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Beginners Guide to Solar Panels

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

Solar panel selection can be one of the most confusing aspects of having a solar power system installed…

There are always new technologies on the horizon and every installer or retailer will tell their prospective customers that their panels are the best. So, what really IS the best you may ask… Well, there is no straightforward answer. In this article, we’ll break down a few aspects that need to be considered when choosing which panel is the best for YOUR home, budget and location:

Let’s start with the basics… What actually are solar panels and what do they do?

Solar panels are installed on the roof or on an engineer-approved frame. Their job is to generate an electric current from the sun.

  1. Solar cells are made mainly from silicon - which can conduct electricity. When the silicon is exposed to sunlight, it changes silicon’s electrical characteristics, which generates an electric current.

  2. A cell is a small square of silicon (about 6” x 6”) with electrical contact plates on the face. Solar panels are made by laying out a grid of these cells on a protective back sheet and covering them with glass on the front. Most solar panels have 60 or 120 cells per panel. 

  3. It takes multiple panels to provide enough power to a standard home or office. The total number of panels in your system is called an array. Panels wired into the same inverter are known as a string of panels. 

  4. Inverters have a maximum string size, which limits the number of panels they can support. This is why inverters come in a range of different sizes (5kW, 10kW etc).

  5. Note that while the majority of solar panels have an aluminium frame, there are now some frameless solar panels available. 

Types of Solar Panels

There are 3 major types of panels and all have relevant advantages and disadvantages: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin film. The type of panel will be largely dependent upon the amount of available roof space, climate and whether there are any shading issues.





Top Mid-range

Budget option


​Highly efficient

Marginally less efficient than monocrystalline

Least efficient


​Higher price point

​Slightly cheaper than monocrystalline



​Sleek design

​Typically not as aesthetically pleasing

Bigger & bulkier

While the type of solar panel is important, thtype of cell within the panel impacts the efficiency and performance of the panel much more.


Types of Solar Panel Cells

In Australia, there are three main types of solar panel cells: P-type, N-type and Heterojunction (HJT). The type of cell is different and more important than the type of solar panel.

N-Type Cells

P-Type Cells

HJT-Type Cells


Higher-end panels compromise N-type cells due to their enhanced efficiency and durability. N-type cells are typically more efficient and less sensitive to light-induced degradation (LID) than P-type cells, ensuring a longer lifespan for your solar panels.

​P-type solar cells are tried-and-true components of typically lower-priced solar panels. These cells efficiently convert sunlight into electricity. Their proven track record, versatility and reliability have made them a staple in the solar industry for many years.

​Heterojunction (HJT) type cells combine the benefits of both P-type and N-type cells. HJT cells use a layering technique that reduces energy loss and increases overall efficiency. Premium panels utilise HJT cells for ultimate performance and longevity.


  • ​Sleek aesthetics - usually less visible grid lines

  • Increased efficiency

  • Lower degradation rates

  • Better tolerance to high temperatures

  • Cost effective

  • Industry standard - very common and highly researched

  • ​Highest efficiency

  • Lower degradation rates

  • Better tolerance to high temperatures


  • ​More expensive than p-type - The manufacturing process is more difficult and time consuming

  • ​Are affected by light induced degradation

  • Higher rates of degradation

  • ​Newer technology - has been as researched as the other cell types

  • Premium price tag

Solar Panel Warranties

Performance warranty vs product warranty

Solar panels have two different types of warranties: The Output Performance Warranty and the Manufacturer’s Product Warranty. They are VERY different!

​Output Performance Warranty

​Manufacturer’s Product Warranty

​To be eligible to claim the STC ‘rebate’, all panels installed in Australia must have a minimum of 25 years, 80% performance warranty. There are a few solar panel manufacturers that now guarantee performance for 30 years. However, a higher performance warranty does not necessarily mean that they are a higher quality panel.

​Solar panels must also carry a manufacturers warranty which relates to defects of workmanship. The manufacturer’s warranty can vary from 10 through to 25 years and is considered to be a good indicator of the quality of the panels. It stands to reason that panels that carry a 25 year manufacturer’s warranty are probably going to last longer than ones that carry a 10 year warranty.

Highest efficiency, not the biggest wattage

The higher the efficiency of the panels, the more watts of electricity the panel will produce, per square meter of panel. This means that the higher the efficiency, the less roof space required (lower footprint). If you don’t have a lot of room to work with, investing in high-efficiency panels is the way to go. 

Other important things to keep in mind:

  1. Higher-efficiency panels are typically more expensive.

  2. High-wattage solar panels are usually physically much larger. So, even though the panels are higher wattage, you might not be able to fit as many on your roof and you could end up with a system that’s smaller than needed.

Other Things to Consider When Choosing a Solar Panel

Australian support

Back-up support is provided by the manufacturer. Any warranty is only as good as the company that produces the panel or the company that sells the panels.

Does the solar panel manufacturer have an Australian office that you can easily contact?

Like most things, having an Australian office makes things infinitely easier in terms of processing warranty claims if something were to go wrong. You also need to think about:

  1. Will the installer be around to honour the warranty if something were to happen?

  2. How long has the manufacturer been producing panels? What is their reputation in the solar industry?

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