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How do Solar Panels work?
Through the photovoltaic effect solar panels convert sunlight in direct current (DC) electricity. Solar panels typically have 60 or 72 ‘cells’ which contain silicon. Silicon is the active element in a solar panel which will generate surplus electrons depending on the length of time and intensity of the sun irradiance it receives. The solar cells are encased in glass in groups of 60 or 72 with a backing sheet and are usually framed with aluminium to create a solar panel.
Different Types of Solar Panels
The most common panel types are monocrystalline and polycrystalline. These techonologies have been around for a number of years and are proven in the Australian climate. Solar Panels using newer technology (see below table) can offer benefits by increasing the energy generated in various conditions. Note that some of these newer technologies come at a cost premium as they are not produce at the same scale as monocrystalline and polycrystalline yet.
Three tests to determine if a Solar Panel brand is good
Our main advice is do not take any individuals (friend, installer, neighbour) opinion on what is a good solar panel brand and look at the independent tests and rankings for solar panels. To determine if the panel you have been quoted is a good one – first see if the brand appears on the below 2 lists (and read what the list means) and then head to their website and understand their warranty claim process.
Test 1 – Bloomberg Tier One Ranking
Bloomberg’s infamous tier 1 ranking is NOT a measure of Solar Panel quality in any way. It is simply an indication of the bankability of the manufacturer based on publicly released information on the financial health the company. This should give you an idea if the company is a large, well-known manufacturer.
Bloomberg NEF Tier 1 Ranking 2020 – Q4
|Panel||Capacity MW||Panel||Capacity MW|
|Q CELLS||11,770||ET Solar||1,760|
* Note some panels have been left out that are not sold in Australia based on the CEC Approved Product List
Test 2 – Is the panel a PV Evolution Labs Top Performer?
PV Evolution Labs have in partnership with DNV GL been independently testing Solar Panels reliability since 2014. It is a voluntary test which manufacturers have to pay to be a part of, but is considered internationally as an excellent indication of Solar Panel quality.
Their latest report released in June 2020 lists the following manufacturers as Top Performers:
|Independently Tested Top Performers 2020 By Test|
|Dynamic Loads||Damp Heat||Potential Degradation||Thermal Cycling|
|1000 cycles of 1000 Pa (pressure) loading (Wind, Hail, Snow)||Modules are placed in 85°C temperature with 85% humidity||Panels loaded to max voltage applied with heat and humidity||600 cycles from -40°C to 85°C|
|Top Performers 2020:||Top Performers 2020:||Top Performers 2020:||Top Performers 2020:|
|Canadian Solar||Canadian Solar||Canadian Solar||Canadian Solar|
|REC Group||Hanwha Q CELLS||Hanwha Q CELLS||Hanwha Q CELLS|
* Note some panels have been left out of the above table that are not sold in Australia based on the CEC Approved Product List
You can download their full report here for free
Test 3 – Does the manufacturer have an Australian office and easy warranty claim process?
Most solar panel manufacturers entering the Australian market, first setup their distribution channels and worry about customer service later. This has led to many unhappy customers who are left trying to contact Chinese head offices to claim on their 10-year product warranty.
Relying on your solar installer is not always an option as we’ve seen many residential solar installers (including the large ones) go out of business well within the lifetime of the systems they are installing.
To make sure you have options to claim warranty, Solar Choice recommends:
- Visit the Solar Panel manufacturers website
- Make sure they have an Australian office with an office number you can call
- Make sure the warranty claim process is clearly outlined on their website
|Solar Panel Brand||Product Warranty||Australian Office|
|Canadian Solar||12-15 years||Yes|
|Hanwha Q Cells||12-25 years||Yes|
|JA Solar||12 years||Yes|
|Jinko Solar||12-25 years||Yes|
|LONGi Solar||12 years||Yes|
|REC Group||10-20 years||Yes|
|Risen Energy||12 years||Yes|
|Seraphim Energy||10-15 years||No|
|Trina Solar||10-12 years||Yes|
|Vikram Solar||10-12 years||No|
|Winaico Solar||15-25 years||Yes|
Industry Standards for Warranties
For solar panels there is now an internationally accepted standard for the length of warranties:
- Performance warranty of 25 years to output of 80% of nameplate wattage
- Product warranty of 10 years covering product defects
While you never see solar panel warranties with shorter than “25 & 10”, each manufacturer has a different warranty agreement and claims process. Generally speaking dealing with a reputable solar panel brand will ensure that you are receiving fair and reasonable warranty terms.
Some solar panel manufacturers have chosen to differentiate themselves from the masses by offering up to 25 year product warranties and 30 year performance warranties. Typically these come with considerable extra cost – so the choice is with the consumer whether they want to spend more for a ‘BMW’ or whether they are happy with a ‘Ford Falcon’.
The Wholesale Cost of Solar Panels
Across utility scale Solar PV projects in Australia, the market for large corporates buying solar power has plummeted to below 5c per kWh ($50 per MWh) reflecting increasing economies of scale of both the manufacturers and the construction companies. While your local solar installer doesn’t have access to the same rates for solar equipment they passed on cost benefits from the continued increase in efficiencies in manufacturing facilities.
Wholesale rates for solar panels are not published and are dependent on manufacturer, purchase power, the Australian Dollar and other market factors. As a ballpark guide buying directly from wholesalers costs for most brands are currently between AUD$0.35 to AUD$0.50 per watt and can be less than $0.30 if buying at scale from manufacturers.
The best and fairest guide we can give you for the average costs of Solar in Australia are published monthly in the Solar Price Index and is split by size and by Australian state.