Solar PanelsYour key questions answered: Quality, Performance and how they work.
Purchasing a solar power system
With over 16,000 approved solar panels on the market in Australia, purchasing a solar photovoltaic (PV) system is probably one of the most difficult purchase decisions you can make, on both a residential and commercial scale.
- How do solar panels work?
- How do I compare the performance of solar panels?
- How do I find out more on warranty and safety?
- Basic background checks on manufacturers and the Tier ranking system.
- Basic supplier overview
How do Solar Panels work?
Unlike solar hot water, solar power panels work on light and not heat which seems to be a common misconception. Solar panels will actually become less efficient as it gets hotter.
During the day the photovoltaic cells (solar cells) absorb light and convert it to DC electricity. This electricity is then fed down to the Inverter that converts the electricity to 240v AC which is then usable by your home and the grid.
In Queensland the solar bonus scheme is ‘net metered’ which means that any electricity being used at home during the day is primarily taken from the solar power. Any extra electricity or energy that is being produced by the solar panels will automatically be fed down the power lines back to the grid. When you need more power than the solar panels are producing then it will take what it can from the solar and will take the extra electricity that is needed from the grid.
This process is fully automated and no battery storage is involved.
Provided you buy a good quality system such as those installed by GEM Energy Australia, solar power is completely safe and will include typically at least four isolators protecting your solar system and your electrical network. Poor quality components will fail over time and can cause fires. Unfortunately, minimum fire ratings were only introduced in July 2013 which means there are a lot of solar energy panels out there without the sufficient safety ratings.
Solar Panel Performance
While almost all solar panels look the same, there are huge differences in performance.
The most common questions we hear at GEM Energy are these:
Why are your 5kW solar systems better than other 5kW solar systems available on the market? If they are both rated at 5kW, then surely they will produce the same amount of power?
This is definitely not the case! Studies conducted in America, Europe, and Australia have shown differences of over 20% of electricity each solar can panel make.
GEM Energy uses data from the Desert Knowledge Australia Solar Center (DKASC), an independent testing center for a variety of solar panel manufacturers near Alice Springs.
The graph on the right shows some of those variances. These panels are considered some of the best in the world, yet you can see that Q CELLS have produced over 15% more electricity than Trina, as well as 10% more electricity than Kyocera panels.
There are also distinct differences in the energy production stated on the nameplate of a panel as opposed to its performance in real-world conditions.
GEM Energy only deals with manufacturers whose products have proven to be reliable over time.
Product Safety & Quality Control
On top of excellent energy productivity and the ability to withstand cyclones, solar panels also need to be proven safe. We need to remember that powerful amounts of electricity are being channeled through your solar PV system, so you want to be sure that your panels have been subject to stringent quality control procedures to ensure your safety and that of your home or business.
The Bloomberg New Energy Finance has created a Tier list of solar panel manufacturers to:
- differentiate proven and financially stable manufacturers in the solar industry, giving you peace of mind that your solar module supplier will be around in the future (this is often called “bankability”);
- differentiate manufacturers that own their own production capacity, meaning that they produce all product components themselves;
- differentiate manufacturers that use fully automated production processes, thereby reducing human error and achieving consistently high quality products.
All Tier 1 manufacturers have stringent quality controls in place to check their products for faults like hot spots, which are a widely known phenomenon. During the production process, solar cells can be subject to stress which can cause defects not detectable by the naked eye. Under certain conditions, such as partial shading, those defects can heat up to 250 °C. These extremely high temperatures within a module can cause substantial power losses and – in the worst case – even complete module destruction through fires.
Many of the cheaper panels on the market are cheap for a reason. It is important to understand why they are so much cheaper than other systems on the market. There are panels available in Australia that are less than half the price of others.
Remember that if it seems to good to be true, then it probably is!
(Source: Pike Research)
Warranty, Manufacturer and Product Safety Information
Questions to ask:
- Are the panels cyclone proof?
- Are the panels salt mist and ammonia corrosion warranted?
- Who provides warranty for the panels and where is the warranty held?
- What is the process for warranty replacements if you are not in business?
- Are there stringent quality control procedures in place?
GEM Energy only supplies solar panels from manufacturers with a presence in Australia who will support you in the unlikely case of a warranty claim. Please see our product pages for more details on each manufacturer, and refer to our supplier overview below.
- How long has the manufacturer been operating?
- Is the manufacturer “Tier 1” approved?
At GEM Energy we only install “Tier 1” approved solar panels from manufacturers with a proven track record for quality products. The exceptions are two up- and coming manufacturers from China, Lightway and Risen, who have steadily improved their Tier ranking, and our very own Australian manufacturer Tindo Solar.
|Presence in Australia (Warranty & Service)||Country of Manufacture||Product Warranty||Performance Warranty||Temperature Co-efficient (The lower the better)||Junction Box IP rating (The higher the better)||Anti-PID as standard||Tier Ranking|
|Q CELLS||Yes||Germany, China, Malaysia, South Korea||12 years||25 years||-0.40%||IP67 or 68||Yes||1|
|SunPower||yes||Philippines||25 years||25 years, made up of 95/97% for first 5 years, −0.4/0.6%/yr. to year 25||-0.38%||IP65||Yes||1|
|Phono Solar||Yes||China||12 years||25 years||-0.41%||IP68||Yes||1|
|Canadian Solar||Yes||Canada, China, Vietnam||10 years||25 years||-0.41%||IP67||No||1|
|Trina||Yes||China||10 years||25 or 30 years||-0.39%||IP65 or 67||No||1|
|LG Electronics||Yes||Korea plus various sites in Asia, North & South America and Europe||15 years||25 years||-0.38%||IP68||No||1|
|Risen||Yes||China||12 years||25 years||-0.39%||IP67||No||1 to 2|
|Lightway||Yes||China||10 years||25 years||-0.39%||IP65||No||2|
|Tindo||Yes||Australia||10 years||25 years||N/A||IP65 or 67||No||N/A|
|Jinko||Yes||China, Malaysia, South Africa, Portugal||10 years||25 years||-0.40%||IP65||No||1|
|Solar World||No||Germany, USA||10 years||25 or 30 years||-0.41%||IP65||No||1|
|REC||Yes||Norway, Singapore, USA||10 years||25 years||-0.40%||IP67||No||1|
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