Solar Panels and Inverters

November 29th 2016

Which solar panels perform best in Perth? We have been running a rooftop test for nearly three years now and the latest results are listed below.

                                                                                

Brand
Description
Tier 1
Rank

            % Gain

12/2/2014 though to 29 Nov 2016

Q.Cells
German engineering
Yes
1st
+12.46%
ET Solar
Fantastic in low light and heat
Yes
2nd
+12.07%
Canadian
Despite name, Chinese
Yes
3rd
+11.25%
Schott
Great panel, hard to get now
Yes
4th
+11.00%
Off Tier 1 list - Financial trouble
No
5th
+10.19%
Suntech
Off Tier 1 list - Financial trouble
No
6th
+9.41%
REC
Singaporean made
Yes
7th
+9.40%
Huge Chinese company
Yes
8th
+ 7.68%
SolarOne
Hanwha Home brand
No
9th
+7.34%
Renesola
Popular Chinese
Yes
10th
+6.15%
GY Group
Standard Tier 2 panel
No
11th
+0.00%

 

About this Bassendean (WA) roof top test
We put it up in Feb 2014 and monitor each panel using SolarEdge DC optimisers (micro inverter style). At the time we picked 10 of the very best known Worldwide Tier 1 brands and one regular (cheaper) Tier 2 panel (GY) and it's pretty plain to see that the better panels make more power even though they are rated the same.

The order of which panel is working best hasn't changed much in nearly three years. Q.Cells are consistently 0.5% in front of ET who are ahead of Canadian by about the same margin.

A quick word about the top 3 panels (click the blue name to go to their website)


Q.Cells. All Q.Cells research and development and engineering is done in Germany, and the Monocrystalline PLUS range are still made in Germany, but the cheaper ($32 per panel) PRO (Polycrystalline) panels are made in Korea, Malaysia and China. Now owned by Korean conglomerate Hanwha, the future for Q.Cells looks very bright. After decades of production, they remain the best solar panels in the World. Brochure

ET Solar. 3,000 employees, annual sales over $1 billion, founded in 2005, Bloomberg Tier 1 since 2012, ET Solar have a 5% share of all installed systems in Australia since coming here in 2008 and 6.6% of the World market. We've installed thousands and thousands of ET over the years, and never had a single faulty panel. 100% of ET panels we install are guaranteed to be be manufactured in their own factory. That's unique. Most sub-contract out.. Brochure

Canadian Solar. Very easy to sell this brand because of their name. Totally Chinese though.
3 x times larger corporation than ET but still dwarfed by Q.Cells owner Hanwha.

On customer rooftops in Perth, production from Canadian and ET are virtually the same year in, year out. Q.Cells are a smidge ahead all the time, but its a very small difference.
Brochure

Do you want to understand what all that stuff on the brochure actually means?

We have extracted the key pieces of data from the Q.Cells, ET Solar, Canadian solar, Jinko, GCL and Sunpower brochures and put the numbers alongside each other. Then we describe what it actually means to you. Click here

Other notable panels, not on our test roof.

We are going to take down Schott and Yingli in the new year and put up GCL and LG. GCL are the World's largest cell manufacturer and now make their own panels. We've installed quite a lot now and performance is up there with the rest of the Tier 1 panels (yes GCL are a Bloomberg listed Tier 1 panel). LG are well known for their household electronics of course, but their solar panel is gathering quite a fan club so we're going to check it out.

 

What is a Tier 1 solar panel manufacturer?
Tier 1 solar panel companies are measured the same way as Blue Chip companies listed on the stock market. Well-known brands, profitable, able to withstand the ups and downs of the World economy. Bloomberg New Energy Finance provide a list of the solar manufacturers of Tier 1 panels. If a company is financially struggling, Bloomberg remove it from the list. It's a measure of financial strength more than being about the quality of products, although of course, the two are obviously closely linked. Click here for the most up to date Bloomberg Tier 1 panel list.

 

SMA , made in Germany, been around since the 1980's, Incredibly reliable, great reporting. Warranty is 5 years, and if you don't get 10-15 years life, you would be very unlucky. Great inverter, especially on single phase. Australian office, fantastic support, awesome range of products. Can't go wrong with SMA but of course you pay extra for that quality and reputation.
Current SMA inverter prices.

3kW $1838, 5kW single phase $2113, 5kW 3 phase $2312

Fronius, made in Austria. The best 3 phase residential inverter, even better than SMA. Maybe a smidge more failures than SMA, but still rock solid reliable, and quite often provide a 5 year warranty extension for free. Built in WIFI in most of their range. Really, really good. Priced very similar to SMA.
Current Fronius prices
3kW $1652, 5kW single phase $1949, 5kW 3 phase $2191

Bosch (German). Nah, not really, despite Bosch having a very strong brand name. Only a little cheaper than SMA or Fronius and not worth the discount. ABB (Italian) is pretty good but again, not a big enough price difference to not buy SMA or Fronius.

Goodwe, one of only two Chinese made inverters we will put our name on the warranty for. Made their reputation in the off-grid market, huge solar farms, battery systems, and appeared to have fallen into residential solar inverters simply because it was so much easier than the off-grid area they were masters of. The good news for us, for you, is that the components and build are first class. They cost hundreds of dollars more than the cheap Chinese inverters that pretty much no-one will touch any more.
Current Goodwe prices

2.5kW $827, 3kW $959, 5kW single phase $1179, 5kW 3 phase $1619

Sungrow, World No.1 by virtue of their dominance of the largest market for solar in the World..by far; China. We don't really like them, although it's hard to say why, and don't install too many. However, we've never had any issues with those we have put in. If you want this brand, sure, we're happy to put our name on the warranty, but we would prefer you bought the less flashy looking, but more robust, Goodwe brand.
Current Sungrow prices
3kW $992, 5kW single phase $1234, 5kW 3 phase $1949

JFY, Growatt, Aerosharp, Zeversolar, Delta, and many other cheap brands (Delta not so much), all made in China and not products we can recommend. We made the same mistakes as every other long standing solar company. Seduced by a low price we sold them, and then after a couple of years they started falling over, and 50% failure rates are not uncommon. Total nightmare and some of them have 10 year warranties !!! which means they will need to be replaced 4 or 5 times, and that costs us a lot of time and money each time. We won't sell them now, and our opinion is that you shouldn't buy them.

Most inverters come with a 5 year parts and labour warranty, with the option to purchase a further 5 years. Some brands give the extra 5 years away for free or at minimal extra cost.

Have you watched our two minute videos? (Click the blue links below)

1. How Solar Works
2. Choosing a Solar Panel

3. Solar Inverters

Inverter Technology
Whilst panels are so simple with no moving parts and almost never fail, inverters by contrast are expensive and work hard all day long and are packed with electronic components and software.

There are four different types of inverter technology.

1. String Inverters
2. Hybrid string inverters for battery storage
3. Micro Inverters
4. DC optimers and associated inverters

1. String Inverters

The most common type of inverter is a string inverter with the panels daisy chained together in series. Typically the inverters these days have the ability to have a string of up to 14 panels on one roof orientation, say North, and a totally independent array on another orientation, say West. Most will also require a minimum of 4-6 panels on each orientation (MPPT is the correct term) to provide enough voltage to start up.

The weak spot with string inverters is that if one panel in the string is shaded then all the panels in that string will be pulled down to match the reduced voltage of the shaded panel. See section 3 about micro inverters.

2. Hybrid Inverters
With solar battery storage the hot subject of the moment, Hybrid inverters from the likes of Goodwe and Fronius are seeing a lot of interest. A Hybrid inverter looks and behaves just like a string inverter, but contains extra software and components that allow it to charge batteries and release power when needed from the batteries. Typically hybrids cost at least $1500 more than a regular string inverter. We have put together a 5 minute Youtube video on battery storage, hybrid inverters, the economics of it etc at the link below, or Google 'Youtube Solar Battery Storage Perth'.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=is8O68khviA&feature=youtu.be

.

3. Micro Inverters connected to every solar panel

It costs about $100 extra per panel to have a micro inverter compared to most string inverters. The advantages of micros are fourfold compared to string inverters.
Each panel is a law unto itself so shading of one panel doesn't have any negative effect on an unshaded panel
.

You can point the panels any which way you like too, North, West, East, it makes no difference.
The DC to AC conversion is done on the roof so the maximum voltage running through the solar conduit is 240V, not potentially 600V with a string inverter.
You don't need to find space for a large box to put on the wall.

Enphase are the best micro inverter brand for handling Perth heat.

4 .DC Optimsers and associated inverter

Similar extra cost as micros, you get a 'micro' on each panel but you also get a central inverter that does the DC to AC conversion. Same advantages as micros for shade and roof orientations.

It's actually the safest (1 volt per panel open circuit), and most efficient solution with excellent WiFi  and smartphone reporting and a 25 year warranty. SolarEdge have this section of the market won hook line and sinker. Want the best of the best? This is it.

Download SolarEdge product overview
Download SolarEdge reporting software overview

 

 
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