Highest efficiency solar panels in 2021

If you’re trying to get the maximum power in the smallest space possible, you’ll want to take a look at these high efficiency solar panels.

Photo of a solar panel

When you’re shopping for solar panels, one of the things that manufacturers usually tout is efficiency. A high efficiency panel turns more sunlight into electricity than a lower efficiency panel, which means a solar homeowner can get more out of their limited rooftop space.

So if efficiency is a good thing, that must mean that you should shop for the highest efficiency panels you can get, right?

No, not always. If you’re in a situation where it’s important to maximize your power generation - like if you have a small roof - then efficiency could be very important to you. With a higher efficiency panel, you need less space to generate the same amount of electricity.

If you’re looking for the highest efficiency, you’ll be shopping for monocrystalline solar panels.

Polycrystalline vs monocrystalline

Monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels are the two types of silicon solar panels that you will find on the market. They differ in their manufacturing process, and produce solar cells with different characteristics.

Silicon for monocrystalline solar cells is cut from an ingot of silicon that is a single, unbroken crystal. This requires a very high purity silicon and is more difficult to manufacture than polycrystalline. Mono cells are more efficient, less affected by high temperatures, and perform better in low light compared to poly cells. They also have an even black color that many people prefer.

Polycrystalline silicon cells are cut from a block of silicon made of smaller grains of silicon, giving a poly solar cell a flakey appearance due to the grain boundaries, as well as a blue tinge. Compared to monocrystalline silicon, poly generally performs a little worse and is less efficient. The main benefit of poly cells is that they are less expensive due to less complex manufacturing.

While monocrystalline is tops when it comes to efficiency, it’s also generally more expensive. Polycrystalline, while less efficient, is often cheaper, sometimes significantly. That means that if you’re trying to balance price and efficiency, it’s often a better deal to look for higher efficiency polycrystalline panels.

Polycrystalline has gotten better

Not all of the efficiency differences in solar panels are due to silicon. Improvements in wiring and innovations like half-cut cells have allowed polycrystalline cells to improve and keep pace with monocrystalline panels.

As you’ll see in the tables later in this article, the performance difference between the best monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels isn’t that great. The top polycrystalline panels currently have an STC efficiency of 18.5%, which isn’t very far from the performance of the top performing monocrystalline panels that reach 22.7% STC efficiency.

That relatively small difference in efficiency can come at a cost. A monocrystalline panel from a premium manufacturer like SunPower might cost twice as much as a polycrystalline panel that is only a few percent less efficient.

While premium manufacturers like LG and SunPower offer some of the best warranties on the market (such as 25 year product warranties), that advantage is shrinking as well, with REC Solar offering a 20 year product warranty on all its panels, including its less expensive polycrystalline lineup.

Finding pricing

Pricing isn’t listed here because it can fluctuate significantly, and also depends on what your solar installer is able to negotiate with its suppliers. However, there are a few companies that try to capture the high end of the market, including SunPower and LG. You can expect to pay more for these compared to manufacturers like REC Solar and Hanwha Q CELLS, which also produce quality products but at a lower price point.

STC vs PTC

In the tables below, you’ll notice that Watts and Efficiency for the panels are listed in both STC and PTC ratings.

STC refers to Standard Test Conditions, and is the performance of the panel at a solar cell temperature of 25°C and light intensity of 1,000 W/m² (watts per square meter). The STC wattage is the number you’ll see advertised for the panel.

PTC is the PVUSA Test Calculation, and differs from STC in how the solar panel is tested. Instead of measuring the temperture of the cell, the PTC test specifies an air temperature of 20°C. This is important because a dark solar panel sitting in the sun will get a lot warmer than the surrounding air. Solar cells lose efficiency when they’re hot, so the PTC test results in a hotter cell than the STC test. It also specifies a lower light intensity of 800 W/m².

What do these mean for the consumer? The STC rating represents how a solar panel might perform in perfect conditions, but the PTC rating will give you a more accurate idea of how it will perform in the real world.

Both measurements are useful to have, especially because solar panels differ in their ability to perform well in the heat. As a consumer, we recommend that prioritize the PTC rating when comparing different panels.

Five manufacturers of high efficiency solar panels

LG

LG is the same company that makes everything from smartphones to TVs to dishwashers. Their solar panels include the NeON 2 and NeON R series. The NeON R panels hit 22.75% efficiency, making them the among the best in the industry.

The NeON R panels use back contact technology, which moves the wires that normally sit at the front of the solar cells to the rear. Those wires normally block a little bit of light from hitting the cells, reducing their efficiency. With back contact wires, the cells are unshaded and get full sunlight.

SunPower

SunPower is an American company that has an exclusive partnership in North America with Maxeon, which is a company that was recently spun off from the SunPower parent company.

Similar to LG, Maxeon cells also use back contact technology. In this case, the front wires are replaced with a sheet of copper that covers the rear of the cell. This gives high efficiency and possibly a more durable cell as well.

Silfab

Silfab is a Canadian solar company that makes high efficiency monocrystalline panels with PERC technology. These mono-PERC cells have additional layers in the rear of the cell that allows it to absorb more photons. The result is that Silfab’s best panels reach up to 21.92% efficiency.

REC Group

REC is a Singapore-based company that makes the REC Alpha series solar panels. They use heterojunction technology, which combines conventional monocrystalline silicon with layers of amorphous thin-film silicon. This boosts the efficiency of the Alpha panels up to 22.02%.

Canadian Solar

As the name suggests, Canadian Solar is based in Canada with headquarters in Guelph, Ontario. Their HiDM series is their highest efficiency panels and use PERC technology to reach 21.61% efficiency.

30 monocrystalline solar panels with the highest efficiency

These are the highest efficiency monocrystalline solar panels available in 2021 for the residential market. If you come across a panel with a higher wattage, check if they are a larger panel intended for commercial or utility use. These panels will be longer than one intended for home use.

Company Model Watts (STC) Watts (PTC) Efficiency (STC) Efficiency (PTC)
LGLG380Q1C-V5380358.722.75%21.48%
SunPowerSPR-A42542539922.73%21.34%
LGLG375Q1C-V5375353.822.41%21.14%
SunPowerSPR-X22-370370343.922.70%21.10%
SunPowerSPR-A420420394.222.46%21.08%
REC SolarREC370AA370351.822.02%20.94%
LGLG370Q1C-V537034922.11%20.86%
SunPowerSPR-A415415389.422.19%20.82%
LGLG370Q1C-A5370347.222.12%20.75%
REC SolarREC365AA365346.921.73%20.65%
LGLG370Q1K-V5370344.722.16%20.64%
Silfab Solar Inc.SLA320BC320300.621.92%20.59%
LGLG365Q1C-V5365344.121.81%20.56%
SunPowerSPR-A410410384.521.93%20.56%
LGLG365Q1C-A5365342.421.82%20.47%
SunPowerSPR-X21-255255241.721.57%20.45%
SunPowerSPR-X22-359359333.422.01%20.44%
REC SolarREC365AA Black365345.221.60%20.43%
REC SolarREC360AA360342.121.43%20.36%
LGLG365Q1K-V5365339.921.86%20.35%
SunPowerSPR-A405405379.721.66%20.30%
LGLG360Q1C-V5360339.321.51%20.28%
Silfab SolarSLA315BC315295.821.58%20.26%
Canadian SolarCS1U-430MS430402.121.61%20.21%
LGLG360Q1C-A5360337.621.52%20.18%
REC SolarREC360AA Black360340.321.30%20.14%
SunPowerSPR-X21-350-BLK350327.921.47%20.12%
REC SolarREC355AA355337.221.13%20.07%
LGLG360Q1K-V5360335.121.56%20.07%
SunPowerSPR-A400400374.921.39%20.05%

30 polycrystalline solar panels with the highest efficiency

These are the highest efficiency polycrystalline solar panels available in 2019 for the residential market.

Company Model Watts (STC) Watts (PTC) Efficiency (STC) Efficiency (PTC)
REC SolarREC300TP2300277.418.52%17.12%
REC SolarREC290TP290268.918.27%16.94%
REC SolarREC290TP IQ290268.918.27%16.94%
REC SolarREC290TP IQ BLK290268.918.27%16.94%
REC SolarREC290TP Q2290268.918.27%16.94%
REC SolarREC290TP Q3290268.918.27%16.94%
REC SolarREC295TP2295272.718.21%16.83%
Canadian Solar Inc.CS6K-285P285264.418.04%16.73%
Hanwha Q CELLSQ.PEAK G3.1 305305279.218.26%16.72%
Hanwha Q CELLSQ.PEAK G4.1/SC 305305279.218.26%16.72%
Hyundai Energy SolutionsHiS-M305TI305273.318.63%16.70%
Hanwha Q CELLSQ.PLUS-G3 280280255.518.25%16.66%
REC SolarREC285TP285264.117.96%16.64%
REC SolarREC285TP IQ285264.117.96%16.64%
REC SolarREC285TP IQ BLK285264.117.96%16.64%
REC SolarREC285TP Q2285264.117.96%16.64%
REC SolarREC285TP Q3285264.117.96%16.64%
REC SolarREC300TP2 Q2300277.217.96%16.60%
REC SolarREC300TP2 Q3300277.217.96%16.60%
REC SolarREC290TP2290267.917.90%16.54%
REC SolarREC290TP2 BLK290267.917.90%16.54%
Hanwha Q CELLSQ.PEAK G3.1 300300274.517.96%16.44%
Hanwha Q CELLSQ.PEAK G4.1/SC 300300274.517.96%16.44%
Hyundai Energy SolutionsHiS-M300TI300268.618.33%16.41%
Hanwha Q CELLSQ.PLUS-G3 275275250.817.93%16.35%
Jinko SolarJKMS275PP-60275251.817.86%16.35%
Jinko SolarJKMS275PP-60-J4275251.817.86%16.35%
REC SolarREC280TP280259.417.64%16.35%
REC SolarREC280TP IQ280259.417.64%16.35%
REC SolarREC280TP IQ BLK280259.417.64%16.35%

Recommendations for the shopper

If you’re a homeowner planning to install solar panels, what’s the best choice for you?

The first thing to determine is if the footprint of the array is paramount. If you have a small roof that you want to fit as many panels as possible, or simply want to minimize the physical size of your array, go ahead and consider monocrystalline panels. Both LG and SunPower make great products, and both include industry-leading 25 year product and power warranties.

However, if you want to save some money and you’re willing to use slightly more space for your array, we recommend that you consider polycrystalline panels. You’ll give up a few percent in efficiency, but you could save a substantial amount of money.

The exact cost will depend on your installer. If there is a specific panel you’d like to consider, ask your installer to get you pricing.

Finally, you’ll notice that the differences in efficiency for both the top monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels gets to be pretty small. Tenths of a percent efficiency doesn’t matter much in the end. Instead, look at the whole picture including price, warranty, and your installer’s recommendations.

REC Solar: top pick for the budget-conscious

With these considerations in mind, we think that the REC Solar TwinPeak 2 series is one of the best choices for the average homeowner. It has the highest efficiencies of any polycrystalline solar panel, and also comes with an excellent 20 year product warranty and 25 year power warranty.

In most cases, solar panels from REC Solar should cost a quite a bit less than premium solar panels that have only a few percent better efficiency.

And no, they didn’t pay us to say that! Looking at the numbers, the TwinPeak 2 simply makes a lot of sense.

TAGS:
#Panel Efficiency #Pricing

Save 26% or more on home solar with current incentives

Photo of a solar home.

Use our calculator to get a financial payback and solar performance estimate customized to your home, including federal, state, and local incentives.

When you’re ready, fill out our form to get up to three estimates from qualified solar installers.



Related stories:

What are the best solar panels for your home?

That depends on what you mean by best. Warranty, reliability, and efficiency are all things to consider. This guide will help you decide.

Which type of solar panel is best: monocrystalline or polycrystalline?

Choosing a solar panel can be confusing, and one of the common decisions is between mono and poly.

Which solar panels work best in the shade?

When trees or buildings cast partial shadows on a solar panel, it causes power to drop dramatically. Some types of panels are designed to better handle this.

Why are solar panels blue?

Some solar panels are blue, while others are black. What causes this color difference?

How to find the best solar panels for your home

There’s more to choosing a solar panel than picking the highest wattage. Here’s how to evaluate which solar panel is best for your needs.

How efficient are solar panels?

Photovoltaic technology has been around since the 19th century and has made huge advancements since then. How efficient are solar cells in the 21st century?

What is a solar panel derate factor?

If you're working on a DIY solar project, solar panel derating is a term you might come across. Here's an explanation of what it is, and the components that go into it.

What are half-cut solar panels?

Weird as it sounds, if you saw a solar cell in half, it makes panels more efficient. This technology is being adopted by many manufacturers to make higher performance solar panels.

Who makes the most reliable solar panels?

Accelerated testing by an independent lab shows that the most reliable solar panels probably aren't the ones you expect.