Solar Panels and Inverters

Before you read our reviews on solar panels and inverters, it's probably best if I introduce ourselves. My name is Andrew MacKeith. I am one of three Directors (the other two being Suzanne, my wife who does 99% of our Admin and is the Principal on our electrical contractors licence, and Nathan who is our CEC accredited electrican and who does 100% of the installations in WA (and a whole lot more for other high profile solar sales companies), and who also vets our sub-contractors in other States). In the decades before solar we owned and operated a software company called PABXSoft that in its heyday had 33 very busy offices around the World and later (still going), we were the sole WA partner in Samsung Communications establishing their business phone systems and mobiles in those heady days when Nokia and Motorola were the brand names to buy (Who are they? asks half the audience). We stumbled into the infant solar industry in 2008, more as a whim than a business venture...I wanted it on my own roof and thought I could do things better than those who were quoting me at the time. We do about 200 installs a year in WA, and several times that number in other States, but for us, whilst every job has to have some profit, it's really more about people. We like the relationships with both customers and suppliers that we build over the years, because in the end, everything comes down to just you and us, appreciating, trusting and valuing, other people. So, onto the product reviews...all strictly my, Suzanne and Nathan's opinions after a combined 25 years or so in this interesting business full of rogues and cowboys and just a dash of good guys. (As Dermot, my brother -in-law in the UK said, Solar is the latest re-incarnation of double glazing...hundreds more crooks selling it than saints).

 

Solar Panels

Logic dictates that a cheap solar panel must be inferior to an expensive one, and we are happy to report that logic is entirely wrong.

With a couple of minor exceptions that we'll discuss in a moment, all panels and the cells inside are made by the same robots in huge, largely people-less factories somewhere in Asia but mostly in China, using exactly the same materials. If you install 6kW of one it will make exactly the same power as 6kW of the other, and it will keep on doing it, cells slowly and consistently degrading at a steady 0.4 to 0.5% a year so that in 25 years it will still be producing well over 80% of it's original power. You even get a manufacturer warranty guaranteeing that...from all of them. In fact the cheapest panel we stock has a 30 year warranty!!

We aren't used to products in our daily lives that have such long warranties or performing for so long without the slightest bit of maintenance except a wash down now and again, but there you have it. No moving parts, made by robots. Incredibly reliable, across the board.

oh, and they mostly all cost about $20 each or $45 if you live in Victoria or Tasmania.

That's the more expensive ones...some are free and sometimes better than free.

We know from experience that people are often horrified when we tell them that they might as well buy the cheapest panel because there really isn't any difference. All their Googling and Whirlpooling research reduced by us to, "Get whatever you like, it doesn't matter."

Customer is always right. We will supply you with whatever panel you prefer, but if you ask for our advice then...

Check out the Prices page to see what we mean....but not yet. Read on.

The brands!!

Canadian Solar and Amerisolar did indeed start in North America many years ago, both have very North American sounding names, and both are entirely Chinese run. Both make a reasonably small percentage of their panels in North America, but what we get here is all out of China. Not that we care about that. Same robots, same result, no matter where it's made.

Trina, Jinko, JA and Seraphim are also top brands and don't make any pretence in their names to be anything other than what they are...Chinese and proud of it.

Talesun and GCL are less well known brands in Australia (but still high up on the World rankings) and as a result, slightly cheaper. Big brands names command higher prices.

Longi are, and have been for many years, the World No.1 monocrystalline cell manufacturer and we like their panels. Not many others sell them, but they should. Great panel and comes in a 290W and 300W version for not much more than a regular panel.

Q.Cells. German engineered but these days, made in various parts of Asia. Quite a lot more expensive for the monocrystalline panels but a really nice looking black framed product and a great long term choice. Their very "German" designed frames may not win any efficiency awards but boast a near double than normal wind load of 4000pa meaning that in the strongest of cyclonic winds your roof might be sailing over your neighbourhood but your Q.Cells will be rigidly tolerating the inconvenience.

REC don't make mono panels, only polycrystalline and as a result are really struggling to keep up with others in the efficiency stakes. It's much easier to make a mono panel that's 300W than go through the technical hoopla that REC have done.

LG. We all know this South Korean giant. Great panels, great solar batteries. These (and Sunpower) are the slight exceptions to the rule we mentioned at the start of this page. The LG NeonR panels are genuinely a bit better in the heat, and a bit better in shade than regular panels and as a result we see them consistently making 3% and sometimes as much as 5% more power than all the others. But you certainly don't pay the huge extra price for a few kWs a year of power. You pay for the fact that you get 360W per panel instead of 275W. The investment is in roof space. You only need 18 of the panels for 6.5kW compared to 23 or 24 of a regular panel, but if you think that means they will work out cheaper, think again.

Sunpower. Very similar to LG

There are others including Solarworld and Solawatt but that's enough on panels but if you

want a in depth analysis of many of these solar panels then this comprehensive comparison might help a bit.

Inverter Summary

The quality of solar inverters today is hugely improved from a few years back. A simple relay was the undoing of a huge number of inverter brands, dragging down their wholesalers and retailers with them. What we are left with today is really very good, across all price points.

We would have no hesitation in recommending and honouring the warranty on today's lower cost inverters from Growatt, Goodwe, Zeversolar, Sungrow and Delta.

We would be happier if you bought Fronius, SolarEdge or SMA but it will cost you about $1000 more than one of the economy models.

But if you want to buy the best and not pay through the nose for it, then you should be getting a Huawei hybrid inverter.

The big solar lie

"Yes, this inverter is battery ready"

Read this page to see why it's a lie and how much it will end up costing you later on when you want to connect batteries if you fall for it.

A brief description of each of these top inverter brands

Click the blue brand name for a full review, datasheets etc

Huawei FusionHome inverters are indeed a fusion of everything that is good about rivals Fronius and SolarEdge, all combined into one small and light product.

Battery interface built-in, DC optimisers for eliminating shade issues, excellent WIFI and a 10 year warranty make this product from the World's largest solar inverter manufacturer, very hard to go past. Huawei took on Apple and Samsung in the smartphone market and have recently overtaken Apple, and they mean to do the same to solar inverter giants, Fronius and SolarEdge.

Fronius make excellent 'string inverters'. Primo range for single phase, and Symo range for three phase. All 100% European made (Austria), 10 year parts and 5 year labour warranty. Excellent reporting via inbuilt WIFI. Their AU version of Primo is one of the few that can connect parallel strings of panels without 'clipping' meaning panels can be put on up to 4 roof orientations. Their Hybrid version of the three phase Symo, coupled with their Smart meter lets you connect their own super expensive batteries, but unless you want to dive into batteries straight away we suggest you wait a while and get a retro fit battery system when the time is right,

SolarEdge is a remarkable product. An MPPT tracker (DC optimiser) connects to every solar panel allowing it to handle shade brilliantly, and the current feeds down to a central inverter that can have batteries connected, electrical Vehicle chargers, with reporting on each individual solar panel, 12 year warranty, and more. The entire system costs about $1500 more than a Fronius string inverter and to a lot of people, it's worth every cent. The single phase HDWave models coupled with a smart meter can connect batteries if the SESTI interface is added. The three phase model curently can not.

Goodwe are perhaps the surprise near the top of this list of heavyweights but it ranks highly because it is so reliable, has very detailed reporting via WIFI and the company built their name in the challenging battery inverter market. They have the most comprehensive range of Hybrid inverters, and retro fit DC and AC coupled solutions that can be used to put batteries on ANY solar installation, new or old, single or three phase.

SMA Just a few years ago, Fronius were a bit of a joke selling very ordinary single tracking inverters and trying to compete with mighty German SMA, who were asked for by everyone. Now, we all carry the brand on our price list, but not many people promote them. It's all Fronius (and soon to be, mark our words, Huawei). Moving manufacturing to China really damaged the SMA brand. The major point of SMA was its German manufacturing. If you want to buy a Chinese made inverter then bring the price down to match Goodwe, Sungrow, Delta Growatt etc, but they persist with a Fronius level price. However, they did finally cotton on to the fact that Fronius had a 10 year product warranty and in late 2017 started offering that too. No LCD screen either. Pfft. The 3 phase TriPower, whilst lacking WIFI, is still made in Germany.

Enphase make an excellent micro inverter, similar in function and price to SolarEdge except there is no central inverter. The conversion from DC to AC happens on the roof with each micro attached to each solar panel. Good reporting via WIFI through a small control unit (called Envoy). We stopped doing Enphase a year or two ago for reasons we won't put here.

Delta

If it were not for the lack of WIFI at all on their single phase inverters, we would be happy to promote Delta inverters. They have a 5kW hybrid that does include WIFI.

Sungrow
Another Chinese giant with a range of single and three phase inverters, plus some Hybrids.

Priced almost exactly the same as Goodwe, there is little to pick between the two. We prefer Goodwe because it has an LCD screen built in plus WIFI included, and their Hybrid range and AC and DC coupled solutions are more flexible, but really, that's just us nit-picking.

Growatt

The cheapest inverter in all categories and a good choice if on a tight budget or likely to move house in less than 5 years time.

Zeversolar

German SMA bought a struggling Chinese inverter manufacturer (Eversolar), re-engineered the product and it's now pretty good at the low end. It's not an SMA inside so don't think you are getting SMA simply because SMA own the company. Incredibly expensive to add WIFI to this product, where normally it's either included free or $20 and no 3 phase solutions make this a brand we will supply if you ask for it, but we won't recommend it.

 

 

 
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