Solar Panels - The Three Tier System

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There are many Solar Panel manufacturers to choose from. With a 25 year manufacturer's performance warranty on most solar panels it is important to not only choose a panel which will perform well over time but also to choose a strong and reputable manufacturer who will survive the test of time in this competitive industry. 

Only select Solar Panels from Tier 1 Manufacturers who are amongst the largest and most respected solar brands in the world.

What is the Tier ranking system?

The 3 Tier structure, is a ranking system by Pike's Research.
The most important points according to Pike's research are:

1. Are they vertically integrated?
Meaning, how much of the manufacturing process is done by their company or do they assemble from outsourced parts?

2. Do they invest in Research and Development?
3. How long has the company been operating for?
4. How much of the manufacturing is automated?


Note: Price does not play a factor in the the ranking of panels.

You might be asking why some of these points are important?
These points can help assess the aim of the company! If they invest in all of these areas then it is reasonable to assume they are planning to stay in the game for as long as they can so quality control is important as they don't want to have to spend more money fixing products than it costs to do the job properly in the first place.

Unlike many smaller manufacturers who pop up to make a quick dollar then shutting down before any problems start to appear with their products. There are genuine small companies and startups out there, but how do you really know which out of the hundreds of unknown companies are actually genuine? and can match the quality and price the big manufacturers offer?
Source: Pikes Research
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Source: Pikes Research

Tier 1

Top 2% of solar manufacturers

1. Vertically integrated
Meaning they manufacture their panels from the ground up, giving them control over the whole production process, from the silicon cells to the module frames and ultimately panel assembly.


2. Invests heavily in R & D
Continually looking to improve and innovate their products and processes.

3. Advanced robotic processes
Use advanced robotics that are conducive to a standard level of quality, while (in most cases) saving money on manufacturing costs at the same time

4. Manufacturing solar panels for longer than 5 years
Having been around for at least this amount of time in what is a relatively young industry is a testament to a company's commitment to its own longevity as well as to its customers, and is indicative of the likely hood that the company will still be around in 20+ years time to service its warranties.

Tier 2

Small to medium scale manufacturers

1. Little or no investment in R & D.
2. Use only partial robotics, reliant on manual work from human production lines.
3. Usually producing panels for 2-5 years.


Tier 2 manufacturers are the 'middle ground' between Tier 1 and Tier 3, comprising about 8% of the market. Although they have been producing panels for longer than Tier 3 manufacturers, they still invest relatively little money in R&D compared to Tier 1 manufacturers. Robotic automation does not always play a major role in thier panel production lines. Many Tier 2 manufacturers doubtless have Tier 1 aspirations, but may not have the wherewithal or experience to yet make the cut.

Tier 3

Assemblers only  - 90% of new Solar PV

1. No investment in R & D
2. Assemble panels only does not manufacture silicon cells
3. Uses human production lines only, no advanced robotics
4. Assembling panels for 1-2 years


Tier 3 manufacturers comprise the bulk of the market (90%), according to Pike's research, but have the least experience. Their operations are limited to assembling panels using components manufactured by other companies (ex; no R&D operations of their own), and their production processes are highly reliant on manual labour. With solar panel manufacturers across the glode facing hard times due to a mass glut of stock, it is not unreasonable to think that many of these companies will not be around in the next few years as the industry consolidates
This guide was written by CoastWide Solar Pty Ltd
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This guide was written by CoastWide Solar Pty Ltd
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