in that environment if they are a quality panel.
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Last edited by nickmerc; 08-18-2011 at 06:43 AM.
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