Solar Panels and Inverters

Solar Panels

In WA, if you want the feed in tariff from Synergy for your surplus power then the maximum amount of panel power you can put on your roof, without connecting batteries is 6.66kW and a 5kW inverter. Other States don't have the same restrictions which often confuses people who do their solar research on forums like Whirlpool.

The Tier 1 brands and panels

Please note that each manufacturer has a range of solar panels, some standard, some special, and a few, absolute premium. Simply buying a brand (e.g. LG or Q.Cells) doesn't ensure that you are getting the top model.

At the very top end of town there are two stand-out premium panels... LG NeonR and SunPower X. Both are currently 360W panels, with 365W models just around the corner. They cost $550 and $620. The current 'rebate' will cut that back by about $220 per panel.
Their primary advantage is rooftop space efficiency. 18 of these panels generates 6.48kW and takes up the same roof space as 24 of a regular 270W panel also generating 6.48kW

A step down from there are the rest of the LGs (X and Neon2) and SunPower E range, Q.Cells Q.Peak, REC Twin Peak, and some Maxim enhanced panels (inbuilt DC optimisers for shade busting) currently from Jinko and Trina with Q.Cells and others likely to follow suit soon. They cost somewhere between $300 and $420 per panel and the "rebate" typically reduces that by about $200. Overall this group can handle the heat fractionally better

and is slightly more space efficient than a regular panel. They are also, in the main, very aesthetically pleasing.

Then we have all the rest of the mainstream brands and models. These account for 90% of our sales, and probably a similar ratio for the country as a whole. Q.Cells Q.Power, REC Peak Energy, Jinko Eagle, Trina Honey, ET Solar, Canadian Solar, Talesun, Winaico, GCL, BYD, Eging, Longi. They are made mostly in China, but some in Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. Sadly none whatsoever in Germany any more. In our experience, they are all identical in terms of performance in the heat (which is fine), reliability, quality, and doing what they say they will on their datasheets.

They cost $190 to $280 per panel and the "rebate" reduces that by about $170.


Can all solar panel datasheets be trusted?

No, but the top twenty Tier 1 brands, or at least the six or seven brands we have installed a lot of over the years, seem to be trust-worthy enough based on what their output is on our customer rooftops compared to expectations measured over the past five years or so of data collection. They have a reputation to protect, but some of them sub-contract out a lot of their manufacturing, especially the stuff that comes to Australia, and to us, that means less quality control, and therefore we tend to avoid those brands where possible to minimise risk.

Does one panel make more power than another?

Yes and No. Obviously a 300W panel will make more than a 250W panel, but if you put together 20 x 300W panels and 24 x 250W panels, the combined 6kW for both will make the same power. The ultra premium panels (see above) make very slightly more, about 1-3%, due to their expensive in built tech to combat heat losses. Also a system with panels with a DC optimiser attached or built-in, or a micro inverter, will typically make 5% more power simply because the system handles shade from passing clouds, dirt and dust etc better. If any of the panels get serious amounts of shade then these DC optimiser or Micro enhanced panels will ensure that the entire system will make a lot more power. Shade is the enemy of solar.

How often do solar panels fail?

All manufacturers provide at least a 10 year defect warranty, some offer 12 years and a couple offer 25 years. They all offer a 25 year power warranty which relates to cell degredation over time, but its the defect warranty that really matters most.

Outright failure of a panel or the cells inside is very rare. 1 in 2000 per annum for very old panels (up to 40 years old) and 1 in 5000 per annum for panels made over the last few years.

Micro cracks in one or more of the solar cells (there are 60 cells inside a typical panel) that don't show much, or any, performance losses for a very long time, are probably a lot more common than any of us realise, and they are pretty easy to create if the panel flexes. Incorrect fixing to the roof and poor handling during transport and installation can cause micro cracks. It is often said in any trade, that customers should avoid cowboys, and solar is no different.

The Rebate

The Government 'rebate' reduces the price of ANY approved solar panel installed by a CEC accredited installer and connected to a CEC approved inverter. For each kW of panels (in WA and Queensland) you get 19 x "whatever the current STC price is". At the moment (Oct 17) the price is $34 so 19 x $34 = $646 rebate per kW of panels. Any system installed from Jan 1st 2018 to December 31st 2018 will get 17 x whatever the current price is, and each year onward it will drop by a similar amount. It is probable that the rebate and any other subsidies for solar will be removed entirely in 2020, if the Federal Liberal Goverment get their way.

Want a in depth analysis of all the solar panels, including prices for each?

We have created a comprehensive comparison of all the major brands (all of which we are able to sell and install). It includes everything, including prices. It's worth a read.

Want to know how much power your system will make?
Power Production Calculator


Inverter Summary

The largest inverter manufacturer in the World, HuaWei, pronounced Hwa Way are finally coming to the Australia in 2018, and their new residential inverters look quite remarkable, but for now, we have Fronius, SMA, ABB, Goodwe, Delta, Sungrow, Zeversolar, Enphase, and SolarEdge. The hoardes of horrible, mostly cheapish Chinese inverters, that plagued the industry from 2011 to 2016 have all pretty much failed and folded and taken their retailers down with them, and what's left now, is quite frankly, pretty darn good.

What makes one inverter better than another?

As far as WE are concerned, reliability. Every time an inverter fails on us we have hours of our valuable time and money being thrown down the drain to organise a replacement. What we get paid by the manufacturer to cover the warranty nowhere near covers our real costs.

Fronius, SMA, SolarEdge, Goodwe and Enphase have years of proven history as being the most reliable. From YOUR perspective, reliability is likely to be the No.1 priority too. You may not notice a failed inverter for a few months, then it takes a month more to get it replaced (because ALL replacements come from over East), all of which adds up to a lot of lost solar production.

A brief description of each of these top inverter brands

Fronius make the best 'string inverters' bar none. 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.
Read our full review here

Goodwe are perhaps the surprise in this list of heavyweights but it makes our list 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. More here...

SMA Sunny Boy long the benchmark for all solar inverters, were made in Germany, reliable as heck, and asked for on every quote. Now in 2017, made in China, no LCD screen, very ordinary warranty for the price, and nobody asks us for them anymore. The TriPower (3 phase) range is still made in Germany. SMA are still a very good brand on any level and measured by sales revenue, are still World No.1, but from our perspective, they seem to have fallen asleep at the wheel.

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). To be frank, our guys don't really like doing Enphase installs, and Enphase are currently looking a little unstable financially, but there's no doubt it's a tried and proven reliable product.

Delta and Sungrow
Popular Chinese made brands and whilst nothing particularly special, are all perfectly acceptable lower cost options. Delta are a massive electronics company. Sungrow are in the Top 3 in the World for inverter manufacturing by volume with a very large slice of the Chinese market.

Zeversolar

They may be owned by German SMA and the product may be OK, but when you get a failure prepare for the worst after sales service on your warranty claim. Read

http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies.cfm?t=2144906&p=-1&#bottom


 

Hybrid Inverters for solar battery connection.

You don't need to buy a Hybrid inverter to connect batteries to your solar installation but if you do, you'll end up having fewer boxes on your garage wall compared to a retro fit solution. A hybrid inverter does two jobs. It manages the solar panels as all inverters do, and it also manages the storage and release of battery power. To do this, it needs to have a smart meter connected across your phase cable(s) so it can see what you are using in the house and react accordingly. The alternative to a Hybrid is a third party product that can be added to any solar installation, new or old.

Goodwe, Solax and SolarEdge have excellent 5kW Hybrid inverters that cost about $1000-$1500 more than their non battery capable models. Fronius have a 3 phase Hybrid that costs $1400 more than the regular Symo inverter. HuaWei have a new single phase Hybrid coming out next year (price unknown).

The retro fit kits (mostly from Goodwe currently), cost $1400 including the smart meter so it's all very line ball to choose which way to go. Our opinion is that once you buy a hybrid you've committed yourself in one specific direction, but doing nothing and fitting a retro system gives you more options, and likely lower prices down the track.

You can read more about this here.

 

 

 
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