Solar Panel

Tier 1 Solar Panels: A Good Indicator of Solar Panel Quality

Tier 1 Solar Panels: A Good Indicator of Solar Panel Quality 1

Tier 1 Solar Panels: A Good Indicator of Solar Panel Quality


When selecting a solar PV system, the quality of the solar PV panel to be used is a key consideration. However, the distinction between the different brands is no simple task. There are hundreds of brands on the market.

One often hears about the terms ‘Tier 1’, ‘Tier 2’, and ‘Tier 3’ solar panel manufacturers as a way of differentiation between the different solar PV panels.

This article explains what the expression ‘Tier 1’ means in practice and how it can help you to make a decision when choosing a solar PV panel.

What are “Tier 1” solar PV panels?

Tier 1 solar panels are panels, which are produced from tier 1 solar panel manufacturers that comply with a specific set of criteria.

This ranking system (Tier 1, 2, 3, etc.) was made to help big companies to take a decision related to the financing of medium to large-scale solar power projects. However, the “Tier 1” term is frequently referred to when sellers talk to residential solar customers.

What makes a solar panel manufacturer “Tier 1”?

The solar panel manufacturers need to be recognized by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (the most common Tier ranking system) as a financially strong, hugely experienced, and worldwide brand to make it onto the Tier 1 list.

Here is the Tier 1 Module Maker List (Q4 2016):

Company BrandIn-house module capacity (MW/year )
1. Jinko Solar6,500
2. GCL6,000
3. Trina Solar6,000
4. JA Solar5,500
5. Canadian Solar5,000
6. Hanwha Q Cells4,800
7. First Solar Inc3,200
8. Risen Energy3,100
9. Talesun2,800
10. Suntech/ shunfeng2,400
11. Seraphim2,100
12. Chint/ Astronergy2,000
13. Hareon2,000
14. SunPower1,800
15. ZNShine1,600
16. SolarWorld1,500
17. Renesola1,500
18. China Sunergy1,450
19. REC Solar1,300
20. HT-SAAE1,200
21. LG1,100
22. Solar Frontier1,050
23. Phono Solar1,000
24. ET Solar1,000
25. BYD1,000
26. Hyundai Heavy600
27. S-Energy530
28. Waaree500
29. Tata500
30. AU Optronics435
31. Aleo Solar250
32. Anjitek170
33. Winaico150
Total 70,035

(Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance)

There is no exact clarification as to what makes solar panel manufacturer a Tier 1. However, the following criteria are the most used in the industry:

Tier 1 solar panel manufacturers are vertically integrated

“Vertically integrated” means that the solar panel manufacturer produces every individual piece of the module from the solar panel frame to the solar photovoltaic cells.

This implies that the solar panel manufacturer controls every production process from the ground up. Using parts from other companies can affect the quality of solar PV panels over time.

Tier 1 panel manufacturers invest heavily in research & development (R&D)

Tier 1 panel manufacturers invest heavily in research & development (R&D) to stay at the forefront of technology. Such companies have the best products.

Tier 1 panel manufacturers use automated manufacturing techniques

Tier 1 panel manufacturers use automated manufacturing processes to remove the potential for human error during the production process.

This ensures a standard level of quality while also in many cases saving money on production costs.

Tier 1 panel manufacturers should have a consistent history of at least five years of producing solar PV panels

An additional criterion for being considered as a Tier 1 solar panel manufacturer is that the company must have been producing solar panels for a minimum of 5 years.

This is indicative to show that the company has proved itself in the industry.

Tier 1 Solar Panels: A Good Indicator of Solar Panel Quality 3

(Source: Pike Research)

What should be considered in the tier ranking systems?

There are some things that you should know about the tier ranking systems:

  • There are some different tier ranking systems, but the Bloomberg list is the most common on the market.
  • Tier 1 solar panel manufacturers offer a broad range of solar PV panels ranging from premium to economy. Just because you are buying panels from a Tier 1 solar panel manufacturer does not mean that you are getting the highest quality module.
  • Tier rankings usually put significant weight on bankability and manufacturing capacity. Solar panel manufacturers who achieve ‘Tier 1’ status is generally among the leading manufacturers in the world.
  • Tier 1 ranking should not be used as a measure for solar panel quality, but it is a good indicator of it. There are other criteria to find out if the solar panel type is of high quality or not.

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