Because many Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. homeowners view solar as a commodity, they focus almost exclusively on price. For them, it doesn’t make sense to pay $2,000 more for solar panels that offer 1% higher efficiency?

But this is a huge mistake.

Solar panel efficiency is arguably the most important factor when comparing different technologies. Price actually becomes significantly less relevant once you begin focusing on lifetime solar output.

But what exactly is solar panel efficiency and why should you care? Let’s review.

What Is Solar Panel Efficiency?

Quite simply, solar panel efficiency describes the rate at which panels can convert available sunlight into usable electricity. Today’s high quality systems typically come with efficiencies of 14% to 20% – although the theoretical limit is much higher.

What Influences a Solar Panel’s Efficiency?

There are a few factors that influence how much electricity your panels can produce, including:

  1. How much sunlight your property receives. The more direct sunlight you receive, the more energy-generation potential there is.
  2. The quality of the panels and components. High quality panels from trusted names usually deliver more energy output than knockoff brands. In addition, the type of inverter and solar monitoring you use can have a significant impact on solar panel performance.
  3. The strength of the warranty and performance guarantee. Higher quality panels come with performance guarantees that ensure your system will continue operating at 80%+ peak performance after 25 years.
  4. The quality of the installation. Installations by licensed contractors generate more power than those installed by weekend hobbyists. This is only the first of many differences between DIY solar panels and expert installations.

Is Higher Solar Panel Efficiency Worth Spending More Money?

All things being equal, higher efficiency panels cost more. But are they worth the extra expense? In most cases, the answer is yes. Solar is an investment in which every percentage point matters.

The difference between 15% and 16% efficiency may seem very small today. But when you multiply the benefits over the 25 years that come standard with most warranties, you’re talking about thousands of dollars in electricity bill savings.

It’s analogous to buying a fuel-efficient car: 35mpg vs. 36mpg is nothing — until you begin adding up all of your gas bills over the next few years.

Whether shopping for cars or solar panels, you must factor in the long-term savings. And in most cases, those extra savings more than cover the higher upfront cost. This is especially true when you realize utility prices (like gas prices) are on the rise in Maryland. With each rate hike, your panels’ efficiency becomes even more relevant.