Solar Panels and Inverters

Solar Panels

The top brands of Solar panels available in Australia are...
Sunpower, LG, Q.Cells, Canadian, ET, Jinko, GCL, REC,  and Trina

They are all classed by Bloomberg New Energy Finance as 'Tier 1' brands.

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.

Government Rebate. The rebate on solar panels is the same no matter which brand you buy. The STCs created is calculated on the total kW of panels. There is a handy calculator here . The value of each STC swings from between $20 and $40 each depending on supply and demand. The latest price can be found here

Inverter Summary

The top solar inverter brands are Fronius, SMA, SolarEdge, Goodwe and Enphase. There are others that fit into the 'not too bad' category like ABB, Delta, Sungrow, Growatt and Zeversolar.

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.

SMA may still be the No.1 (by volume) manufacturer, but their move away from German manufacturing to China for the single phase (Sunny Boy) range is disappointing especially as the Chinese made inverter is only fractionally cheaper than Fronius. The three phase Tripower is still German made. The removal of the LCD screen on the SMA Sunny Boy is another negative even if they now include WIFI. Why not have both like Fronius and Goodwe?

SolarEdge is considerably more expensive (about $2,500 more for a 5kW installation) than both Fronius and SMA but is a fantastic product. An optimiser attachs to every panel making each panel 100% independent of every other panel. This is great for situations where shade from trees, chimneys, other buildings would ordinarily bring down the performance of an entire 'string' of panels. The DC power produced by the panels isn't converted to AC as is typical for 'micro inverters' like Enphase, instead running down to a central inverter.

Goodwe are the surprise in this list of heavyweights but it makes our list because it is so reliable. It has a failure rate on par with Fronius and SMA which means there are top quality components inside. Relay failure is the No.1 cause of inverter failure in cheap inverters. Relays are a moving part, opening and closing all the time and have a known life expectancy. Saving a dollar or two on a cheap one is false economy, but that's what all of the cheap Chinese inverters have done. Not Goodwe. Other than that, nothing special about Goodwe. Very decent WIFI reporting that provides extremely detailed reporting on their web browser, less detailed on the Smartphone app. Good range of single and three phase products. Not suitable for installs needing parallel strings unless using very low current two roof orientations only.The good news..they are about $800 cheaper than SMA and Fronius on single phase, and $400 for 3 phase and Goodwe offer a 10 year warranty upgrade from the standard 5 years for less than $300.

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.

Hybrid Inverters for solar battery connection.

Whilst pretty much everyone who has done the slightest research into solar batteries already knows that it's too expensive, a lot of people reason that getting a hybrid inverter now is a smart move so they can connect batteries later. It's not a bad idea. For three phase, the Hybrid version of the 5kVA Fronius Symo costs an extra $1300 and for single phase the Hybrid version of the 5kVA Goodwe costs an extra $1500. We see two wrinkles in the plan. (1) It may take years, possibly beyond the inverter warranty/lifetime before batteries make sense.

(2) AC coupled systems which can be added to absolutely ANY solar installation might work out to be the best value rendering the extra investment in a Hybrid inverter now,redundant.

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 $1200 to $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'.


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 is the web site for Good Day Mate Pty Ltd trading as SOLAR4EVER Company registered in WA on 26th October 2008 (A.C.N.133884938)

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