Most efficient solar panels of 2018

person calculating solar panel efficiency

What are the most efficient solar panels of 2018?

Updated 11/22/18

Solar panel efficiency is one of the most important parameters when you are considering to install a PV system. This factor is not only a reference of quality between a premium solar panel and an average module, but it is also a parameter that defines how much energy can be produced.

The solar industry is constantly changing, therefore, finding the latest updates in the efficiency values of solar panels is not always easy. Here we will show you the most updated ranking of the best brands of 2018, along with their most efficient models. Moreover, we will also learn about solar panel types and the factors that influence the efficiency rating that appears on the datasheet of your module.

Given the importance of this parameter, solar panel manufacturers have focused on increasing the efficiency rating of PV modules. These efforts have driven investments on commercial and utility-scale solar power plants as never before. Regarding the residential sector, solar systems have become more affordable than ever, and energy yields from solar panels are now more attractive for the average homeowner. Here we will address this crucial topic to guide you through the latest releases on the solar industry and the most efficient solar panels of 2018.

What you need to know

Simply put, solar panel efficiency is referred to the ratio of peak power compared to the amount of sunlight that arrives at the solar cells of the module. In other words, the efficiency value that we can find on the datasheet of a solar panel represents the ability of the module to convert sunlight into electricity according to its size.

Choosing the most efficient solar panels guarantees that your PV system will have an outstanding performance because the best manufacturers produce the highest efficiency values of the solar industry.

The top 20 most efficient solar panels on the market in 2018

PositionBrandModelEffciency
1SunPowerX series: SPR-X22-37022.70%
2LGLG NeON R – LG360Q1C-A520.80%
3PanasonicN340 HIT + Series20.30%
4Trina SolarTallMax Split M Plus19.90%
5SolariaSolaria PowerXT 360R-PD19.90%
6Canadian SolarHiDM CS1U -MS19.89%
7JinkoSolarJKM400M-72HL-V19.88%
8REC SolarREC 330 N-Peak19.80%
9YingliSolarPanda Bifacial 72CF -39019.70%
10SeraphimECLIPSE SRP-400-E01A19.66%
11Hanwha Q CellsQ.Peak Duo-G5 33019.60%
12AxitecAxiPremiumHC 325MH/60S19.56%
13SunpremeGxB 38019.50%
14GCLGCL-M3/6019.40%
15SilfabSLG-M-380-7219.20%
16HelieneHeliene96M19.10%
17ReneSolaJC370S-24/Abw19.08%
18WinaicoWSP-315M618.90%
19Opal SolarQSA365M-60-S18.90%
20Mitsubishi SolarNSP D6M 360 E4A18.60%

There are lots of solar panels, but here we show only the best brands of 2018 with the most updated information corresponding to their highest efficiency values.

The brands that perform well

Here is a brief overview of the most efficient solar panel manufacturers in 2018:

SunPower: American company based in Silicon Valley with over 40 years of experience, 18 million MWh generated from solar energy spread in installations all over the world, and with over 750 patents. Sunpower panels are the most efficient of the industry, and the model with the highest efficiency of the brand is X series: SPR-X22-370

LG: International South Korean brand dedicated to the electronics industry with over $56 billion in sales and offices in 119 countries. Began operations related to the solar industry in 1985, and since then has innovated not only in solar panels manufacturing but also in energy storage solutions. Their number one performing model is the LG NeON R – LG360Q1C-A5 model.

Panasonic: Japanese company dedicated to the electronics industry with over 40 years of experience in the solar industry and the only promoter of the HIT technology. Their number one performing model is the HIT N330.

Trina Solar: One of the best solar companies in the industry. Founded in 1997 and with over 15,000 employees. The company has over 32 GW installed in solar panels and is the leader in IBC technology. Several models are available but, the best module is TallMax Split M Plus.

Solaria: Founded in 2000, this company has authority over 100 patents and was one of the first to get related to concentrated photovoltaic cells and tracker systems. Their number one performing model is Solaria PowerXT 360R-PD.

The price premium

There are scenarios where high efficiency is crucial and others where it is not.

The available roof space and the estimated load for your household will determine if you need to purchase the most efficient modules. Sometimes, the price premium for a high-efficiency solar panel may be worth it. For instance, if you are considering to buy portable solar panels, then high efficiency values are critical because of the nature of use. However, in other occasions selecting premium models might just end up increasing the cost of your PV system unnecessarily.

To find the right answer, request several free quotes to different solar installers, some with high-efficiency solar panels and others with conventional modules. They will include the cost of the system, the energy yields, and the savings per year in their feasibility report. Based on several reports, you will be able to choose the solar panels that better suit your needs and budget.

Commercially available values of efficiency

There are different types of solar panels that, depending on the solar technology, deeply influence the efficiency values. Crystalline silicon solar cells are conventional technology in the industry and these, can be at the same time divided into two main types: polycrystalline and monocrystalline.

Monocrystalline solar panels have the highest efficiency values of the market with ratings varying between 15-22.2% and a lifespan of 25-30 years. Iconic solar panel manufacturers of monocrystalline technologies are SunPower, LG, and JinkoSolar.

On the other hand, polycrystalline solar panels have average efficiency values between 12% and 18% and a lifespan of 23-27 years. Remarkable panel manufacturers of this technology are GCL, Trina Solar and Kyocera.

Thin-Film is the least efficient technology on the market (also called amorphous), and it is developed with a broader range of technologies apart from silicon like Cadmium-Telluride and CIS solar cells. The big advantage of these solar panels is related to flexibility and low weight. Regarding their efficiency range, is generally located between 9 – 14%. Iconic manufacturers are First Solar, Sharp, and Solar Frontier.

Why should you care about solar panel efficiency?

The efficiency value is directly related to the power rating and the size of the solar panel. Let’s imagine we have a panel with a specific size and power output. If we increase the efficiency, then it means the panel will need less space to produce the same amount of power. In other words, the module will have the same size, but its power output will be bigger.

On the other hand, if we reduce the efficiency of the solar panel, then it means that the PV system will need to cover more space since the solar panel will have the same size but will have a lower power output. Therefore, selecting the appropriate panel model according to the efficiency rating can have a significant impact on the power output of your PV system, drive important space reductions and, increase annual energy yields.

What factors affect solar panel efficiency?

Multiple factors can affect the efficiency of solar panels. Maybe one of the most important is the fill factor (FF). This is parameter defines the shape of the I-V characteristic curve of a solar cell and is generally associated with the quality of a solar cell. FF is generally represented as the equation below:

FF represented as a formula and graph

Above we can see a picture of the I/V characteristic curve of a solar cell where 3 points can be highlighted. The Voc, which represents the open circuit voltage (maximum possible voltage of the cell), Isc, which represents short-circuit current (maximum possible current of the solar cell) and MPP, which is the maximum power point of the curve.

The FF represents how square the I/V curve is. In other words, it represents how close is the MPP to the multiplication of Voc and Isc which is the theoretical maximum power that the solar panel can withstand. If the FF is bigger, then the cell efficiency is bigger.

Another crucial factor that influences solar cell efficiency values is quantum efficiency.

Sunlight is composed of small particles known as photons. When these particles impact the surface of the solar cell, they release electrons in the silicon doped structure that allow generating a current flow, and therefore electricity.

The quantum efficiency is referred to the number of photons that are effectively converted into electricity. Companies try to increase this efficiency by applying different solar technologies like PERC, HIT, or IBC solar cells.

Conclusion

We have examined some of the most amazing solar panels and brands with the highest efficiency values of the industry. We have also discussed the factors that influence the cell efficiency and the average values according to the types of solar panels.

We find out that SunPower solar panels are still the most efficient, followed by LG and Panasonic. The highest commercially available efficiency value has exceeded 22% to the date of writing.

As new technologies are developed, and market competition keeps increasing, we will surely see new breaking records in 2019. Only time will show us their differences.