Everyone is getting in on the ChatGPT craze. If you don’t know what this is, it’s an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI. It is expected to yield huge changes in the way we search and learn online. Students are even cheating by writing papers using this tool. It can produce human-like responses with great information, but the problem is, it’s not always right.
We decided to ask the AI tool:
“Who makes tier 1 solar panels?”
The answer was actually pretty good, pointing out some important truths. But the actual list is up for debate, and does it really matter? Here is the answer we got from ChatGPT:
The concept of “tier 1” solar panels is not an official designation or certification, but rather a term used by some industry analysts to refer to solar panel manufacturers that are considered to be among the top in the industry in terms of quality, reliability, and bankability.
There is no definitive list of tier 1 solar panel manufacturers, as the definition can vary depending on the criteria used. However, some of the companies that are commonly considered to be tier 1 solar panel manufacturers include:
Hanwha Q Cells
It is important to note that being a tier 1 solar panel manufacturer does not necessarily mean that a company’s products are the best fit for every situation, as the suitability of a particular solar panel will depend on factors such as the specific application, budget, and performance requirements. When choosing a solar panel, it is important to consider factors such as efficiency, durability, warranty, and customer reviews, as well as the reputation of the manufacturer. A professional solar contractor can provide guidance on choosing the right solar panels for your specific needs.
Results from OpenAI search https://openai.com/ on February 22, 2023
Grading the Chatbot
We are impressed that the AI tool started by pointing out an important truth – there is no “official” list. One of the first, and most prominent, is the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Corporation (BNEF) rating system. The purpose of this list is to help banks decide what projects are safe for investing (lending). The idea here is that the manufacturer of the panels is on solid financial ground, makes a quality product, and can support the warranty.
We’re not sure how the tool determined this list, but a couple of the manufacturers do not appear on the BNEF list and LG Solar has left the solar panel manufacturing business altogether. So much for Tier 1! Still, it’s understandable why the names on the list are there given their sales volume. However, many of these are not popular in the residential solar market, particularly in Florida.
The chatbot goes on to say that Tier 1 solar panels are not necessarily the best fit for every situation and cites a few reasons. But there are other reasons that a “Tier 1” panel is not really a criterion that a residential solar buyer can rely upon.
- Supply chain distribution plays a large part in the choice of solar panels used for residential installations. Shipping panels across the world and the country is expensive. Distribution model favor manufacturers based on negotiated prices and purchase commitments, all the way down to the installer level. For example, we make purchase commitments to our distributor who in turn makes commitments to the manufacturer, or sometimes a sub-distributor. This plays a large role in what value a particular installer can offer for any given brand. We can get virtually any panel brand on the list, but probably not at a price that is attractive for all manufacturers.
- Some panels are not suitable for the residential market. For example, First Solar specializes in “thin film” solar panels, which are not as efficient as traditional crystalline solar panels. They are cheap to make at scale, and great for utility-scale solar where roof space and panel size are not an issue.
- There are small manufacturers making great products using the same technology as larger players. They just don’t have the manufacturing capacity to be considered a Tier 1 supplier. Take for example Mission Solar Energy based in San Antonio, Texas, which is making great high-efficiency solar panels right here in the USA at a competitive price.
- For heavy snow areas or high wind areas (like Southwest Florida) the load rating of the panel could be far more important than considering a Tier rating. Few solar panels on the market are load tested to high wind uplift pressures that are critical to meet here. If you are in a coastal area in particular, we will recommend panels with the highest wind ratings we can find while meeting our other value criteria.
- The Tier system is not a great predictor of whether a company will remain in business. Big names once appeared on Tier 1 lists like Evergreen Solar, BP Solar, LG Solar, Panasonic, and more. Evergreen went bankrupt when solar panels started coming down in price and BP exited the business, saying they could no longer make money. LG and Panasonic, two of the most well-known names in consumer electronics, both exited the business in 2022. There are many Evergreen solar panels around Southwest Florida that were installed over a decade ago. LG and Panasonic were both installed by several local dealers. We never touched any of these brands, fortunately. But the fact of the matter is solar panel manufacturers come and go. A Tier rating is not going to change that.
- Solar panels have become a commodity item. They only make up 20-25% of the installed price of residential solar energy systems today. People agonize over the choice of solar panels, and it really is nowhere near the most important decision to make when choosing a solar energy system. Selecting a good quality solar panel with a competitive price and a decent warranty is all you need to worry about. And you probably don’t need to worry about warranties, either!
Tier 1 Solar Panels
The truth is, these lists are just marketing tools and it’s all about the money. The Bloomberg list is subscription-based and very expensive – prohibitive for small companies to access. And they even state explicitly that, “…a tier 1 categorisation (sic) is not a recommendation for the company or its products.” The list is not designed to tell consumers if a particular brand is suitable for their application.
The solar panel manufacturers, however, are happy to be added to these lists as they can use it for marketing purposes. But the list is updated quarterly, and manufacturers come and go from the list. In fact, Bloomberg states, “Since a tier 1 ranking is not a recommendation, we advise manufacturers against spending much energy pursuing it.”
So there you have it – a Tier 1 panel isn’t necessarily a recommendation. It’s not even a criteria you should consider for your residential solar panel project.