For many years, the solar industry has used the ‘Tier ranking’ system to help guide buyers and financiers in understanding what makes a good solar panel and a good solar company. Tier 1 solar panels are the best and Tier 3 the worst, although alarmingly, some industry analysts now go lower than Tier 3! Professionals in the industry will tell you that with solar PV panels, you get what you pay for, so it is a good idea to spend a few hundred dollars more for Tier 1 panels, to ensure the longevity of your system.

For obvious reasons, the ranking of a PV manufacturer is a matter of great pride and is highly valued. However, it is a very complex task to rank the many hundreds of manufacturers and there’s a lot at stake. Meaningful rankings are published by a very small number of independent PV industry analysts and due to the effort and importance of the information; rankings are generally not openly published but rather are sold as industry intelligence.

Classically, a hybrid combination of the first 5-10 metrics are most often considered and quoted although they are of course, somewhat subjective and subject to frequent change. Additionally, a company’s relative attractiveness should be biased heavily towards its presence, commitment and competitiveness in any given market to be meaningful.

Solar Business Services report includes a ranking of PV brands specifically designed for the Australian market which has a bias towards the support, experience and history of PV brands available to help local PV buyers determine which brands are most suited to the local market.

Here are the 6 questions you need to ask when someone claims their solar panels are Tier 1:

1.   Ask for a source of their claim and evidence to back it up.
2.   Ask what criteria they are basing their claim on, if it’s not a source.
3.   Does the panel manufacturer have a local office and representative staff in Australia?
4.   Is the panel manufacturer a member of any associations and what have they done to help develop the industry?
5.   Are these panels installed in any medium or large commercial projects or demonstration and test facilities in Australia?
6.   Which companies supply their panels in Australia?

Ultimately, you need to look for a combination of size, technical expertise but also a demonstration that they are committed to serving the Australian market; not just dumping a low cost product.

Your quest is to find a supplier who is honest about their claims and will be around (in Australia) to support you in the long term.

Australian industry research company Solar Business Services publishes an annual report called the Australian PV Technology and Brand report, which includes a Tier listing and analysis of all the PV brands available in Australia.

A Tier 1 classification is considered top shelf. Makers of Tier 1 panels are vertically integrated, invest heavily in research and development, use advanced robotic processes and have been manufacturing panels for more than 5 years.

But what exactly defines a Tier 1 Solar Panel? Broadly speaking, PV manufacturers can be ranked into Tiers according to measurement and weighting of the following metrics :

  •  Experience
  •  Financial position
  •  Strategic and tactical position
  •  Manufacturing scale
  •  Deployment scale
  •  Durability and quality
  •  Technical performance
  •  Brand bankability
  •  Geographic coverage
  •  Vertical integration
  •  Insurance and backing
  •  Sustainability
  •  Service and support
  •  Price competitiveness
  •  Innovation and R&D

Tier rankings are a really good guide to the products and the company behind them. However, for Australian buyers some really important, practical factors are also considering their ability to support you and what’s their experience in Australia. A good company will be able to demonstrate strong commitment to the local market through sales support, technical support and local support for warranty claims.

Preferably they will have supplied a number of company’s significant volume over at least a few years proving they aren’t a fly by night supplier. Also look for local industry association membership or other examples of investment in the development of the industry.