Are Suntech Solar panels any good?
At GI Energy we can install any solar panel for your home or business. This means we are able to write honest reviews expressing our genuine opinion, without having to be biased due to holding stock of Suntech solar panels, or any other solar panel! This article details the opinion of our Business Development Director, who has worked in various roles from consultancy, business development and commercial project management in the PV industry since 2009.
Warranty and tech support today: 7
Warranty and tech support long-term: 5.5
Value for money: 6.5
Total Rating: 6.8/10
Suntech Solar Panels Review
Here we go again… another massive Chinese manufacturer.
Hang on though.
Because Suntech actually have a way more interesting story than most big Chinese solar panel manufacturers. Here is a summary of the last 20-years: Founded by an Australian, once the biggest solar panel manufacturer in the world, conned out of hundreds of millions a decade or so ago, declared bankrupt shortly after, rejuvenated in 2014 and now producing slightly more panels than they were 10 years ago!
The Suntech story is definitely an interesting one, but does that mean they are any good? Or that you should buy them?
A good way to analyse how much a solar panel is suited to your needs is to look at the following criteria:
- Who is the manufacturer and are they going to be able to help with long-term warranty support?
- How will the solar panel actually perform when its installed on my roof?
- How much will it cost me?
The best solar panel for you, may not be the best solar panel for your best friend or neighbour, as everyone’s budget and needs are different.
So, let’s take a closer look at the manufacturer
As mentioned above, Suntech was actually founded by an Australian Citizen. This doesn’t mean they are an Australian company though unfortunately. They have never made a solar panel here, and the business and all its research, development and profits have always firmly been in China. Shi Zhengrong moved from China to Australia and did a PHD in NSW before getting his Australian Citizenship. He then moved back to China and started Suntech in 2001.
Suntech went from strength to strength really quickly and by 2011 they were the largest solar panel manufacturer in the world shipping 2.4GWs of solar panel globally. Shi Zhengro was often referred to as the “Sun King” and was officially the solar industries first recognised billionaire.
Back then, that was an insane amount of panels to be manufacturing. Solar panels were still very expensive in 2011 compared to today, and most people in Australia were only installing 1.5kW – 3kW systems, with the odd 5kW or 10kW popping up every now and again. Compare that to today, where the average size home system is slightly over 7kWs, and larger commercial arrays are being installed at record levels every year, the 2.4GW shipped back then seems even more impressive. However, given the growth of the industry globally, the massive decrease in price and the inevitable larger systems, todays “big ten” dwarfs Suntech’s 2.4GW and they are no where near the big players:
- Jinko Solar – 14.2GW
- JA Solar – 10.3GW
- Trina Solar – 9.7GW
- Longi Solar – 9.0GW
- Canadian Solar – 8.5GW
- Hanwha Q Cells – 7.3GW
- Risen Energy – 7.0GW
- First Solar – 5.5GW
- GCL – 4.8GW
- Shunfeng Photovoltaic – 4.0GW
So, why did they not keep up?
Suntech have had more than their fair share of financial difficulties and today they only ship around 3GW annually. The company reported they had been sold fraudulent bonds worth over 560 million Euros in 2012 – after holding them for 2-years. You have to feel bad for the guy who bought those…that’s a bad day in the office! You also have to ask how on earth an organisation that size, with that many policies and procedures in place, managed not to notice for a full 2-years! It is unclear if this was the final straw, or the first of many financial mistakes but in 2013 they defaulted on $541m USD in US Bonds. Shortly after, they were declared bankrupt.
Suntech clearly didn’t completely die, and as most massive companies who get into this level of strife, they were restructured and eventually got back to what appears to be normal trading. In 2014 they were acquired by Shunfeng International Clean Energy Limited, a renewable energy investment and independent power company.
This is not a comforting story for consumers to read. At GI Energy we rate solar panels on the bankability of the manufacturer more than anything. What good is it having a great solar panel, with a long warranty, if the manufacturer is not around to help?
In fairness to Suntech they are still producing around 3GW of panels a year. They have an office here in Australia for support and they are classed as a Tier One manufacturer. However, the history is clearly not great and leaves a slightly unsettled feeling for us!
Are the panels any good? And how much do they cost?
Suntech make a range of solar panels with efficiency ratings up to 18.4%. Leading efficiency ratings are over 20% so they are not aiming to be the best in that respect. Despite falling off the top ten Suntech are very much focused on manufacturing large volumes of low cost panels – they are not striving to the best. In fairness, this is reflected in the price as Suntech offer one of the most cost-effective solar panels in Australia.
If you are looking for a high-end solar panel, then Suntech are probably not for you. If price is your focus, then Suntech offer a reasonable quality panel for the price they charge.
The warranties are currently 15-years product, and 25-years efficiency. The product warranty is actually quite good for the price point, with most offering 10-12 years around this price point. The efficiency warranty is standard and all modules in Australia have to offer at least the same. The lingering concern here is the history of Suntech. Some reports suggest they are now trading debt free, and some other very conflicting reports suggest completely the opposite.
Suntech are a low cost, reasonable solar panel from a Tier One manufacturer. The poor history of bad debt and bankruptcy is difficult to forget about. Solar panels are a long-term investment and we prefer to recommend manufacturers who are diversified and more likely to stand the test of time. As a budget option, they are probably worth considering, although there are quite a few others available at a similar, albeit it slightly higher price. Many of these alternatives also have a much more attractive history and offer better security.
Here are some links worth checking out: