Solar Panels and Inverters


Solar Panels

The top 30 brands in the World are referred to as Tier 1 products, so if you are offered any of the following solar panels, you are getting one of the biggest and best.

Q.Cells, Canadian, LG, Jinko, Trina, Longi, Sunpower, REC, Risen, Winaico, Talesun, BYD, Eging, ET, HT-SAAE, JA and Seraphim. There are reviews on most of them further down this page.

Some solar panels ARE better than others.

Firstly, let's first state our credentials.
In 2011, we got a new name (Solar4Ever) and starting installing fairly serious amounts of solar. Prior to that, it was, to put it bluntly, pretty quiet !

So, from 2011, with thousands of systems going in, we hit on the totally novel idea of providing after-sales service. We asked every customer to email their solar production figures (inverter reading) to us every three months and we sent them back a report showing how well their system was going. We are still doing it. Ask around, check our reviews on Solarquotes and Product Review...our clients love it and yet, no other solar company can be bothered to do it. Having WIFI reporting these days is all well and good, but how do you know what your system should be producing monthly, annually etc? That's our point of difference.

We have also installed 3 different solar panel test sites with panel level monitoring on each panel (thank you SolarEdge).

We compared the output of a dozen different panels on each roof over a period of 2 years for each site. No point running the tests for any longer because after two years the panels, and sometimes the brands themselves, being compared simply aren't available for sale any more.

So anyway...we have an ever-growing database for every type of panel and inverter we've installed since 2011.

The results are as follows (to date)
82% of the solar panels we installed were polycrystalline
18% were monocrystalline
The mono panels out-perform the polys by an average of 1.4% per annum
We have had an annual failure rate of slightly less than 1 in 10,000 across all panels.
Q.Cells, Canadian Solar, and ET Solar panels have had the fewest failures (zero)
The worst panel brand was GY (9 failures...4 hotspots, 3 failed under load, 2 cracked glass)

New developments in solar panels

Efficiency is the name of the game for panel manufacturers.
A standard 60 cell 'poly' panel these days is 275/280W with a max of 290W before over-heating.
A standard 60 cell 'mono' panel starts at 300W with 360W+ available at a price.
They are the same physical size, but the mono is more 'space efficient.'
Now there are relatively new 'split cell' panels...
They take a standard 60 cell panel, split all those cells in half and you have a 120 cells.
Then wire them up so there are 6 strings of 20 cells in each panel.
You now have a panel that performs a little better if it gets some partial shade.
You also have a panel that handles the heat a little better.

In other words, you now have a poly panel that performs as well as a mono.
Canadian Solar and REC are breaking ground with split-celled poly panels and others will surely follow soon. Even better, Canadian and REC have 330W split cell Mono panelis in the pieline.

I could now go into detail about all the other panel features like PERC, dual glass, Anti PID (that's an old one now but was all the rage two years ago)...etc but it is all entirely pointless and food for snake oil salesmen, and we have great stuff about inverters further down the page, so no, go to SolarQuotes if you want to learn about that stuff.

Which should you buy?

All of the above has been talking about getting an extra 1 or 2% more power
That's actually a really silly, small amount of power when you put a value on it.
A typical system with a 5kW inverter and 6.6kW of panels, in Perth, on an unshaded North roof makes an average of 31 units (kWh) of power a day.
An extra 2% is 0.62 of a unit a day, worth 4.4 cents. Woo hoo !!
Some people say the extra 2% is worth 16 cents a day
I am not going to bore you with why I think they are unlikely to be correct, but the clue is almost no-one uses 31 units of power in daylight hours so the 'extra' is going to be exported.

No, seriously, I believe you..which panel should I buy?

That's the point. Any of them will serve you just fine.
6+kW of a perfectly good standard Tier 1 panel from ET, Talesun etc will only cost you $250 after rebate. For an extra $360, you can get the exact same, but from one of the leading brand names.. Canadian, Jinko, or Trina. For another $120 you can get 6+kW of the excellent Canadian Solar Kupower split cell panels. Add on another $250 and you can get the REC equivalent of the Canadian Kupower (Twin Peak 2). For the same money as the KuPower you can get world famous German designed Q.Cells or the first of the Mono panels.

In other words, when you consider that ANY of these panels have a better than 99% chance of still working in 30 years time, paying a little extra now, and it really isn't much in the scheme of things, isn't a bad idea. However, going back to the 4 cents a day thing...it's not essential.


 

Australian Office is good...right?
A lot of people put great stock in the fact that the manufacturer has an Australian office, but when you check out the address it is often no more than a serviced office in a city tower block in Sydney or Melbourne where they can have their phone calls re-directed to their staff in China (or Singapore or wherever). The reality is that all of the named brands are huge Worldwide brands and in the event that your retailer goes bust, they will get you warranty support from someone else.

 

The panel brands!!

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

 

Canadian Solar did indeed start in North America many years ago, but are entirely Chinese run. They still 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 kWhs a year of power. You pay for the fact that you get 360W per panel instead of 275W and an awesome warranty, but really, the investment is in roof space. You only need 18 of these 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. LG may have started life flogging cheap TVs and fridges to the World, but they are top of the tree now.

Sunpower. Very similar ultra- premium product to LG but having lost their French petroleum company (Total) owners a small fortune over the years, it is probably a bit wiser to go for LG. Mind you, rumour has it that the solar panel division of LG has never positively contributed to the company bottom line either.

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, and in the long run, so will you, if you bought Fronius, Huawei, SolarEdge or SMA but it will cost you about $700 to $1200 more than one of the economy models.

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. It's a brand spanking new product line to Huawei's long proven and World No.1 commercial inverter range.

Battery interface built-in, DC optimisers for eliminating shade issues with panel level reporting, excellent WIFI and a 10 year warranty make this product very hard to go past. Huawei are 83rd on the World Fortune 500 list with sales of US$75 billion last year.
You won't find much internet chat in Australia about this product yet, too new, and many solar companies like to stick to what they know (Fronius), but we saw it in early 2017 at a trade show and KNEW it was the best there has been for many years.

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. Truth be told, despite our rather large stock holding of Fronius to circumvent their frequent "out of stocks", they are looking very dated now compared to what Huawei are offering. If you really want Fronius, especially Primo, then let us know and we'll give it to you at or below our cost. We have rather a lot, each owing us $1600+, to clear.

SolarEdge. Every solar panel has a SolarEdge power optimiser attached and in so doing, at great expense, allows every panel to operate as a law unto itself. Shading, roof orientations mean nothing to the flexibility of SolarEdge. However, a very confusing array of products, best explained by clicking on the blue SolarEdge link means that many end up with (not from us, of course) something other than what they thought they were buying.

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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