Key Issues With Low cost Solar Techniques (With One Necessary Warning For 2021!)
An important warning about the problems that will arise with cheap solar systems in 2021
The solar industry is currently in a price war. Due to all of the happenings in the world, we see a number of solar installers offering cheap solar systems and lowering their prices to do business.
You'd think this would be a good thing, but it's going to be an absolute disaster.
There are two main types of "cheap solar systems" offered:
- The best brands (like LG Solar, Enphase etc) are discounted by $ 1000 or more compared to the industry average
- The cheapest brands that are sold (usually a "6.6 kW system with Tier 1 panels") cost less than $ 4,000 – what we call "cheap solar".
1. The hidden crisis: Cheap solar quotations on quality systems
The solar industry is currently plagued by seedy operators who leave their customers with faulty systems that cost thousands of dollars to repair.
When we talk about faulty systems, we are not talking about a solar panel that has a slight underperformance. It's a lot worse than most people would imagine.
Right now we're getting dozens of calls every week from people desperately looking for help to fix their system. The bad news in most of these cases is that the money it costs to fix a dodgy installation is typically thousands of dollars more than the money they saved from the cheapest deal.
Here is a recent example from July 2020:
"I chose one of these systems this year:
1. You stole the "free" panels
2. After the installer presented me with a plan (requested because during the product evaluation I discovered that they had sold systems that did not fit), they knew nothing about the plan and just did the job off the shelf.
3. It didn't work when they left
4. The plumber was just throwing the "dongle" into the garden when it disappeared
5. I was yelled at by the shop assistants when I very calmly and politely instructed that I would not pay for a system that could not be installed, for plans that were wrong, and I wanted it to be addressed. "
John S. Mount Kembla
Installers hide behind branded products
Shady installers hide behind big brand names like LG Solar. They'll cut the price by over $ 1000 from the industry average, but then claim the money back by cutting back on them. Examples of cost reductions are outsourcing the installation to inexperienced subcontractors and running out of support after installation.
We are regularly asked by the larger manufacturers to help with service work where the customer has tried to get help directly from the manufacturer.
We have heard of multiple accounts from people calling us looking for help where these plumbers run their business on a cellphone so they can block calls from disgruntled customers.
This will avoid a dubious installation
Unfortunately, although the pressure is growing for KEK to clean up these seedy players in the solar industry, it is unfortunately for the time being to be careful with the buyer.
The good news is that finding a reputable plumber has never been easier. Manufacturers work with the best installers in the industry and award the best of the best with awards.
Solaray Energy is one of the few installers who are Platinum LG Solar Authorized Energy Specialists and your exclusive Platinum Enphase Installer. We were recently named the best installer in the country by both Enphase and LG Solar:
It takes a little while to find the best installers of the products you want on your roof. However, doing your due diligence can save you thousands of dollars, not to mention the time and stress of dealing with a plumber who doesn't help you if something goes wrong.
2. The “cheap solar catastrophe”: Every fourth solar system is faulty
The solar market in Australia is flooded with "cheap solar energy" again. 5kW-6.6kW solar systems sell for less than $ 4,000. This makes it difficult to decide on the best solar panels for your home and how much you need to spend on a high quality system that will perform as expected.
The largest solar installer in Australia in 2017 was known for selling cheap solar systems and it was no surprise to us when these recently went into liquidation. They have joined nearly 1000 installers who have left the industry in the past few years. As many industry insiders say, the guarantees that come with these systems are not worth the paper they are written on.
The strange thing is that most of the people know all about the dangers of buying a cheap solar system. The entire industry is often treated badly because of the reliability issues with these systems. From defective components to dubious installations to non-existent services. There are thousands of horror stories posted online and we get dozens of calls every week from people trying to get their system back online after people gave up on getting help from their original installer.
We are not exaggerating the importance of avoiding a cheaper system. The Clean Energy Council recently noted that an incredible 1: 5 system they inspected in 2017 was dubious – they failed the inspection. You can read more about this here: 1 out of 4 solar systems is faulty.
Here are some recent examples of what is being advertised online:
If you were to buy a new TV, you would go to the store knowing that the cheapest model in the store is unlikely to be the best value for money. It would be too small, of poor quality, and deep down you know the chances of the thing breaking within a year or two are higher.
But what if you mounted the TV on your roof? If the weather is nice, bake hot in summer and be exposed to strong winds at least a few times a year. It has to work perfectly for over 100,000 hours over 25 years.
In addition, a team of skilled installers will have to spend all day on your roof installing a mounting kit, laying high voltage cables, and performing an electrical job. It's also nice when they clean up after themselves.
Everyone understands the main reasons why the price of televisions varies so much and yet so many of us go looking for the cheapest deal we can find when it comes to solar power. Every day I hear people say, "Yes, you have good reviews, your system sounds great (etc), but I have a quote here for the same system that is $ 1,500 cheaper …"
IT'S NOT THE SAME SYSTEM !!!
If a 60-inch LG TV with the latest technology is $ 10,000 and another no-name brand 60-inch TV is $ 3,000, few would claim it was the same TV just because they are the same size. Of course, the whole problem with choosing a solar power system is that solar is an entirely new industry for most people.
You can buy one now top quality Solar system and get your money back in 3 to 5 years. Plus, you can save up to $ 50,000 in electricity bills over the life of a 5 kW system.
A warning of cheap solar systems in Sydney
It's great to see the risks of cheap solar power getting more prominent in the media in 2019. A clear reminder from the 7:30 a.m. report was published in March 2019 about the dangers of cheap solar power systems. Disappointing outcome, bad system design and an inverter that had to be replaced 3 times!
"Do your homework before installing solar." Over 700 solar installers have ceased business since 2011 and created an estimated 650,000 solar orphans – many households now have worthless guarantees:
The cheapest offer for solar energy is rarely the best value
First, let me explain why I co-founded Solaray with Peter Thorne. We did this because we believed that what was needed was a company that would deliver quality, reliability and honesty in all aspects of dealing with customers, suppliers and employees.
We looked around the industry and found that there have been many, many instances where customers have made unrealistic promises, have been overpaid or supplied with poor product or service, and often left with no after-sales service.
So, one of our main goals in starting Solaray was to set a standard for the industry – a standard where customers know they are getting the right advice for their own situation, that they are getting what was promised and in In the event of a problem, the company and its team will deal with it to the best of their ability.
This means that we are not selling “cheap solar energy”. If you are looking for cheap solar energy you won't find a listing for Solaray just because we are unable to offer a quality solar system at the prices advertised on the lower end of the market.
So if you want a 5kW system for less than $ 5,000, you will find one. But after reading this article, hopefully you will find that $ 5,000 is a tremendous amount of money to pay for the risks involved. Don't partake in the dozen of calls we receive every week asking for help on a system that is around 4 to 5 years old and has stopped working. And of course the original installer won't answer your calls or go out of business.
Solar energy is an investment
A high-quality solar power system is designed for a service life of 25 years and beyond. A product guarantee of 25 years now applies to the better solar modules such as LG Solar NeON 2 modules. Installation to the highest standards requires little to no maintenance (although some inverters may need to be replaced in about 10 or 15 years), so you can passively reduce your electricity bills for decades until you save about $ 50,000 can save your electricity bills over 25 years on a 5 kW system.
When buying cheap brands there are two important things that we keep seeing. Either the exit is not what it should be, or the components simply break and need to be replaced. It's rare for a cheap system to show signs of problems in the first year or two (at which point you've given a glowing rating of your system's performance), but it's around the 4 year mark (just then, if it's you) getting your money back) that things go wrong. But unlike a TV, you can't just throw away a solar system and buy a new one.
One of the main problems with cheap inverters is that they die and cannot be fixed. The inverter converts direct current into alternating current and is the functioning part of the system. Cheap solar systems typically use inverters from China, which cost less than $ 500. I often joke that you should buy a replacement product with such a system because at some point you will need it. If you want your inverter to be replaced with a good quality product, you will have to pay at least $ 2,000 or more to get your system back online.
Solaray only sells inverters from the top handful of manufacturers. These include ABB, SMA, Fronius, SolarEdge and Enphase. They have top-notch efficiency ratings, near-perfect reliability, and lightning-fast service when needed. It's unbelievable the difference it makes when the manufacturer's service department answers the phone after a few rings, processes a claim and sends out a replacement immediately. In the unlikely event that your solar system needs maintenance, time is money as your system is shut down until it is repaired. I think one of the brightest testimonials I have ever seen was when we replaced an inverter within a few days, all free for the customer and all under warranty. Do an online solar warranty claim search to see how many nightmare stories there are across Australia about people trying to fix cheap solar systems. What can you do when nobody answers the phone?
Cheap solar panels are pumped out of China at a dozen cents. They are often renamed with a slick logo or simply shipped to countries like Australia and sold unbranded! Have you ever seen a quote saying “20 x 250 W solar panels”? I see it all the time. It is literally a no-name product!
In spite of the marketing claim of a full 25-year guarantee on the output power, inexpensive solar modules often have no guarantee. Often there is a phone number that no one answers or contact details for an office in China where no one speaks English. If it was not brought into Australia through an official dealer, the warranty will be void if the manufacturer goes bankrupt (or simply changes its name).
For the warranty to be of any value, the product must be shipped through official distributors and the manufacturer must have an office in Australia. The company must also be in a strong financial position and be listed on a western stock exchange. Because of this, I insist that Solaray only supply the top handful of manufacturers, and we have a rigorous review process before we introduce a new brand for our technical team to begin testing. If they give the all-clear, we'll consider shipping it alongside the big brands like Trina Solar, Q Cells and LG Solar.
There used to be hundreds of record makers, and it was a minefield for customers to choose. The industry has matured to the point that the top 6 panel manufacturers have a market share of almost 50%. It's so easy now to pick a reliable brand with full support as long as you don't get sucked into the cheaper end of the market.
Problems with the panels
As I drive around Sydney I see more and more brown solar panels. This is due to a chemical reaction in the panels that can affect their performance, not to mention making them look terrible. The fact that I have seen them sit there for months makes me think that they are not going to be replaced under warranty.
Hotspots are another problem with cheap solar panels that completely destroy the module. Hot spots can be caused by something as common as bird droppings. Good quality panels have the appropriate technology to ensure that hotspots are prevented using bypass diodes. Even if a warranty is successfully claimed, it is important to note that if a panel is damaged (unless you have an Enphase system) your entire system is off, and some cheaper manufacturers can take months to process claims last.
DC isolators are something most people don't know about even after installing a solar panel. And yet, cheap DC insulators cause all kinds of problems, including fire. If you buy the cheapest solar system you can find, there is a higher chance that the installer will degrade the quality of the electrical components. High quality DC isolators are about five times more expensive than the cheap ones. That is why we only use the best models available. Even better – an Enphase system has no high voltage direct current at all, as the conversion to alternating current occurs under the panel. It's safer, it doesn't mean DC isolators and therefore no chance of this happening:
Avoid the Cowboys: It's incredibly easy to get $ 500 out of one install
Now we come to the murky side of the solar industry, where companies rely on the brand names of the products they install to deprive the installation service of quality to cut costs and win your business.
I just mentioned the risk of cheap DC isolators, but the list goes on. Installers selling cheap solar systems often auction an order to the cheapest team of installers willing to take the order. Do you have to say that the cheapest plumbers in the industry have a reputation for poor quality jobs?
Will they go out of their way to help you if something goes wrong?
Did you know that a number of companies that sell cheap systems give the installation warranty to the contracted installer in their terms and conditions?
Good luck trying to get them back to your home if they damage your roof!
Solaray has industry leading installation standards and we don't cut corners. The installation of a solar system is a service: there are good and bad installations. Our reputation as the best solar installer in Australia (based on industry and customer feedback) is primarily based on our installation standards and our post-installation service and support.
Ultimately, any installer can quote good brands. It's what happens after you sign the contract that is really important.
Misleading and untrue
There are a number of companies with sales reps out there who are misleading and doing essentially whatever is necessary to get you to sign on the dotted line. The ACCC has fined solar companies several times for misleading customers. Salespeople often have only one commission-based compensation structure. If they fail to meet their monthly goal, they get wrapped up. Of course, if your job is at stake, you will do everything possible to increase sales, especially if your employer turns a blind eye. Some of the claims I see on a regular basis are:
"Our panels are the biggest" … when they are not.
"Our panels are Tier 1" … if not, how can you know?
"Solar discounts are over and prices will go up on Friday" … well, prices might go up on Friday, but it has nothing to do with the end of the discount, which will end sometime I think!
“5 kW solar system with 6 modules and a 5 kW inverter” … this violates the industry's code of conduct. Can you see what's wrong with that Leave a comment below if you're not sure.
"Our panels are made in Germany" … or made in China on German machines … or with German technology … or are simply not German:
Buy high quality solar panels
When it comes to purchasing a solar system, buying quality brands from a reputable installer is one of the most important purchasing decisions you will make. I've compared it to buying a TV, but perhaps the risks involved show a closer parallel with buying a used car. It's so easy to get ripped off, it's incredibly easy to overpay, and it's expensive to fix problems that arise.
For this reason, I recommend that you choose quality products, choose a solar company with a great reputation, and a company that offers comprehensive warranty support, service, system monitoring and a fair (and not cheap) price. It is because of these principles that we built Solaray, and because of this, we have been ranked one of the top five solar installers in Australia (and the largest Enphase system installer in NSW).