THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A TIER-1 SOLAR PANEL. It’s the first point which must be established. This is the most misused term in the solar industry. If you like the sound of the term Tier-1, glossy datasheets promising the world with unproven warranties and stories of fluff, stop reading. Before seeing the images of critical failure in cheap, so-called “Tier-1 solar panels” understand this, Tier-1 solar panels do not exist. Ask anyone with respectable knowledge in the industry and they will tell you the same. In a bid to keep it simple, see below.

Tier-1 in a nutshell.

  • Only Tier-1 solar panel manufacturers exist.
  • Tier-1 is a term created by Bloomberg with no criteria of quality in the selection process.
  • Bloomberg does not audit manufacturing facilities or product. It’s purely financial. Therefore, the Tier-1 list of solar panel manufacturers changes quarterly.
  • Tier-1 is a label which will not stay with the product for life as it is not a quality guideline and Bloomberg is not a testing institute.
  • Random audits on dubbed Tier-1 solar panel brands found cases of inadequate production against the nameplate value when subjected to Standard Test Conditions straight out of the box.
  • Tier-1 solar manufacturers rated by volume have greater product defects.

Proof that Tier-1 is no gauge for quality. The fact is, Tier-1 is a term low-end market sellers exploit to give the buyer a feeling of confidence in a cheap product. In most instances, beneath the surface is an underperforming electrical mess, despite the bankability of a certain manufacturer in a nominated quarter. Industry experts suggest “be the savvy shopper” and always seek BEYOND TIER-1.

Tier-1 Solar Panels EXPOSED

Pictures tell a thousand words.

WHAT THE INTERNET UNCOVERED in the last 3-years of critically failed “Tier-1 solar panels” installed in Australia alone. The images below from deemed Tier-1 manufacturers are less than 1% of catastrophic solar panel failures system owners have endured from 2015 to 2018. Expel the myth that Tier-1 is a quality guideline. Exposed are the avoidable results of inferior product selection.

  1. Micro-Cracks.
  2. Hot Spot.
  3. Fire.
  4. Delamination.
  5. Shattering.
  6. Ingress.
  7. Deformation.
  8. Discolouration.

Click any of the above to jump to a particular section or keep scrolling to view in order.

Related feature.

REVEALED: 3 best solar inverters of 2018 (plus runner-up) Home owner edition. VIEW >

Still want to see the Latest Tier-1 Solar Panels List 2018? VIEW > 

Tier-1 Solar Panels Micro Cracks

1. Micro Cracks.

Micro cracks are stress or pressure induced cracks in the silicon solar cells of solar panels. These cracks can’t often be seen by the naked eye, only with specific testing methods. Micro cracks are the route cause for so many solar panel malfunctions or inactive cells in solar modules.

Review micro cracks in detail: MORE Images, 3 main causes, the devastating side-effects and the ultimate prevention of cell fractures in a dedicated Solar Review feature: Solar Panel Micro Cracks Exposed! > (opens in new tab)

Hot Spot Tier-1 Solar Panels

2. Hot Spot.

Hot spots are localised temperature rises within the solar panel causing devastating effects to the efficiency and degradation of a solar module. If you see these on your solar panel immediately get in touch with your installer. Hot spots are not stable and will eventually cause catastrophic failure. 

Next-level hot spot: Heart breaking images, what causes hot spot? The destructive side-effects you will never believe and the ultimate prevention in a dedicated Solar Review feature: Solar Panel Hot Spot Exposed! > (opens in new tab)

FIRE Tier-1 Solar Panels

3. Fire.

An extreme potential hazard which exists with solar energy production, especially when on the roof of a family home. Solar panel fires are not as common as micro-cracks or hot spot, but are more of an evolved state from underlying defects, no matter how insignificant they may seem.  

Want more? View the images you were not meant to see, what causes FIRE within a solar system? and the number 1 thing you can do to prevent fire and increase system performance at the same time: Solar Panel Fires Exposed! > (opens in new tab)

DELAMINATION Tier-1 Solar Panels

4. Delamination

Delamination is when the plastic backing of a solar panel is separated from the glass in one form or another, and is a common issue when low quality plastics are used. When delamaniation occurs water can seep into the panel and cause severe damage and system ground fault errors. The causes for delamination are as follows:

  • Low quality laminating materials.
  • Manufacturing issues (if the laminating material is not correctly bonded or if surfaces are contaminated before application).
  • Hotspots.
  • Microcracks.

Delamination is a serious issue as it allows moisture to penetrate the internal electrical components which in turn will cause a catastrophic failure, requiring replacement. As depicted manufacturer deemed Tier-1 solar panels are no stranger to this problem, comprised of low-quality materials and cheaper construction methods. Influencing negative conotations towards solar energy when things go wrong. How to arrest such issue? Research before investing. 

When built correctly, Glass-Glass solar panels have eliminated the need for plastic type laminating materials. The cell and electrical components are sandwiched together between tempered glass. While not degrading over time, the process ensures it is virtually impossible for moisture to penetrate the internal electrical circuit.

SHATTER Tier-1 Solar Panels

5. Shattering

All solar panels must have a degree of resistance to elements which can influence shattering. This will however vary from manufacturer to manufacturer as the material qualification (glass selection) and construction processes vary dramatically. The main cause of shatter are varied between environment, construction and installation:

  • Incorrection installation (unsupported clamping solar panel zones).
  • Thermal Shock.
  • Hot spot.
  • Extreme Hail.
  • Impact.
  • Low quality material selection.

Durability of a solar panel is a key factor in the solar panel selection process and resistance to the effects of shattering is essential. It means you can install a system without having to worry about a hail, extreme temperature and undesirable weather patterns influencing the environment and destroying the solar panels which have been heavily invested in. 

Most manufacturer deemed Tier-1 solar panels are not tested under environmental extremities, or lack clear guidelines and installer training as to proper installation methods of their solar panels to better safeguard your investment. With such non-transperency, Tier-1 solar panel manufacturers, in certain instances will void the product warranty under shattering depending on the cause.

INGRESS Tier-1 Solar Panels

6. Ingress

When moisture penetrates the the protective layers of the solar module and makes contact within the internal electrical circuit. Severely expediting the degradation of the panel and eventually leading to catastrophic failure of the panel and entire solar system. The causes for ingress are:

  • Delamination
  • Poor product assembly.
  • Low quality material selection.

Ingress is mainly caused by low-quality production line and inferior material qualification. 

SOLUTION: Research, research, research. Some Tier-1 solar panel manufacturers have learn’t from past material qualification mistakes and improved production lines. Others continue to fight it out at the cheap end of the market while still requiring a profit. 

DEFORMATION Tier-1 Solar Panels

7. Deformation

Deformation in it’s most severe form is likely to be caused by a combination of the detrimental effects listed within the previous 6 categories or as a result of inadequate strengthening properties within the solar panel. There are though, two main areas where the affects of solar panel deformation is prominent:

  • The centre of the panel where it will slump toward the roof.
  • The outer frame.

The outer frame is more of a result upon delivery direct from the manufacturer and not a deformation from time within the environment. As mass production and cost cutting rise in popularity, so does a Tier-1 solar panel manufacturers ability to perfect a square solar module.

DISCOLOURATION Tier-1 Solar Panels

8. Discolouration

Discolouration will turn the diamonds or protective back sheet a yellow/brown colour. This is a chemical reaction between the poor quality materials and sunlight. More often than not appearing within the first few years of sunlight exposure. 

Poor or cheap material qualification is the source of such failure. It is not yet known the effects on the efficiency of the panel that this discolouration causes however as the material is in a constant change from it’s original state the next stage is likely material breakdown and therefore relating directly back to the previous stage of delamination.

Helpfull insight.

You’ve seen the marketing with the words Tier-1 solar panels, High-Efficiency, 25-year warranty. This means absolutely nothing of value to the savvy shopper. Any solar business which stresses such feature is playing on your lack of knowledge and actually has no real positives about the product in a modern sense. Reading between the lines what should be interpreted is; cheap, outdated-technology, prone to critical failures with a sub-standard 10-year product warranty.

More than you initially outlay. Warranties in most Tier-1 instances provide painstakingly limited protection without recourse for monetary losses during the time it takes to activate the warranty claim. With critical failures now more common than what would be perceived, the right product selection from the start is vital. High-efficiency tier-1 solar panels sound great but that’s about as good as it gets. Understand that to develop high-efficiency, robust, industry-leading solar panels takes a refined process which costs money and a calibre of integrity which exists beyond the manufacturer deemed Tier-1 solar panel norm.

An impressive product stands on its own without the overexcited phrase Tier-1, due to notable advanced qualities. Features that are patented and impossible for the old technology of the world to compete. Therefore the inferior tend to exploit the term Tier-1 solar. Equally overused in the solar industry is the term High-Efficiency. The Tier-1 solar average is in fact 25% less efficient than the most efficient solar panels available.

Select solar panels based on higher performance per cell quantity (total panel wattage) and superior build quality (often defined by superior product warranty). Supporting awards and accolades by recognised industry bodies is also essential. 

Tier-1 solar panels is the easy-to-believe, lacklustre industry term extorted by low-end marketers, usually sprucing a price which appears too good to be true. The sad part is these unscrupulous companies exploit your little knowledge on an often confusing purchase in a sea full of competition trying to win your business.

An extreme reputation.

BEYOND TIER-1. Here’s our pick of solar panel manufacturers with an extreme reputation. A reputation with a proven history of manufacturing and an enduring product with minimal requirements for warranty action over the warranty period. A reputation far beyond Tier-1 solar qualification.

SOLARWATT

Less about extreme performance and more about refined durability. SolarWatt solar modules with glass-glass construction posses the world’s greatest product warranty. One should not ignore German made SolarWatt solar panels for superior quality. 

Which panel to select?

Selected glass-glass versions.

LG Solar

Although a new commer to the solar panel industry within the last decade, As a much respect global electronics brand, LG Solar quickly rose to prominence with a refined range of high-performance solar modules. From 2018 each solar panel produced is now equiped resounding 25-year product warranty.

Which panel to select?

LG NeON 2 or LG NeON R versions.

Sunpower

Always at the forefront and frequently the leader in highly efficient solar technology. Sunpower solar modules boast a 25-year product warranty inline with an exceptional 25-year performance warranty.

Which panel to select?

E-Series or X-Series versions.

What do you think?

What’s important to you? No doubt cost plays an important roll in the selection process, however, is mediocrity acceptable? What other gauge for quality can be deemed a bench mark beyond Tier-1 solar labelling? Tell the world below!

Related research.

3 of the worlds best solar inverter technologies side by side (plus runner up): VIEW >

12 COMMENTS

  1. Admiring the hard work you put into your blog and detailed information you present. It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed material. Fantastic read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

    • Hi there! Thanks for the friendly comments 🙂 We have some great new features in the pipeline to be released real soon. To stay informed and receive these updates as they happen, direct to your inbox, feel free to become a valued Solar Review subscriber.

  2. Hello: We are a solar company distributor in Europe and we have been “fighting” with this kind of thing like Tier-1 and all the cheatings on the internet with solar panels during the last years. We would like to know if we can use this article to show in our website and to our clients. Could you let me know how to contact you and talk about it?. Thanks for this excellent job.

    • Hi Alfonso, absolutely you should use this article. It will be receiving a convincing update in the near future with more images of defective Tier-1 solar panels. There is a horrendous amount of inferior solar panels saturating the market within the last five years where technology should have improved and the warranties are worthless, even through Tier-1 solar panel manufacturers.

  3. Great blog, I have a company in Portugal selling solar related products and have heard this argument from our sells team. It has to be tier1 supplier!! Is our supplier on the tier1 list? When it comes to bigger bids e.g.400-500,000 panels the companies putting in bids asking for financing from banks. The banks informing bidders that solar supplier has to be on tier1 list!! I will use this doc, well done.

  4. Hi, This is Kishor Somwanshi from SOLASYS INCORPORATION, Maharashtra, INDIA. I really appreciate your hard work to make system integrators, suppliers and end-users in the solar industry, about the myths and misconceptions created by so-called Tier 1 solar panel manufacturers. Thanks for an excellent write-up backed by the real-life examples illustrated with pictures. I request a similar case study regarding Inverters and batteries which is another major portion of the PV Solar Power System. Also, request your team to include the case studies from other countries including India which is a major Solar market. Thanks, keep educating 😊

  5. Wrote a comment here as I couldn’t find the “Be Informed” button. Anyways please keep me informed. And by the way, this article was very well written.

  6. Your article is good! But then how an layman will decide which panel is of high quality? Do you have any proof that the said panel is good quality panel? Layman will only choose tier 1 panels as the EPC players will tell him that they are good quality one. Even EPC players aren’t aware of the quality. Request you to write an detailed article on quality panels. Have a look on my linkedin profile. I am solar passionate individual and active social marketer. Thanks!

  7. It is true that Tier 1 is overrated. But what is the alternative? There is no standard benchmark for solar panels that a layman can look for without going into more technical details. The performance of Tier 1 panels are also better than non-Tier 1 panels, I guess.

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