For our solar panel installations, we are very careful to find the very best solar panels based on reliability, performance, and long term value. Trina solar panels, for example, are made by one of the world-renowned leading solar companies; they have been listed at either #1 or #2 in the world for the past several years. We often use Trina panels because they are superior solar panels from a global leader. But we are not wed to them, and sometimes recommend other panels. It just depends on the specific project — each is customized to a great degree.
Many solar experts use the term “bankability” to refer to solar panel manufacturers that have proven to be reliable and stable, both in their product quality and in their overall company financial health. There are about 15 truly “bankable” solar panel manufacturers in the world, including Sunpower in the US. Most of the U.S. solar panel companies are smaller companies, though some meet our requirements and are approaching bankability as discussed above.
In our experience, many “U.S. made” solar panels are not too different from the rest, in that most of the manufacturing is done by the same global supply chain. In some cases, the individual solar cells are made here in the U.S., then shipped overseas for final assembly into solar panels. In other cases, the companies are based here in the U.S., but actually manufacture overseas, where manufacturing costs are lower. This is not only true of solar panels — it is true of many products, especially technology products like computers, tablets, and smart phones.
When “U.S. Made” is a priority for a customer, we present them with options and show the cost differences. U.S. Made typically adds about 25 cents per watt to the customer’s cost. That is a not a huge cost difference, but to an extremely cost-sensitive customer, it may make a difference.