An expert review of Canadian solar panels
Key Advantages of Canadian Solar Panels
They are one of the largest solar panel manufacturers in the world and despite a somewhat misleading corporate identity (Canadian solar is actually a large Chinese solar manufacturer) they have been making solar panels for a long time and have an excellent reputation for reliability and quality. However, it is not this that gets them into our list of top 5 solar manufacturers. What does this is the fact that they offer real value because they sell their panels at rates very close to second and third tier manufacturers but offer a tier 1 track record.
Value is important in solar as the decision to buy solar panels or not is entirely a financial decision for most people and its attractiveness depends on return on investment. Lower cost panels mean a better return on investment and a shorter payback period.
There is nothing special about their technology, it is okay but not as good as the very best in the industry, but value equates to better return on investment for customers and this is the reason they are in our top 5. Their Chinese manufacturing base means they have a low cost per watt of manufacture and we think this makes them a better chance than most to be around for the long haul.
They also offer a very good linear power production warranty.
Key Disadvantages of Canadian Solar Panels
My biggest concern about Canadian solar is that they are a one trick pony in the sense that all they do is make solar panels. They make them well and cost effectively but will they be around in 20 years should problems develop with their panels?
It is hard to be sure of anything going out that far but they are listed on the stock exchange and so this gives us some visibility into their financials. They have a strong balance sheet and are profitable which is very rare amongst solar panel manufacturers. They appear to be in a stronger financial position than some of the other solar specific manufacturers such as Sunpower and SolarWorld.
Canadian Solar Panels SummaryThe Canadian Dymond series of panels are a good quality solar panel with a top efficiency on their 300 watt monocrystalline system of 18.33%. The temperature coefficient, a measure of the amount power output falls as temperature rises isn’t particularly good at -0.39%.
The key reason that we rate Canadian in our top 5 as a solar panel brand is not the performance of the solar panels per se it is the value they offer, their stable financial position and their reputation for manufacturing quality control.
Factors used to rate solar panel brands and how Canadian Solar Panels rank on each of these
We use the following factors to measure solar panels brands against each other
Canadian Solar Panels Warranty
Canadian offer a 10 year structural product warranty which is pretty standard but not as long as some of the other tier 1 manufacturers.
However, their power production warranty is quite good being a linear power production warranty rather than a step down warranty. They warrant 97.5% year one and an annual degradation rate of 0.5% so that they are still warranting around 93% output at ten years and over 83% at 25 years.
It is very close to the linear power output warranty offered by the better brands of solar panels such as Sunpower and LG. However, it is debatable if this makes any real difference because solar panel power output warranties require the panel has to be tested at standard test conditions if you want to claim on the power output warranty.
To do this you have to take the solar panel off your roof and take it to a test laboratory. In practice no normal consumer would be able to do this and so no normal consumer would be able to prove that a solar panel was performing at below its rated power output unless the panel was completely dead (which is very rare with a solar panel).
Efficiency of Canadian Solar Panels
Canadian Solar sits in the middle when it comes to panel efficiency. With a maximum average panel efficiency of 18.33% from its 300MS panel it sits above most of the tier 2 and tier 3 players but still below the most efficient panels from Sunpower and Pansonic.
You can read more about the efficiency of solar panels and why it is not something on which we place great weight when ranking the overall attractiveness of one solar panel over another.
Power output of Canadian solar panels
Solar Panels are rated at a particular wattage based on their power output at STC (standard test conditions) which involved 1000 watts of irradiation per square metre at a temperature of 25 C. (77 F).
However, real world conditions are much different to this. Generally speaking cells will operate at temperatures well above 25C and panel output will typically fall as temperature rises.
The rate at which power output falls for each 1 degree increase in temperature is called the temperature coefficient. A better panel will have a lower temperature coefficient such that although its output wills till fall as temperature increases it will fall at a lower rate.
The rating system of PTC (Photovoltaics for Utility Scale Applications Test Conditions) is an attempt developed by NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratories) to rate different panels at how much they will produce in real world temperatures.
The temperature coefficient of the Canadian CS6K-300MS solar panels is a -0.39% fall in production per 1 degree increase in temperature. The lower this number the better as this means output falls less as temperature rises. The Canadian coefficient is not as good as the best panels on the market that offer a temp coefficient of as little as -0.29% but it is slightly better than most of the tier 2 and 3 manufacturers and the cheapest polycrystalline panels that sit around -0.41%.
How much do Canadian solar panels cost?
Value or cost efficiency is a big factor because at the end of the day solar is a financial decision for most people rather than predominantly an environmental choice. In many parts of the US electricity costs are quite low and so value systems around $3 per watt fully installed are needed to give consumers the 6-10 year payback they need for solar panels to be attractive. As such we see it as a positive factor if solar panel brands have a relatively low cost of manufacture and a low selling price in the US.
The wholesale pricing of Canadian solar panels has become quite low in the wake of a sudden decision by the Chinese government to cut their solar feed in tariff in the middle of 2016 and the module oversupply this left Canadian and many other Chinese manufacturers.
This has been reflected in some excellent pricing being offered on residential Canadian solar systems and we have seen quite a few offers for fully installed Canadian solar systems as low as $2.80 per watt fully installed with a good quality SMA string inverter. Given that the 26% tax credit come off this price we are talking an excellent payback for homeowners in most parts of the country.