Solar panels, inverters and batteries

Solar panels

It seems like only yesterday that 275W panels were the norm and a 315W panel was pretty exciting. Now 330W is the new normal and the reason for this leap in efficiency is that all the major players have upgraded to Monocrystalline Half-Cell technology. The table below is a good example of how level the playing field is (technically) now.

 

     Jinko Cheetah HC        Q.Cells Duo +             LG NeON 2
Output
330W
330W 330W
Efficiency 19.56%
19.6%
19.26%
Price
$200
$260
$350
Cells
120 Half-Cell Mono (P)
120 Half-Cell Mono (P)
60 Cell Mono (N)
Heat Loss - 0.36% per °C - 0.37% per °C - 0.36% per °C
Wind Load
2400 Pa
4000 Pa
5400 Pa
Warranty*
12 years
25 years
25 years
Cell Warranty*
 -16.9% (25 years)
 -15% (25 years)
 -9.92% (25 years)
*Labour Inc
No
Yes
Yes
Designed/Made
China/China
Germany/S.Korea
S.Korea/S.Korea
Australian Office
Yes
Yes
Yes

 

What does it all mean?

We have created a 7 minute video that explains the above chart as well as going through defect rates on solar panels, pricing, rebates and more. Click here to watch it.

 

The more efficient a panel is, the fewer you need on your roof. For the typical 6.6kW system that means 20 panels. It also means less install time, and less rail and roof fixings. All of the above panels are 330W, they are almost identically sized, they perform as well as each other through the day as the temperature rises. They all have a long history in Australia with local office/warehouse/support, but as you can clearly see, if you pay the really big bucks (LG) then you can get a stellar warranty.

 

Leapton have a 330W panel that's $25 less than the Jinko above which works out as $500 less for a 6.6kW system, 20 x Risen's 330W is $200 less than Jinko, TW Solar just released a 19.7% efficient 350W shingled mono using the new shingle design for the exact same cost as 6.6kW of the Jinkos. Canadian are in the process of upgrading their range without a lot of exciting news so far, Longi have some new high efficiency 350W panels coming. REC seem to be sticking with 315W for both their TwinPeak2 and NPeaks for now.

 

Half-cell technology
It's nothing new, the technology has been around for ages. Canadian introduced it first in Australia, but it was REC who really picked up the ball and ran with it building their reputation on the famous TwinPeak and now NPeak half cell models. By splitting the cells in half and running them in six strings not the usual three, these half-cell panels not only deliver better output in the heat but they also handle shade better too. By all accounts panel hotspots are virtually eliminated too, which is a very good thing for the long term performance of the panels. Now everyone is doing half cells.

 

Panel warranties
If you buy a REC, LG, SunPower and now Q.Cells + panel, they give you a 25 year warranty but in reality, that's not as amazingly generous as you might imagine. SunPower claim only 27 out of a million or one in 37,000 fail. What we are seeing from our own installed base of all sorts of different brands and models are some minor defects on the oldest panels (mostly snail trails that don't seem to have any effect at all on output), but it is rare. For us, 1 in 10,000 failure rates seems more normal. We only replace one or two panels a year, and as far as we can see, across the board, the quality of the new panels is much better than the ones made a few years ago. More robots doing the work, less slave labour.

 

Australian office, warehouse, support

Seeing as WE, the retailer, are 100% on the hook for the future warranty and consumer guarantees, it is our preference to sell brands that have an Australian office and warehouse. Not a VOIP telephone answering service that sometimes works and routes calls to China, we mean a proper office and warehouse and support. That's why, despite the very tempting carrot of substantially lower prices, we still prefer to deal with the big brands that are phycially here in Australia and have been for years and most likely will be for years to come. If we go out of business in years to come (One Powerball...) then you'll appreciate the fact you bought a brand that is locally supported too.

 

Top brands like Jinko, Canadian Solar, Q.Cells, LG, REC and Trina have genuine Australian offices..

 



Solar Inverters

Fronius, Fronius, Fronius. No one ever got sacked for buying Fronius (a nod to those of us old enough to remember 'No-one ever got sacked for buying IBM computers'). Everyone asks for Fronius 'because they read online it's a good brand'. Fronius is a good brand, but it's very over-priced, very old technology and not even remotely close to being the best solar inverter available today. Two or three years ago, yes, sure, nothing better.

 

 

Talking of more up to date rivals...

Huawei, World No.1 inverter manufacturer (22% World share compared to less than 3% for Fronius), Intersolar 2019 'Best Inverter' winner for their SUN2000 three phase range. Very latest tech.

 

The single phase SUN2000L range (2-5kW options) is a hybrid inverter, literally plug and play ready for LG batteries, supports its own DC panel optimisers with panel level reporting (none of which the Fronius can do). It's half the size and weight of Fronius, passively cooled (no fan and silent) has the same warranty as Fronius (which can be extended to 20 years), even better WIFI, reporting and programming options and is hundreds of dollars cheaper than Fronius.

 

The three phase Huawei SUN2000 M0 range won Intersolar 2019, 'Best Inverter' supports Huawei optimisers and panel level reporting, passive cooling but unlike the single phase version, it is a bit larger, heavier (17kg compared to 10.6kg for the single phase version) and the 5kW model is a hybrid inverter that hasn't got a battery yet. They are still working on integration with LG (and possibly others) and decided to release the inverter now, rather than wait any longer for the batteries. We're rather pleased with that sensible decision, because lots of people in WA are buying hybrid inverters, but almost no-one is actually hooking up a battery so waiting until 2020 for a battery to be approved for use is neither here nor there.

 

What about the cheap inverters?

If Fronius represent European made security, and Huawei represent the best technology and design, then what about the inverters that are $1,000 cheaper than Fronius and $600 less than Huawei? Do you get what you pay for, or as some might say, get what you deserve?
Brands like Solis, Goodwe, Growatt, Sungrow, Zeversolar, KStar, ABB

 

We've been installing the Growatt brand since early 2011. We're still installing lots of them and the reason is simple. There is not a darn thing wrong with them. We have countless Growatt inverters on Perth walls operating just fine long after their original 5 year warranties expired. So that's a 'cheapie' we are perfectly comfortable putting our necks on the chopping board for (by that we mean warranty obligations). On the rare occasion that we have had a warranty fault, Growatt Australian support has been superb, dispatching a replacement within 48 hours. They have a single phase hybrid model and what looks like an amazingly cheap Lithium 6kW battery coming soon, so we'll be testing that out for sure when it gets here.

Growatt warranty is now 10 years parts, 5 years labour.

 

Goodwe is another of the cheaper brands. We only picked Goodwe up about 2016 but so far, so good. Really impressive range of battery inverters (not just hybrids, but also DC-DC converters, AC coupled and more).
We're beginning to move more towards Sungrow now than Goodwe. The difference is minor, but we see better support and wider distribution with Sungrow.

 

Sungrow, another brand with a very good reputation and an impressive range of products and some really flexible options with their hybrid inverters. Very good Australian based support.

 

Zeversolar. Never sold a single one thankfully. SMA dropped the brand recently. Never saw a single valid reason to sell this brand as it was ordinary on every level, but when German SMA owned them it gave some sales reps the license to run around claiming it was a 'German' inverter when in reality it was 100% Chinese but with a German shareholder.


ABB (Swiss giant) have sold off their inverter business to an Italian inverter company. Huge deals going on right now with ABB as wholesalers quit stocks. Not sure if that's the end entirely for ABB or whether the brand will come back under the new Italian company name.

 

Solis and KStar. Probably fine, but never installed one. With known reliability and support from Growatt, Goodwe, Sungrow, and nothing special feature or price wise for these two brands, its unlikely we ever will put one in, unlessa wholesaler starts giving them away for free when you buy a few pallets of panels (which, dear reader, sometimes happens in this strange industry).

 

Other inverter brands

SMA, Enphase, SolarEdge.

We don't do too many of these, but they all have their place in the general scheme of things.

 

SMA for those who want a German designed, and shortly, new stocks will be fully German made too, after  what was a pretty disastrous foray into trying to save money by making them in China.


Enphase for people who don't want high voltage DC running through their roof. Micro inverters under every panel convert DC to AC right there on the roof, so it's the normal 240V AC cable in the roof, not up to 600V of DC. Micros also do the same shade busting job that 'Optimisers' do with other brands. We stopped doing Enphase a few years ago for reasons we won't put in writing here.

 

SolarEdge for those who go to an installer that doesn't install Huawei.

Sorry, couldn't resist that 'Pepsi, when they don't have Coke' type line.

Seriously though, it's a good product but, on every single level, we see advantages with Huawei.

 

Huawei let you put optimisers where you want them, SolarEdge require one on every panel whether you need them or not., Huawei is silent, SolarEdge has fans. Huawei is an out of the box hybrid, SolarEdge, or at least their new HD range isn't, and requires an expensive add-on box (SESTI). SolarEdge doesn't allow short string lengths because it operates at a fixed voltage and requires quite a few panels to achieve that voltage.

SolarEdge optimisers have not been all that reliable, Huawei optimisers have a 25 year warranty and have been faultless. So, if you come knocking asking for a quote on SolarEdge we will happily provide you with one and at the same time give you a quote for Huawei to compare.

 

 

Full reviews on panels and inverters

 

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

 

Panel manufacturers

 

Canadian Solar have the largest available range of panels with a variety of straight poly panels, straight mono panels, half cell polys, half cell monos, bifacial...you name it, and all supplied and supported by the local Canadian Solar Australia team.

Trina, Jinko, along with Canadian are 'the big three' Chinese brands with annual sales over $3 billion each, they top the Tier 1 list.

Talesun, ET and GCL and Seraphim are slightly further down the Tier 1 list but still giants in the industry. Smaller available range in Australia than from 'the big three', but what we do get from them has proven to be very good quality, and usually priced a little lower too.

Longi are, and have been for many years, the World No.1 monocrystalline cell manufacturer and we like their panels. Not too many others sell them, but they should. They have a well-priced really looking nice fully black panel, 300W mono. Black cells, black frame, black backing sheet.

TW Solar, like Longi are best known as a cell and wafer manufacturer but they also have a 350W shingled mono panel with 19.72% efficiency. Very impressive indeed considering how reasonable the price is.

 

Q.Cells. The half-cell Q.Peak Duo mono panel won the 2018 'Best panel' award at Intersolar in Munich (biggest solar expo) and the year before they won with their innovative steel frame (everything else is aluminium), so it's clear the R&D and engineering in Germany for Q.Cells is as strong as ever. Well supported by their Australian office, this brand is always more expensive than the Chinese, but it's top quality. To back up that quality, Q.Cells new Duo+ range, due November will have a 25 year defect warranty.


REC panels are made in Singapore and are a good quality brand. They were early adopters of half cell technology with their Twin Peak polycrystalline range and we are now seeing REC half cell monos coming out as well. 25 year defect warranty just introduced. Awesome.

 

LG and Sunpower. Small range of top quality mono panels at significantly higher prices than average, but with 25 year warranties.

 

 

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. Huawei are already World No.1 inverter manufacturer by revenue (20% of World market) and the new residential single phase and three phase hybrids are only going to increase their lead.

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.

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. A Hybrid version of Primo is expected before the end of 2019. Fronius have 4% of the Worldwide inverter revenue.

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. SolarEdge have 8% of the worldwide inverter revenue, and are particularly successful in the USA.

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 German company that still makes their smallest inverters in Germany (1.5kW and 2.5kW) but the rest are made in China...but hopefully not for much longer as SMA are moving back over the next few years to fully German manufacturing. We hear the move to China saves $80 an inverter compared to making it in Germany, but in Australia, the brand name, so popular for such a long time for being German not Chinese made, was seriously damaged by the move. Nice AC Coupled battery inverter (SMA Sunny Boy Storage) that can be added to any solar install new or existing. No matter where the inverters are made, this is a top quality product range to put on the shopping list alongside Fronius, Huawei,and SolarEdge. SMA are second behind Huawei with 13% of the worldwide inverter revenue.

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 three years ago for reasons we won't put here.

Delta

Good inverters priced a few hundred more than most other Chinese brands because they provide a full 10 year parts AND labour warranty. Now they have WIFI (finally), they are a good choice.

Sungrow
Solid range of single and three phase inverters plus a nice single phase hybrid that works with any low voltage (48V) lithium or lead acid battery. Good to see the new Sungrows have re-introduced the LCD screen on the inverter. WIFI works very well and their 18 strong office in Sydney (since 2012) provides excellent support (Telephone 1800 786 746). Sungrow have 10% of the Australian inverter market and 11% globally so certainly a very strong brand.

 

Growatt

Long history in Australia (2010) and 200,000 installed here. Well priced, 10 year warranty, WIFI included. Great support. Definitely worth considering.

Zeversolar

German SMA bought a large share of this company as a way to get into the Chinese market, but apparently things have not gone well financially for SMA with this deal and they are selling it off and moving out of China. Zeversolar will probably carry on but without SMA's money and technical expertise, it's a worry.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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