Are all Solar Systems the Same?

As one of the fastest growing retail industries, there are many opinions and marketing taglines used to simplify the sale, which are resulting in many misunderstandings.

If you’ve bought a solar system, below is a list of contradictions that you’re likely to have heard or thought before:

Are all Solar Systems the Same?

Solar Systems are comprised of a few key components, being solar panels, connected to a solar inverter, then to the switchboard and meter.  Whilst the main components are mass produced by leading manufacturers, the installation of these components is just as important, as the components themselves.

All solar panels look similar, are they the same?

With over 500 brands that have been sold to the Australian market (between 2011-2015), it’s difficult for even an experienced professional to tell the difference.

Accepting the idea that the label or datasheet has typical information as below – doesn’t mean they’re all the same:

Warranties provide comfort for the buyer so long as they can be supported in country.

Whilst having a local agent or office is really important, there are many other factors which need to be considered beyond the promise of ‘warranty’.

Manufacturers around the world have gained their market share through their demonstrated ability to develop and manufacture their products, this includes, but is not limited to exposure to different environmental and life cycle tests. Understanding these tests illustrates a manufacturers willingness to ensure their product is relevant in the real world.

We believe in selecting products which meet the following criteria;

  • globally reaching technology manufacturer;
  • supported by local sales office, preferably owned by the manufacturer; and
  • an established and publicly viewable after sales process.

Kilowatts & Kilowatts – (kW, kWp, kWh)

Traditionally there is much confusion on this topic for non-technical buyers.

This is because many retailers find it simpler to inform their decision based on system size.

For example, solar systems in Australia are sold as ‘5kW’ systems, but really should be sold as “5kWp’.

  • The ‘p’ indicates “peak”, as in the amount of power being generated at peak production (being 1,000 w/m2 irradiance of direct sunlight).
  • If you understand the peak production, then you may understand that all systems, of a similar kWp size will perform the same, under the same conditions. The importance then, is how a system performs outside of peak condition, such as in mornings, afternoons or low-light / overcast days.
  • Kilowatts are the measurement of energy units. When referred as kWh (kilowatt hours), it means the energy used at a constant rate over a period of time.
  • Referencing of kW or kWp does not indicate the yield or performance over a day, week, a month, or year – providing an unrealistic outcome of the solar system’s potential.  It’s like saying a car that drives at 200km/h is a “200km car” – where in truth it’s only highlighting the ‘peak performance capacity’.

Once again, if larger global projects have specified and used a particular brand of product, it is because they have an investment imperative mandating that technical due diligence of product and its manufacturing process is done.  This ensures that there is confidence in a manufacturer’s ability to generate power as they’ve. claimed.  Producing a high-quality product capable of consistently generating reliable electricity is paramount.

Sales offered with After-sales Maintenance

There is a misnomer within Solar that the system will last 25yrs, and the only maintenance required can be cared for by a small amount of occasional rain.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Your Solar system is a live electrical system, which is electrified and energized every day.  The success of the solar system is reliant on all aspects of the system performing as specified.  Subject to a myriad of reasons, this can change over time.  The intention of an after-sales assessment is to ensure system operation remains safe, and effective in performing as it is designed to.

All solar PV manufacturers provide a 25yr warranty?

The 25-year warranty typically applies to a guarantee of performance at the solar panel.  The warranty pertaining to minimum expected performance or output year on year.  This is separate to the performance of the system and its output of energy generation into the grid.  Like any component, there are recommendations from all manufacturers for the care and maintenance of their components to achieve these performance guarantees.  If they are not met, the warranty is likely to be void.

It’s all about price!

It’s a common reality when buying anything that we look for a good price, quality solar is no exception. When in doubt, we all aim to select the best value for money, and this suggests that value has been presented.  In many instances, the lowest cost components require a higher level of repair and replacement – the consumer may not be aware of this, and it will cost them more in the long run.  With any capital investment, you want certainty in the unlikely event of a fault or failure, beyond long-term guarantees.  It is strongly encouraged that you conduct research about some technical differences and have a list of questions about how you will receive after-sales support and service.  The reality is if you don’t understand the differences, then the ‘cheap system you bought today, it may likely be “the most expensive one you’ll own’.

Capabilities of product and installer

With such an expansive list of products and installers – it can be difficult to know the good from the not-so-good. Many buyers cannot understand the points of reference to determine why a solar panel or inverter is good versus average – as all are generally seen as equally approved in the eyes of a local market regulator.

Aside from generic references, which are meant to instil confidence, like “we have installed over 3,000 systems”, there is no means for buyers to understand the experience or quality of services they are likely to be paying for.

One of the biggest concerns is whether the installer is based locally, and we suggest you ask these questions:

  • How long has the entity been trading?
  • If the installer does not have a local office, have you enquired about their service standards and response times in the unlikely event of a fault?
  • What is the policy and commitment of the after-sales service?
  • What is their response timeframe?
  • Is there a difference in receiving service within 48 hours or over 4 – 8 months?
  • Is this all-in writing?

There are many fantastic and integrated installers in the market but unless a series of questions are being asked, how will a solar buyer know?  The age-old method of testing this is to ask for references, preferably from people in similar situations as you, and a customer who has bought from them previously.

Source: Daman Cole (SSG General Manager Sales)