Cheap Solar Panels – Are they worth it?

Solar panels can be expensive, so it’s not so surprising that many households are looking for cheap alternatives, which brands offer cheap options and what are the potential risks to be aware of?

Investing in solar panels for your home is a costly decision, but with the price of solar panels falling 80% since 2010 and energy bills soaring, it’s an investment more and more of us are thinking about.

If you are shopping for solar panels on a budget, it’s important to understand what you can get for your money and whether cheaper panels are worth it versus spending a little extra for a higher-quality panel and brand.

Premium Solar Panels vs Budget Options

First, let’s explore the difference between what a premium-priced solar panel can give us for our money compared with the budget options.

Here we will be looking at the price per panel, the efficiency with which each solar panel works, and the linear output warranty.

Efficiency refers to the percentage of sunlight a solar panel can convert into electricity. This percentage will decrease over its lifetime, also known as its degradation rate.

Linear output warranty states the length of the warranty and the percentage of degradation expected in that time.

For example, some of the best are offered with a linear warranty of up to 25 years. This guarantees that the solar panel will maintain a certain percentage of its original output after 25 years.

Generally, the higher the percentage, the higher the quality of the solar panel.

Best Solar Panels vs Cheapest Solar Panels UK

Top 3 Premium Solar Panels

Project Solar Evolution Elite 400

Price: The company does not provide a price per panel but states the average cost of a system is £8000

Efficiency: 21.22%

Linear output warranty: 25 years 85%.

This is one of the top-rated panels on the market and is a very reputable company. This also boosts itself to be efficient in shady spots.

However, for a more expensive panel, it does have a higher degradation rate going down to 85% over 25 years, lower than some of our cheaper choices below.

The SunPower Maxeon 3

Price: £300 per panel

Efficiency: 20.9% – 22.6%

Linear output warranty: 25 years 92%.

This is the most efficient panel on the market with the lowest degradation rate. It also has an expected lifespan of 40 years.

The LG NeON H BiFacial

Price: £350 per panel

Efficiency: 19.8%

Linear output warrant: 25 years 91.25%.

This solar panel can harvest energy from both sides, hence the name BiFacial, however, it is a large panel, so for this reason, it may not be suitable for smaller roofs.

Cheapest Solar Panels UK

The JA Solar JAM60S30-390MR Solar Panel

Price: £100 per panel.

Efficiency: 21%

Linear output warranty. 12 years 93.25%

Bear in mind this would be an 86.25% degradation rate over 25 years, which is not bad as everything over 80% is considered good.

Despite the shorter warranty this looks to be a good budget option because anything over 20% efficiency at the beginning of its life is good and the Federation of Master Builders rates it as their top budget option.

The Longi HiMo4 Solar Panels

Price: £150 per panel.

Efficiency: 21%.4

Linear output warranty. 12 years 93.25%

As with many budget options, this comes with only a 12-year warranty and the same degradation rate as JA Solar.

However, this is a company that was the world’s largest supplier of solar PV solutions in 2021 so they know what they are doing.

200-Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel

Price: £200 per panel

Efficiency: 19.2%

Linear output warranty: 25 years 80%

Unlike more budget options this has a 25-year warranty but with a higher degradation rate over that time.

It is important to compare this among budget options because although this one might be less efficient at the end of its life you have the support of a warranty should something go wrong.

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Other Factors to Consider

As well as the price of solar panels, there are other factors to consider too, these are as follows:

The space you have

How efficient you need your solar panels to be will depend on the space you have and where they will be positioned.

For example, if you have a lot of roof space or you’re in a commercial setting or even a solar farm, opting for a cheaper and less efficient solar panel is not a problem and will likely be more cost-effective over time.

Putting in larger panels and more of them will generate the same electricity as a smaller more efficient one but is cheaper to install.

However, if your panels are for domestic use with limited roof space spending more on a more efficient panel will in the long run be more cost-effective.

The same goes for how shaded the area you’re placing the panels is. If it is shaded for parts of the day, you will want the most efficient panel to capture more sunlight.

Once again in this case spending more will be more cost-effective in the long run.

Life Span of the Solar Panels

Most solar panels will come with a 25-year guarantee but you can expect your panels to last an average of 30-40 years.

Unfortunately, because many cheaper solar panels have only come onto the market in recent years, we have yet to see how they will truly stand the test of time.

Budget brands often use cheaper, poorer quality glue which could in time lead to delamination.

This happens when the bonds between the glass and the plastic of the panels deteriorate and begin to separate, which could lead to corrosion and a shortened life of the panel.

Similarly, there is evidence to say cheaper or lower quality panels may not stand up to extreme weather conditions.

Extreme weather that we are unfortunately seeing more and more of in recent times.

High temperatures, heavy hail, and harsh frost can all cause micro-cracks in poorly made panels leading to your panels becoming less efficient and shortening their life span.

Consider the cost of installation

Another important factor when deciding if cheaper solar panels are worth it is to look at the installation cost.

As the price of the solar panels themselves has plummeted over the last decade the price of installation, wiring, and the scaffolding needed to install them has stayed much the same if not increased.

For example, a collaboration between MIT researchers and people at solar power companies reported that the actual cost of less expensive panels would be marginal within the overall cost of buying and installing them.

Therefore, not save you much money at all for less efficient panels and is not worth it.  

Consider why they are cheap

Are they cheap because they come from a less reputable brand?

Or are they cheaper because you’re choosing something like a thin-film solar panel which is cheaper to manufacture, even to a high standard but may or may not be suitable for your home?

Choose a reputable installer

You may decide that lower-priced panels are for you, but it is also worth researching the best installers.

If down the line you have problems with your panels you do not want to find that your installer has shut up shop, leaving you to deal with the problem alone.

What to look for when buying cheaper brands

The type of solar cells used in a panel

Monocrystalline solar cells are by far the most efficient type of solar cells and are good for small spaces as you’ll need fewer panels for the same efficiency.

There are some budget brands that use monocrystalline cells, so opt for this if it is a choice between this and polycrystalline or thin-film panels.

How many solar panels you will need?

This is one of the most important factors when deciding if you want to go for more budget options because it will affect the installation cost.

If you need fewer panels the cost of installation will go down as will the cost of wiring and fixtures. In this case, spending a little more on a more efficient panel is worth it.

Can I make my solar panels last longer?

There are several things you can do to make your solar panel last longer especially if you have a shorter warranty period and or a higher degradation rate.

Make sure you get a good installer. You want the installer to be trusted to use high-quality materials. Read reviews and ask questions when talking to potential installers.

 A high-quality inverter. This is the part of the system that converts the electricity generated into usable currents. This will ensure the lifespan of the panel won’t be jeopardized elsewhere in the setup.

Keep your eye on the efficiency of your panels over time. Make sure there are no spikes in degradation or anything else that makes you worry, particularly within the warranty period so it can be sorted before more damage is done.

If you have an app-based monitor within your system this is made easier, but it can also be done through analytics, allowing the technician to identify problems easily.