Tier 1 Solar Panels: All You Need To Know

When it comes to choosing the most ideal solar panels, the common fallacy that Tier 1 means excellent quality is deceiving. There’s no denying Tier 1 is a good place to begin when selecting your brand of solar panel, however not all Tier 1 panels are made equal. To start, let’s take a closer look at some of the important characteristics of a Tier 1 solar panel.


The Tier System

To rank as Tier 1, a solar panel manufacturer must have produced their own-brand, manufactured and supplied own products to five different projects duly financed non-recourse by five different banks within the past two years.

Generally, Tier 1 is simply a measure of industry acceptance and there’s no specific criterion when it comes to panel solar quality, production and components.

As a matter of fact, most Tier 1 manufacturers have been affected by issues of quality or bankruptcy. This could explain why Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the producers of the Tier system insist that their list should not be used as a measure of quality.

“We strongly recommend that module purchasers and banks do not use this list as a measure of quality, but instead consult a technical due diligence firm.” 


Tier System Myth – The Tier Triangle

Bloomberg New Energy Finance did not produce the widely circulated Tier Triangle, and has nothing to do with the criterion required to rank a Tier 1 solar panel. However, owing to its popularity, we’ve availed their criteria list and why you should not use it as a measure for panel quality.



Vertically Integrated

This refers to solar panel producers who manufacturer their panels from the ground up. In other words, the manufacturer controls everything from the initial stage of producing silicon cells to the assembling of panels.

Vertical integration gives the manufacturer more control over their value chain, hence ensuring highest quality products.

It’s commonplace for manufacturers of vertically integrated Tier 1 to outsource their solar panel production to manufacturers of lower tier panel. So, if you think the panels you’re about to purchase are manufactured by a Tier factory, there’s a possibility that they are actually made by a factory with stringent quality control and an inferior manual assembly.


Heavy Investment in R&D

To be ranked as Tier 1, a panel manufacturer has to invest more time and money in research and development of their processes and products. The reason for this is to ensure the investment leads to better quality and enhanced innovation.

While investing in research and development is crucial, the true definition of “heavy investment” is not so clear. A manufacturer could still be categorised in the same Tier with another that has spent several times more on R&D.


Innovative Robotic Processes

All Tier 1 panels must be manufactured using highly automated techniques. This will guarantee panels with the highest quality standard, reliability and consistency.However, having robotic production lines does not mean a manufacturer hasn’t cut costs on cheaper components that make up the solar panel. This includes EVA, back-film, framing, connectors, and junction boxes.

This is why Tier 1 panels sometimes suffer from panel delamination, yellowing, micro-cracks, connector, moisture ingress as well as junction box failures usually related with cheaper, lower tier solar panels.



Manufacturing Panels for More Than Five Years

While a good track record of more than five years reveals the company’s longevity and ability to correct potential warranty claims in future, it has little to do with the individual panel’s actual quality.


The Bottom Line

At Australian Solar Quotes, while we believe Tier 1 is a good place to begin when choosing your panel, it’s obviously not the only or the most important factor to consider. Instead of taking your Tier 1 panel measure at face value, we suggest you use the following criteria.


What To Look for in Your Panels


In case your panels become faulty, the first thing you want is a surety that you’re fully covered. The best way to do this is to read your manufacturer warranty which is usually available on the websites of all reputable manufacturers.

Performance Warranty

Also known as power output warranty, this typically ranges between 20 and 25 years, and mostly covers repairs or maintenance in the event your system’s electricity production becomes lower than the predetermined percentage of the rated capacity of panels.

For instance, SunPower, a premium model and one of the leading panels in the world provides a 25-year performance warranty at the lowest guaranteed degradation rate of 0.4 per cent.


Product Warranty

Be sure to read the fine print of your warranty. If the warranty for parts doesn’t cover labour, you’ll have to pay someone to come to your home and uninstall the solar panels, arrange for shipment back to the manufacturer, and after repair reinstall them, ultimately costing you more than the cost of panels.

Australian Solar Quotes proudly offers quotes for solar companies that provide the industry’s most excellent 25-year unlimited product warranties that cover the cost of both labour and parts, as well as panels that come with a 12-year labour and parts product warranty.


Significant Presence in Australia

Ensure the solar panel manufacturer of your choice has a strong presence in Australia because it would be really difficult for someone to make a warranty claim against a manufacturer without an Australian presence.

Imagine yourself calling up a company in Germany to make demands of having your panels fixed? Would you really succeed? Even if the company agrees, you’ll probably have to part with thousands of dollars to uninstall, ship to and from Germany, and have them installed again.

At Australian Solar Quotes, we only provide solar panel quotes of reputable panel manufacturers that boast a significant presence in Australia. This ensures you enjoy various levels of warranty support.


Select a Quality Inverter

Even if you installed first-class solar panels, if your solar inverter is low quality, you won’t be able to convert much of the units of DC power your panels produce into usable electricity.For your solar system to produce excellent results, Australian Solar Quotes recommends selecting a European inverter that complies fully with Australian Standards, has an efficiency level of 95% or above, and comes with a warranty of 5+ years.


Quality Installers

Installing a solar panel is nothing close to purchasing a Television set or fridge. Ideally, your PV system will be a power station sitting right on top of your home, and so you want to ensure it’s installed by a reputable company. This will guarantee safety of your investment and home.

At Australian Solar Quotes, all our quotes for solar panels feature fully licensed installers, system designers and skilled electricians accredited with the Clean Energy Council of Australia (CEC).

In addition, our quality assurances help our customers to get the best Product Warranties offered by quality component manufacturers and which are backed by a full five year+ system warranty inclusive of onsite rectification.


Choose Your Panels Wisely

When looking for panels for your home or business, don’t be blinded by the idea that all Tier 1 panels are of similar quality.

Take time and research on the manufacturer with the best panel warranty, components and Australian presence. Don’t be persuaded by catchy marketing phrases like “Tier 1”, “A-grade” and “high efficiency”.

Ask your sales rep about the differences for each panel, and if possible request for a spec-sheet. Sales reps from quality solar providers who sell superior panels will be more than excited to answer all your questions.

At Australian Solar Quotes, we take extreme great pride in our reliable, honest and solar information source. To discuss the potential of installing solar energy for your home or business, please get in touch with us on 1300 303 864, or click here

IMAGE via Pieter Morlion

The Author

I took an interest in the Australian energy sector close to ten years ago and since then have monitored the trends, technologies and direction of the Australian Energy Market. I was drawn to the Australian solar market in 2008 and since then have worked heavily in the field. I am partnered with national and international solar energy companies, from manufacturers of solar panel and inverter technology, online software developers that introduce tools to quote, monitor and manage solar power systems and media organisations who like myself, closely monitor the solar and renewable energy sector.


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