Here’s a startling fact about solar panels in Kenya. There are 100 different brands of solar panels from 40+ manufacturers in the local market, with more new brands emerging rapidly. Although the solar power technology is standard, different brands/manufacturers have different capacities. There’s also the proliferation of Chinese brands – while a majority of the Chinese solar brands are great, there are many substandard / poor quality solar products that have found their way to the Kenyan market.
It gets more tricky when the suppliers of the solar panels in Kenya become dishonest – often by changing the solar panel ratings as well as the name of the manufacturer. This is quite prevalent when purchasing the solar panels from some unscrupulous traders in “River Road”.
So, if you’re planning to install solar panels on your home or business how do you make sure you choose a good solar panel brand – and avoid the lemons? And how do you know if the panel manufacturer is going to still be in business in ten- or fifteen-years’ time if you need to make a warranty claim? How do you know the key things to check when buying solar panels in Kenya to avoid substandard/poor quality ones?
This blog provides a checklist to help you choose the best solar panel brand for your home or business – and avoid the common mistakes people make when buying solar panels.
Solar panel costs
A good solar panel provides the optimal balance between cost and performance. So how do you know what price range to expect for solar panels?
The logical calculation is to work out the cost per watt. This tells you how much you are paying for every watt of solar generation capacity you are installing on your roof.
Most solar quotes don’t itemize the cost of solar panels. Therefore, the best way to work out costs is to take the overall system cost and divide it by the size of the system – for example Ksh 200,000 divided by 5,000 watts (or 5kW) = Ksh 40 per watt.
Different types of solar panels
Solar panels made with monocrystalline solar cells are slightly more efficient than panels made from polycrystalline solar cells. Monocrystalline solar panels are made from larger silicon crystals which not only improves performance but also looks sleeker.
How the solar panel performs in real-world conditions
Solar panel datasheets look can look daunting – so we’ve boiled it down to the five most important features to check.
1. Solar panel efficiency
Solar panel efficiency relates to the percentage of sunlight hitting the solar panel that converts to electricity. Most solar panels have an efficiency of between 16 and 22 per cent. This means that, for example, 16 per cent of the sunlight hitting a panel is converted into electrical energy.
The higher the efficiency of the solar panel, the more watts of energy you will get for each square meter of roof space. Higher efficiency solar panels tend to be more expensive. But if you have limited space – or want to maximize the solar potential of your roof – paying a bit extra could be worth it.
2. Power output at Standard Test Conditions (STC) – (Pmax)
This is the number that tells you the size of solar panel, for example a 390-watt solar panel has a power output of 390 watts at standard test conditions. This is under perfect temperature conditions where the panel temperature is 25⁰ Celsius and it’s a cloudless, sunny day.
Most of the time your solar panel will be operating in conditions that aren’t perfect, that’s why this is just a baseline figure. You need to compare the other statistics on this list…
3, Temperature Coefficient of Pmax
The “Temperature Coefficient of Pmax” tells you how much power the solar panel loses for every degree Celsius the solar panel is hotter than 25°C. Most panels have a Temperature Coefficient of Pmax of around -0.5% / °C. Anything better than that – for example 0.3% / °C – means your solar panel will work better on hot sunny days. And that’s got to be a good thing in Kenya!
Tech tip: When we’re talking panel temperature, we’re talking about a different statistic than ambient air temperature. Because solar panels are on your roof, they get a lot hotter than the surrounding air temperature. The rule of thumb is to add another 20°C to the ambient air temperature to work out how hot your panels will be.
4. Power tolerance
This is the range that the solar panel will vary in its output from Standard Test Conditions. These days, better solar panels will have a power tolerance that’s from 0% + 5 or 10 watts. That means the panel will always perform at its rated output or better. If you have the choice, always pick a solar panel that’s got a power tolerance of 0% and with only a plus side (no negative power tolerance).
5. Annual degradation
All solar panels, no matter how good, will degrade in power output over time. But the extent to which they degrade is important and a good indicator of overall panel quality. The best solar panels will degrade at around 2.5 per cent annually whereas the standard panels will degrade at 5 per cent or more every year.
Solar panel aesthetics
The ‘look’ of the solar panels in Kenya will come down to personal preference. Some people like the all-black solar panels that have recently come onto the market. They look slick and super-modern, complementing most homes.
On the other hand, black panels with silver lines (bus bars) tend to be lower cost and also look smart. Blue solar panels look outdated, so they’re worth avoiding particularly if the panels will be visible from ground level.
Solar panel warranties
Every solar panel brand will come with two warranties – a panel performance warranty that’s usually 25 years and a product warranty (that’s anything from 10 to 25 years). The solar panel performance warranty sounds great – but it’s not worth much. That’s because claiming on a performance warranty for solar panels is notoriously difficult as most panel manufacturers are adept at wriggling out of it. Even if you managed to claim on it, you’re unlikely to get much in the way of compensation.
The panel warranty to focus on is the product warranty. That’s because you’ll be able to claim on it more easily – and it covers any defects or faults in the manufacturing process. It used to be that only the premium solar panel had product warranties of 15 years or more. But now, mid-priced solar panels are upping their game and offering product warranties of a similar duration.
A solar panel product warranty is only as good as the manufacturer behind it. You want to be sure that the manufacturer is likely to be around in the next 10 to 15 years to honor any warranty claim you may have.
Whilst there will never be a rock-solid guarantee that a company is going to be around for the long term, you can make sure that the solar panel manufacturer you select is well known/established
Get in touch
If you’d like advice on the best solar panels for your home or business, get in touch. We’ll be happy to talk you through the options and provide a quotation that fits your requirements and your budget.
With the cost of electricity rising faster than inflation, now’s a great time to go solar.
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