Cheap Solar Panels: 2021 Guide to Affordable Solar Panels

Renewable energy system with solar panel for electricity and hot water
alphaspirit / iStock / Getty Images

The cost of solar panels has declined roughly 80% in the last decade, bolstering the technology's reputation as an affordable energy source like never before. Now that solar power has reached this cost-effective price point, customers and businesses looking to capitalize on the benefits of solar energy are flooding the market looking for cheap solar panels.

In this article, we'll discuss the most affordable solar panels available and whether it's better to save money upfront or invest in high-quality models. We'll also give recommendations for solar panels at the crossroads of affordability and efficiency, providing the best bang for your buck.

If you're looking for cheap solar panels, one way to find them is to get free quotes from multiple installation companies. By comparing pricing from a few local installers, you can make sure you're getting the best deal. To get started, fill out the simple form below.

Are Cheap Solar Panels Any Good?

The cheapest panels are typically manufactured in China (with the U.S. and Germany close behind), and some are cheap for a reason. They can come with underlying issues, most concerningly in the form of environmental and workers' rights violations in their production process.

Cheap solar panels also tend to be less durable and will likely come with a shorter lifespan. In fact, the cheapest upfront options sometimes end up being the most expensive in the long run. A good comparison is buying a car. Though the cheap initial cost of a beater may be the most tempting, frequent repairs, poor gas mileage and checkups can outweigh the initial savings within a few short years.

However, for those whose most important consideration is price, there are still some good options for cheap solar panels on the market today to turn your home into a renewable energy source.

Top 5 Cheap Solar Panels

Below are the five of the cheapest photovoltaic solar panels (that are rated at least 100W) on the market. Bear in mind that the current industry minimum for solar panels capable of powering a home is around 300W. Panels between 100W and 300W may be suitable for DIY solar projects, off-grid systems and charging things like portable generators or small appliances.

Note that prices and availability fluctuate with inventory, demand and supply chain issues. Prices change often when vendors have surplus supply, so sales are frequent. Customers will not be able to purchase some brands' panels directly, as they must be ordered from a distributor.

Cheap Solar Panel Price Per Panel Power Rating Price Per Watt Efficiency Rating Warranty
100W 12 Volt
Solar Panel
$125 100W $1.25 21% 1-year materials warranty
$225 350W $0.60 20.3% Limited 25-year warranty
Canadian Solar
Model #CS1H-315MS
$225 315W $0.71 18.68% 25-year output warranty
Silfab Solar
- SIL-330 NL
$250 330W $0.76 17.3% 12-year module warranty
$260 360W $0.72 19.8% 25-year output warranty

Cheap Vs. Affordable Solar Panels

There's a key distinction between cheap solar panels and the most affordable solar panels. Cheap considers only the price tag. Affordability involves factors beyond initial price, such as price per watt (aka bang for your buck), efficiency of the panel and warranty. A cheap solar panel isn't worth anything if it breaks without a warranty to replace it.

The cost of a solar panel is set by the manufacturer and involves a variety of factors, from cost of production to expected lifetime. Let's break down the factors that go into solar panel costs.

Solar Panel Efficiency

The greater a panel's efficiency, the more energy each solar cell's power output will be. Efficiency matters, as a homeowner will have to buy far fewer panels to meet their energy needs with higher-efficiency panels. The most solar efficient panels usually cost more to manufacture, raising their price point and total installed cost.

Solar Panel Power

The power, or wattage, of a solar panel reflects how many watts (W) of energy the panel is capable of generating when producing at maximum capacity. Most modern residential solar panels have power factors between 300 and 350W. As is true with high-efficiency panels, a customer needs to purchase fewer panels overall if they have a higher power output. While they'll typically have a greater upfront cost, high-output panels will provide better value over time.

Solar Panel Warranty

A warranty is simple to understand, yet no less important to consider. Bearing in mind that the average lifetime of a solar panel system is about 25 years, warranties are essential in ensuring reliable energy output. Though solar panels are very durable, a lot can happen over 25 years. Falling tree branches can crack a panel, rooftop critters can chew up wiring and untreated water damage can corrode a system. Some of the cheapest panels will come with the worst warranties, and costs can add up quickly if a solar power system runs into trouble.

Solar Panel Quality

Similar to solar panel efficiency and power, the cost of a solar panel has much to do with its quality. The cheapest solar panels on the market will be of the poorest quality, making them far more prone to breaks, issues and quick aging. The higher the quality of the parts in a solar panel, the more expensive it becomes. However, this is just another time when "cheap" panels are far from the most affordable solar panels in the long run.

5 Best Value Solar Panels

With all this in mind, below are our recommendations for the most affordable home solar panels on the market in 2021.

Most Affordable
Solar Panel
Price Per Panel Power Rating Price Per Watt Efficiency Rating Warranty
$225 350W $0.60 20.3% Limited 25-year warranty
Hanwha Q Cell
$240 340W $0.70 19% 25-year warranty
Canadian Solar
Model #CS1H-315MS
$225 315W $0.71 18.68% 25-year output warranty
$260 360W $0.72 19.8% 25-year output warranty
JA Solar Technology
JAM60S10 -340/MR
$240 330W $0.73 20.2% 25-year output warranty

LONGi and Q Cell are two of the most affordable solar brands that maintain reputations for good quality at a low price. As you can see, they both provide exceptional price per watt and efficiency without sacrificing warranty.

A solar installation with low price per watt and high efficiency provides a number of benefits for a solar customer. With more power and efficiency per panel, a homeowner won't need to purchase as many panels to meet their household energy needs.

FAQ: Cheap Solar Panels

What kind of solar panels are the cheapest?

Polycrystalline solar panels tend to be cheaper (and lower quality) than monocrystalline panels. You can read more about the difference between these types of panels in our monocrystalline vs. polycrystalline solar panel review.

What is the cheapest way to get solar panels?

The cheapest way to acquire solar panels is to purchase them through a distributor in bulk. Though one can save a significant amount of money purchasing and installing solar panels on their own, solar companies can access a wider range of products and get them for lower prices than what's available to the general public.

Should I buy cheap solar panels?

There are many excellent affordable options for solar panels due to the rapid advancement of the technology and industry behind them. There are also a great number of cheap panels that are unreliable, break easily and are likely produced unethically. The best solar panels balance quality and price.

What are the best brands of cheap solar panels?

For DIY installations of off-grid uses, Renogy produces and sells excellent solar panels that are around 100 watts. For residential applications, LONGi and Q Cell have the best reputation for affordable, high-quality solar panels.

Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.

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