Many of the solar panels on American roofs are manufactured by Qcells, and the company also offers a complete home solar system package deserving of a closer look.
Energy prices, and the prices of just about everything else, are up over the last few years. At the same time, solar energy keeps getting cheaper as technology improves and government incentives give renewable sources of power a boost.
Add concerns about climate and carbon emissions into the equation and it's as good a time as ever to think seriously about adding a solar system to your home or small business. It's an investment that can not only lower utility bills but also increase the value of whatever structure it's installed on.
One company making waves in the solar industry lately is Qcells, a subsidiary of the large South Korean conglomerate Hanwha. In early April, Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Qcells manufacturing plant in Georgia while promoting the Biden administration's renewable energy efforts and Investing in America tour. The commitment between Qcells and the Biden administration made history with its plans to support manufacturing needs for the expansion of community solar projects across the US.
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A solar panel purchase is a major purchase and a piece of infrastructure meant to last for decades, making the research phase the most important step in this financial decision. There's a surprising number of companies competing for the right to put panels on your property, which is good news for you, but it also means you need to ensure you pick one you'll be happy with.
Unlike many of the solar panel installers CNET has reviewed, Qcells' primary business is in manufacturing the panels and other equipment that goes into solar systems. But the company has partnered with a network of distributors to offer complete solar installations for your home.
This means you'll get a trusted product in a convenient, all-in-one package backed by solid warranties, but you'll have to do some extra research on the certified distributor/installers in your area that Qcells will be handing you off to.
Because Qcells operates with a different business model than many installers, we can't rate them on many of the criteria we use to rate solar companies. For this reason, we'll give you an overview, but won't score the company.
If you decide to buy panels through Qcells you'll get quality panels. They're widely installed by other companies and come in near the top for warranty and efficiency. Qcells also promises 25-year workmanship warranties on installations, despite relying on other companies to install their panels, a company representative told CNET. That's 15 years longer than some of its competitors.
Remember, CNET does not test solar panels directly and does not go through the process of working with a company to design, order, permit and install a system. We rely on comparisons of the equipment, warranties and services on offer from solar companies
During your solar shopping experience, it is essential to get quotes from as many installers working in your area as you can. It might take some time, but keep in mind that this is a system designed to last a quarter-century or longer, permanently mounted to your building. It's kind of a big deal.
Fortunately, you've found a good place to start.
Qcells works with a network of distributors and installers throughout the country. This means purchase, lease, financing and power purchase agreement options will vary depending on your location and specific circumstances. These particulars are completely up to each individual distributor.
There is far more certainty around the equipment that you'll get when you order through Qcells. The company's distributors offer Qcells panels including the Q.Peak Duo Series with wattages ranging from 385 to 595 per panel and efficiencies from 20.9% for sleek black panels to 21.3% on the highest wattage bifacial glass panels, which are typically installed in ground-mounted systems.
Your chosen panels are paired with the Qcells Q.Home Core equipment package, which includes a hybrid inverter that can be AC or DC coupled and is compatible with other leading inverters. The inverter is matched with Q.Save lithium batteries with a peak output of 128 amps.
The equipment all comes from Qcells' parent company, Hanwha, which has been an engineering leader in Korea for decades.
You can use the Q Home Q.ommand app to keep track of your system and analyze real-time data from the inverter, panels and batteries once everything is up and running.
Qcells warranties the workmanship and performance of these systems for 25 years, which is pretty standard. However, the company has a partnership with EnFin to offer loans for solar installations, and if you finance your system through them, Qcells will extend your performance warranty to 30 years.
Once you're connected with an installer in your area, it's worthwhile to ask them additional questions about their process, whether they use in-house employee installers or subcontractors and if they offer any additional warranties or options.
Qcells wouldn't share specifics on pricing for panels and Q.Home packages, but the company said its pricing is competitive and continually changing with market conditions. It also notes that, of the residential roofs in the US with solar panels, more than one in three incorporates Qcells panels.
Once you factor in federal clean energy credits of 30%, the average cost of a solar system in the US is $22,091, according to Saveonenergy.com, which is owned by CNET's parent company. State, county and municipal governments and sometimes even banks and credit unions may offer additional incentives to bring that total out-of-pocket expense down even further. One analysis from Wood Mackenzie shows the average cost of installed solar power was $2.99 per watt for an 8-kilowatt system.
Keep in mind these figures are all just national averages, and actual equipment and installation costs can vary widely across regions and individual situations. If you opt to get a quote through Qcells, you may be given details about multiple certified installers in your area. Even still, it's recommended to get multiple quotes from other companies in your area that aren't affiliated with Qcells as well.
Because Qcells works through its network of distributors with varying costs, it can't offer a price match, but again this is a question to ask the certified installer you're connected with instead.
Financing options, including whether or not you purchase, lease or get panels through a power purchase agreement, will be through the installer you sign a deal with. If you get a loan through Qcells preferred financer, Qcells will tack on five years to your panel performance warranty, bringing it to 30 years.
Chang told me that the network of distributors and installers Qcells works with operate in all 50 US states, but to be sure service is actually offered in your specific location, you'll need to complete the "Contact Us" form on the Qcells website to initiate the conversation and receive info about distributors near you.
There is also a "calculator" link on the website that connects you to the online Qcells marketplace run by a company called Electrum that operates a network of over 150 certified installers nationwide. This tool may help give you an idea of what is available in your area and for your specific address before you speak directly with someone from Qcells to verify.
Once a customer is matched with a distributor/installer, experiences are sure to vary and it's hard to say much more about what to expect from the process. Qcells offers warranty support, but do a little extra research on the installer you're referred to as well before agreeing on anything.
Qcells is a major player in the US solar market offering a popular product and a significant portion of its panels are manufactured domestically. They're also under the umbrella of a major international industrial conglomerate, so it's a safe bet they aren't going anywhere soon.
The Q.Home equipment package is also a nice, standardized set of components that's streamlined for easy, stackable, modular installation. It's almost a plug-and-play approach to home solar. The wild card is the distributor/installer that puts the system in for you. This adds an extra research burden to the choice to go with Qcells and its reliable hardware. Because Qcells solar panels are widely installed, it isn't unlikely that other companies will quote you Qcells panels. If you have a local installer in mind that you like, there's a decent chance they could get hold of Qcells panels rather than going with whoever Qcells itself connects you with.
Once again, keep in mind that CNET has not gone through the ordering or installation process with Qcells.
Qcells is not accredited with the Better Business Bureau, but the distributors in your area may be, so be sure to check their ratings.
Overall, if you're not too picky about components and just want something from a trusted name, it's worth checking out Qcells to see what they can offer.
Read more: Your Solar Panels Can Make You Money. Find Out When and How
Reviewing solar companies in a hands-on way is difficult. Accounting for all the differences to be projected is impossible. To provide a helpful review, we focused on what we can measure and meaningfully compare among companies.
We focus on three buckets of criteria: equipment, warranties and service.
Within the equipment category, companies receive scores for the panels, inverters and batteries they install. Warranties include the guarantees on the panels, workmanship and weatherization against leaks. Companies earn points for service if they offer a price match, a meaningful level of price transparency and a well-rated app for monitoring solar production. They lose points if there are major issues pertaining to customer service (lawsuits, investigations or clear reputations for shoddy service). These issues will always be detailed in the review.
You can read a detailed look at how the scoring breaks down.
We don't consider the average price of a company's installations in their score. This information is difficult to find and hard to compare across service areas (and even roof to roof). Companies are often slow to disclose it, too. We also leave out easily found but not useful information like how many states a company operates in.