It feels like every week there is a new solar panel or inverter manufacturer coming into the industry – or going bankrupt. With so many options, how do you choose?
At GI Energy, we pick our products based on almost ten years of experience in the industry. We’ve tried almost everything!
There are a host of factors to consider when deciding which components to use: reliability; safety; performance; cost. While many companies prioritise a low price, or perhaps maximum performance, we approach things a little differently.
Bankability & Reliability
Our top priority is how long the panel will last, and if it does go kaput, what happens next.
For example, say you bought a “bill buster” system using Australian Premium Solar (APS) panels from EuroSolar (now Sunboost and Arise Solar). It sounded great – it said Australian, Premium, and Solar! Except they’re not Premium, and they’re not Australian. Solar? As happened with many of these systems, the panels died (why do you think they were so cheap?) So, you phone up EuroSolar, only to find out they’ve gone bankrupt, and the APS panels warranty is now non-existent. So, by trying to save a couple thousand dollars, your entire solar system lasted a quarter of the time a slightly more expensive system would have.
At GI Energy, we primarily use Q-CELLS, Phono Solar, Hyundai, and Canadian Solar solar panels. These all come from large, established companies; Phono, Q-CELLS, and Hyundai are all owned by some of the largest companies in the world, and Canadian are one of the biggest solar-only companies in the world. This means they intend to be around in the decades to come, meaning they’ll be able to service any warranty claims. Equally, this means they won’t want to have warranty issues (as it’ll cost them money in the future), so they have a vested interest in making reliable, long-life panels.
Talking of warranties, we like long ones. There are two types, Product (covering if the panel works at all; industry standard is 10~12 years) and Performance (guaranteeing the panel works well; industry standard is 25 years). Canadian Solar, our entry-level panel, has a 12-year warranty, and Phono Solar, our commercial panels, have a 15-year product warranty – both are companies with reputations for small numbers of claims. Our standard and performance residential panels, Hyundai and Q-CELLS, both offer 25-year product warranties – double the industry average.
So, in summary, we like panels from reliable companies which offer long warranties. In other words, we don’t want you to have any problems, but if you do, we don’t want it to be a hassle!
As always, price is a key factor. You gotta be able to afford it!
Now, I’ve already explained the issue with cheap panels, such as APS and the variety of cheap made-in-China panels you see slathered over social media adverts. There’s also the other end of the market, the super-premium panels such as SunPower or LG. There’s no denying these are incredible panels from great companies; however, they definitely come at a price. We have, and continue, to sell these in small quantities to customers who, for specific reasons, we think would benefit from super-premium panels (e.g. high power needed from a small space – see below – or aesthetic desires and a large wallet). That said, for the majority of customers, they’re overkill.
So, what do we do at GI Energy? We like to sell solid mid-price panels, with our entry level panel being far superior to the cheap rubbish and only slightly more expensive, and our top-of-the-range offering only slightly inferior to the super-premium but far more affordable. Systems that won’t break the bank, but equally won’t make you regret being a penny-pincher.
So, what about performance? All those big sexy numbers, like 500(W) and 22(%)? Well… They don’t really matter!
Okay, that’s not completely true. Special technologies, such as PERC and anti-PID and half-cut cells, are great – and nearly all panels come with them nowadays. However, looking at the efficiency or wattage is not the key factor when picking panels.
First, you need to size your system. This varies based on your roof space, energy usage, and a load more factors (give us a call and we’ll talk you through it all), but the vast majority of residential systems are 6.6kW of panels on a 5kW inverters, due to government rebates meaning anything larger than that costs a lot more money and anything less isn’t much cheaper.
So, how do you get to 6600W? There are loads of options. The simple one is 20x 330W panels. Or, if you want “high efficiency” panels, you could get 17x 390W panels. Or, 23x “low efficiency” 285W panels. For reference, 285W panels are 17% efficient, the 390W ones are 22% efficient.
You still get the same size system. You still get the same amount of power generated (assuming equal panel quality). The only difference is how much space they take up on your roof – if you have a tiny roof, you can maximise your roof space by getting the high efficiency panels, whereas if you have a huge roof you can save money by getting low efficiency panels (because even though you need 6 more 285W panels, they’re usually a lot cheaper).
There seems to be a trend in the industry for very-high-wattage panels – often by the cheaper Chinese brands. They advertise having 500, 550, 600W panels! What they don’t tell you is the efficiency is the same as smaller panels, and less than premium panels – the panels are simply bigger. These “high watt” panels are simply double the size of a normal panel – meaning they won’t even fit on your roof because of the screw lines.
In other words, if anyone’s sales pitch is “these are high-efficiency, high-wattage panels”, your response should be “but do I need them?” Think of it this way: if you’re commuting around the city for work, do you need an expensive Ferrari instead of a luxurious VW? They both get you from A to B in comfort and in the same amount of time. What matters is a) can you afford them, and b) will they last a long time.
So far this post has been about panels, but the same applies to inverters: Bankability and reliability are most important.
For your home solar system to work effectively you will need good quality solar panels and a good quality inverter. If one of these major components is not working correctly, then the whole system will suffer.
When choosing a solar inverter, we should consider the same things we do when choosing a solar panel: How long has the manufacturer been in business for? How strong are the warranties? How efficient and reliable will the product actually be? And, what does it cost?
There are new brands entering the Australian market all the time, most of which do not stand the test of time. With that in mind, the four inverters we install more of than anything else are: FIMER (previously branded ABB), Fronius, SMA, and Sungrow. These four brands are very well-established manufacturers, with strong warranties and offer a range of prices from low to high. Please see table below for more information.
Certain installs do require microinverters or solar panel optimisers in order to work well. This is true for installations on roof areas that are heavily shaded, or very complex and require individual panels to be installed in different locations on the roof. For these types of installations, the manufacturer who ticks our boxes for microinverters is Enphase. For solar optimisters, SolerEdge offer a great solution, as do Tigos – which can be used with any other string inverter.
Everyone’s situation is different in terms of budget, roof area and expectations of what a solar system should do. You really want to find a product that ticks as many of these boxes as possible for your personal situation.
Here’s a little table comparing a few brands:
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