The Solar Power Expert Blog

Solar Panel Review 2011

by Chris - May 20th, 2011.
Filed under: Equipment. Tagged as: , , , , , , .

My original post on solar panel reviews received so much positive feedback, I’ve decided to expand my reviews in this solar panel reviews 2011 post to some of the products sold by my favorite online solar retailer, GoGreenSolar.

When many people look for reviews on solar panels, they are looking for different things. Some are looking for full grid-tie kits, some are looking for just the panels and nothing else, and others are looking for the cheapest price possible – which is almost always the do it yourself (DIY) route. In that spirit, this solar panels review 2011 post focuses on products that fall into these three distinct categories.

To properly review an entire grid-tie system would take a post per product. I will probably do that some day soon. However, I will recommend that you do your own extensive homework before purchasing such an expensive investment. Use the tips in my previous solar panel reviews post. Pay attention to the $/watt, the warranty details, and weather or not you’ll need professional installation. Finally, be sure to review a solar panels customer feedback.

Grid-Tie Kits

While grid tie kits can be the most expensive option, in the long run, they can be the cheapest. While you’re paying for the expertise of the company to design and package a complete system for you, you are also avoiding the costs associated with mistakes and mishaps of trying to construct a system yourself. Added to this is the advantage of having someone to blame if things go wrong and having a warranty to fall back on.

Even if you do want to pursue a DIY route, you can always start with a small, but complete, system and add on to it later with your own DIY panels. You just have to be sure that the system uses panels of the same voltage as the ones you can build and that the charge controller has some overhead for extra power.

Kaneka 360 Watt Grid Tie Solar Electric System

Price: $3,200
Price per watt: $8.89
Silicon Type: Thin Film
Operating Voltage: 48
Warranty: 5 year workmanship, 25 year power

Readers of this solar panel 2011 reviews post pointed out that others may also be interested in these less expensive variations:

Kaneka 240 Watt Grid Tie Solar Electric System

Kaneka 120 Watt Grid Tie Solar Electric System

Enphase 175 Watt Grid Tie Solar Electric System

Price: $1,813
Price per watt: $10.36
Silicon Type: Monocrystallin
Operating Voltage: 35
Warranty: 25 year power ‘limited’ warranty

900W Residential Grid Tie System, 4-225W Trina Modules Enphase M190 Inverters

Price: $4,042
Price per watt: $4.49
Silicon Type: Multicrystallin
Operating Voltage: 30
Warranty: 5 year workmanship, 25 year power

Solar Panels

If you are looking for solar panels directly, here are some panels that have pretty good stats. The first three have attractive $/watt ratings and the last two are portable types used to trickle charge a 12v automotive or marine system. For the 12v chargers, make sure you read the fine print about the warranty. Portable solar panels have many more opportunities to get damaged.

When comparing solar panels directly, it’s helpful to compare $/watt. You can see how much extra you’re paying for specialized solar panels, such as portables, compared to more general solar panels for home power use. That is why this benchmark is highlighted so strongly in this 2011 solar panel review. If the specialized panel solves a specific problem, it is often worth the extra money. If you can make due with a more general, permanently mounted panel though, you’ll always save a lot of money.

Kaneka U-SA110, 110 W Hybrid Thin Film Solar Panel

Price: $276.75
Price per watt: $2.52
Silicon Type: Thin Film
Operating Voltage: 48
Warranty: 5 year workmanship, 25 year power
Comments: These are the same panels used in the kit above. They have extremely attractive $/w ratios. Thin film is a new technology which has not withstood the test of time like mono- and multi-crystalline cells have. However, reviews around the internet on panels by this company are very favorable. Everyone agrees that Kaneka is the leader for the moment in low $/w for consumer solar panels.

Kaneka 60W Thin Film Solar Panel, G-SA060

Price: $235
Price per watt: $3.92
Silicon Type: Thin Film
Operating Voltage: 60
Warranty: 5 year workmanship, 25 year power
Comments: This panel is a predecessor the one above. It’s $/w ratio is still attractive, but the main reason to buy this panel would be for the voltage. Many designers like panels with higher voltage so that they don’t have to pass so much current. This allows them to save on copper by being able to use smaller wires. For that reason, the 60V operating voltage of this panel is attractive.

ET Solar 85 Watt Solar Panel, ET-M53685

Price: $279.57
Price per watt: $3.29
Silicon Type: Monocrystallin
Operating Voltage: 18
Warranty: 5 year workmanship, 25 year power
Comments: For a panel that uses monocrystallin cells, this panel has an attractive $/w ratio. This panel also operates at 18 volts which is perfect for off-grid, automotive, and marine applications.

Goal Zero Boulder 15 Solar Panel

Price: $159.99
Price per watt: $10.67
Silicon Type: Monocrystallin
Operating Voltage: 14
Warranty: 1 year
Comments: Goal Zero makes great products. This ruggedized, portable solar panel is no different. Multiple panels can be linked together to create more power output.

GSE Sunlinq 12 Watt 12V Portable Solar Panel

Price: $192.15
Price per watt: $16.01
Silicon Type: Thin Film
Operating Voltage: 12
Warranty: 2 years
Comments: Thin film material makes it a big more rugged and light weight. Comes with a longer warranty and can charge USB devices (cell phones, iPod, etc.)

DIY Solar Panel Kits

I didn’t think my solar panel review 2011 article would be complete without a mention of a couple of the DIY solar panel kits that Go Green Solar sells. For those hard core, independent types who want to invest the time to learn to make their own solar panels (are and willing to break some in the process), there is no way to get a cheaper $/watt on your installation. There is of course never a warranty involved when you make your own panel, so all the risk is on you. Keep in mind that panels can only be considered an investment if they last long enough to save you the money you paid for them.

Everbright Solar 36 3×6 Original Untabbed Solar Cells Kit w/ Wires, Flux &and Diodes

Price: $69.95
Price per watt: $1.11
Silicon Type: multicrystallin
Operating Voltage: 18
Comments: These are the same cells I used to construct my marine DIY solar panel.

Monocrystalline Solar Cells 5×5 Grade B for DIY Solar Panels, 24 count

Price: $89
Price per watt: $1.24
Silicon Type: monocrystallin
Operating Voltage: 18
Comments: If for some reason the other cells turn you off, or you absolutely want monocrystallin, then these cells are for you. These also allow you to do different voltage/current configurations if you’re trying to match a specific voltage or current requirement.

5 Responses to Solar Panel Review 2011

  1. which are the best panels and how do Silfab SLA rate ?

  2. The ‘best’ panel will depend on your application and system voltage. For example, I did some checking into the Silfab solar panels. They are high efficiency monocrystalline solar panels.

    I wasn’t able to find a retail outlet selling these panels, which means you’ll probably only be able to get them through a contractor. Their high efficiency means your going to pay a premium in terms of dollars per watt and the fact you can’t get them direct as a consumer means the only way you’ll be able to use them is if you do a full-scale (read expensive) install.

    The Silfab panels wouldn’t be a practical choice for a DIY install. However, if your prepared to spend several thousand dollars for a full grid-tie system on your home, they would be worth checking into.

    When comparing solar panels to find the best one for you application, a good benchmark to start with is dollars per watt ($/w). After that, check warranty and installation details.

  3. alex power 260w panel review please.

  4. Hi Chris,

    This is a duplicate of a Facebook message I sent you

    I sought you out because I am having a solar energy problem. I bought an 18W 1amp solar panel kit from ebay and built it. I have an EPsolar 12V charge controller and a 12V 35 AH AGM Lead Acid Battery. At full sun when I test the panel with a multimeter it reads around 17 volts.

    So heres the problem:
    When my battery is plugged into the charge controller and the charge controller is plugged into the solar panel, everything APPEARS to be working fine. The battery, when tested with a multimeter, reads anywhere from 12.30-13Volts. And sometimes the light on the charge controller starts blinking indicating that the battery is at full charge. The battery remains at this level of charge shortly after disconnected from the panel and charge controller…however when left to rest overnight and then tested again (which I read is how to get an accurate reading of state-of-charge using a multimeter) is reads around 11.85volts, indicating that it is VERY deeply discharged. This happens consistently. Since the first day I noticed this problem, the battery has had at least a dozen full sun days charging, and STILL after it rests for the night it reads below 12 EVERY TIME. The battery isn’t being stored in cold conditions.

    I have no idea if the problem is that the charge controller is bad, or if the battery is bad, or if the panel doesn’t produce enough energy (it produces less than 1 amp at full sun I think) to actually charge it.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated, as I have literally no resources exempt the internet, which can’t tell me things specific to my situation.


  5. Hey Sam,

    Get a multimeter that has an amp-meter setting. Once on the amp-meter setting, you’ll have to put the meter in series in order measure. For example, disconnect the positive lead between the solar panel and controller. Then connect the positive lead of the multimeter to the panel positive lead, and connect the negative lead of the multimeter to the positive lead of the charge controller. Now you can measure current. Verify the magnitude of the current in full sunlight into and out of the charge controller.

    I suspect that the problem lies with the batteries. You didn’t say anything about connecting loads, so I’m assuming you have the battery unloaded throughout the night. If the battery is going from 13 volts to 11.8 volts over night, with no loads, then the battery is bad. A fully charge battery should probably be hanging out at 12.4 to 12.6 volts overnight, if it started fully charged.

    I hope that helps!

    Chris Troutner

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