Going by the hype in the market with many panel makers claiming they are Tier 1, one would have thought that there is a clear standards body that attests the various panels as belonging to one tier or the other.

But you will be surprised to know that there appears (as far as I have searched) to be no official body that certifies solar panels as belonging to specific tiers.

However, there appear to be some informal agreement on the qualifications that solar panels belonging to specific tiers should posses

Here’s a low-down:

Tier 1 Solar Panel Manufacturer Characteristics

  • Uses the best grade of silicon to produce solar cells (higher the silicon grade, the longer the solar cell will last and the better it will perform)
  • Produces some of the best performing solar panels at reasonable price.
  • Is vertically integrated, meaning they make their own cells and wafers
  • Controls each stage of the manufacturing process with advanced robotic processes Invests heavily in R&D.
  • Produces 1 GW of solar panels in a year.

Tier 2 Solar Panel Manufacturer Characteristics

  • Uses partial robotics in their manufacturing process, and rely more on manual work from human production lines
  • Produces good panels at good prices.
  • Invests only a little in R&D.
  • Is small to medium in scale

Tier 3 Solar Panel Manufacturer Characteristics

  • These are typically assemblers rather than pure panel manufacturers – i.e. they assemble other manufacturer’s cells into a panel
  • Uses human production lines for manual soldering of solar cells instead of advanced robotics
  • Quality can vary operator to operator and day to day.
  • No investment in R&D

I am not convinced that all the above evaluation criteria are objective, so I will be glad if someone could point out anything else in this regard. But the above were what I was able to dig up as far as evaluation criteria go for solar panel tiers.

I had earlier put in a blog post on the grading of solar panels, which appears to be having a more tangible set of features.

So, leaving aside the ambiguity around the definition of Tier, the bottom line is this: The best solar panels should be a combination of Grade A + Tier 1 manufacturer

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