Solar Panels and Inverters

February 27th 2017

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

                                                                                

Brand
Description
Tier 1
Rank

            % Gain

12/2/2014 though to 27/2/ 2017

Q.Cells
German engineering
Yes
1st
+13.67%
Canadian
One of the world's largest
Yes
2nd
+12.89%
ET
Proven long term performer
Yes
3rd
+12.84%
         
New on roof Dec 2016
Yes
4th
+11.73%
Renesola
Huge Chinese firm
Yes
5th
+10.01%
No longer available to sell
Yes
6th
+ 10.00%
REC
Singaporean made
Yes
7th
+9.24%
New on roof Dec 2016
Yes
8th
+ 9.21%
Trina
New on roof Dec 2016
Yes
9th
+9.20%
Jinko
Was 6th before Summer
Yes
10th
+7.75%
GY Group
Tier 2 panel - Benchmark
No
11th
+0.00%

 

So, is one panel much better than any other?

Much better ?...no. All the Tier 1 panel brands are extremely well made, with top quality solar cells and whilst a 5% difference in performance from top to bottom of the Tier 1 brands might seem a lot, in reality it's only a difference of about $100 a year of electricity for a typical 5kW installation.

What about the non Tier 1 brands? Eurosolar for instance sell their own panel (Universal Solar Panel) and other non Tier 1 brands like Infinite New Energy and Infinity are sold across Australia. Are they any good?
We have never tested them, but the likelihood is that they are just fine. The Tier 2 panel we tested (GY) on our roof makes about 12% less power than Q.Cells, worth about $200 a year for a 5kW system, and cost (at the time, back in 2014) about $80 per panel less; a saving then, of about $1600 on 5kW of panels. These days the difference in price between a Tier 1 and a no name brand is very small, a few dollars per panel, and most solar companies, us included, don't see any upside in stocking them anymore.

The biggest concern is long term. Tier 1 companies are rated by Bloomberg according to their size, history, financial strength and long term viability ...the report and list is a tool designed to assist investors in large scale commercial solar projects around the World. Take Eurosolar and their own brand USP panel. What happens to the customer warranty if USP, EuroSolar, or both, close their doors? All eggs in one very small basket.

A quick word about these top 4 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 slightly cheaper 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. You may not see why from a spec sheet, but when you see them up close, its obvious how well made they are. You don't get double the standard wind loading capability with a regular frame. Brochure

ET Solar. ET were an early arrival in Australia (2008) compared to most, and we, and many other Australian solar companies, have been fans for many years. Established in 2005, they became Tier 1 listed by Bloomberg in 2012 and now have 3,000 employees, and annual sales over AUD$1 billion. We've installed many many thousands of ET panels over the years, and never had a single faulty panel. 100% of ET panels we install are guaranteed to be manufactured in their own factory. That's unique and ensures the highest quality control as almost everyone else sub-contracts out their manufacturing to smaller firms to keep up with demand. 20% better defect warranty (12 years) than most. Their Mono panel range is no longer available (which is just as well, as it wasn't nearly as good as their Polys and drew a few harsh internet reviews a few years ago). Top quality, proven performer. Brochure

Canadian Solar. Another really well made, high performance panel from a massive Tier 1 manufacturer. We aren't 100% comfortable with their corporate marketing which shows a 'Headquarters' in Canada and makes almost no mention of the fact that less than 10% of their manufacturing comes out of Canada, and none of that comes to Australia. It's all from China. Nothing wrong with China at all, just a bit more transparency would suit us. Having said that, we love their panels and the company is very solid.
Brochure

GCL. Established in 1990, GCL have been around longer than anyone in the solar cell manufacturing business and their in-house panel manufacturing capacity puts them second out of the thirty brands on the Bloomberg Tier 1 list. Our own installations of GCL have shown that the panel is very well made, and the output is excellent, although it's still early days as GCL were very late arrivals (2015) to Australia with their panels.

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

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. Forget everything you ever knew about German SMA, because the new range of Sunny Boys are MADE IN CHINA. They have also removed the awesome LCD screen, so now the only way to see your data is via WIFI/Smartphone which rules out large swathes of the 'elderly market'. Coupled with some fairly dreadful service/repairs it would seem that SMA are throwing in the towel and handing their business to Fronius (below).
See table at the bottom of our Prices page for current SMA inverter prices.

Click this link for SMA inverter review

Fronius, made in Austria. The best 3 phase residential inverter, even better than SMA. Their single phase Primo range is also top quality. The Australian version of the 5kW Primo is rated at 4.6kW, allowing a maximum of 23 x 265W (6.095kW) of panels. We also stock the International version of Primo 5kW which can have an extra 2 x 265W panels connected.
Warranty on both is the same (currently 10 years parts, 5 years labour). WIFI included free with data viewable on a web browser or smartphone app.
See table at the bottom of our Prices page for current Fronius inverter prices.

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, Now the only Chinese made inverters we will put our name and reputation 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.

Click here for a full review on Goodwe inverters
See table at the bottom of our Prices page for current Goodwe inverter prices.

Sungrow, We've made the decision for 2017 to stop offering Sungrow. They got to be World No.1 in 2016 by virtue of the fact that they are the largest in China, and China installs more solar every year than the whole of the rest of the World put together.. and then some.
We just don't think they are built well enough to stand the test of time. Goodwe are the same price, and MUCH better built.

SolarEdge make a quite remarkable product. A DC optimiser plugs into the back of every panel and then runs back to a central single or three phase inverter. This solution allows panels to be placed on any roof orientation and gets around the issue of partial shading that string inverters (above) can suffer from. Excellent WIFI reporting too right down to individual panel level. The only bad thing is the price. See our prices page

Click here for a full review on SolarEdge inverters

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.

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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