Choosing the components that go into your solar system is a crucial decision and may mean the difference between having a reliable system that makes a real contribution to reducing your living costs for years to come and having a lemon on your roof that causes nothing but headaches and takes years longer to pay for itself than you’d hoped.
The good thing is that the solar industry is established enough that clear market leaders have emerged and it’s not hard to find out who these leading brands are. These brands aren’t that much more expensive than the rubbish brands either and are definitely worth the small extra investment and will pay for themselves in a very short time frame through greater production and lower maintenance costs. (And less headaches)
Solar Panels + Inverter + Mounting System = Solar System
Solar panels are the core component of a solar power system, they collect photons from the sun and then turn them into DC electricity.
Easy ways to check for solar panel quality:
Does the company have a website? – If the company doesn’t have a website and you can’t find anything about them via a simple Google search, exclude them from your search, simple as that. If they don’t have information about themselves online, you can be pretty sure that they’ll be hard to find if you have a warranty issue in the future.
Are their warranties serviced in Australia? - Check if the company requires you to send the panels back to the country of manufacture at your own expense if you have a problem. If you do, run a mile, there are plenty of manufacturers out there who will pay to have a panel replaced for you.
This should eliminate a few choices. Next, compare these technical points.
Country of origin – Where a panel is made is not by itself a problem due to the fact that they don’t have many working parts and also, 90% of the worlds output comes out of China or other Asian countries and most of the best brands are made here.
Regrettably, when it comes to inverters, those from China don’t have the best reputation and we would recommend due diligence if you decide to go for a Chinese inverter. SMA from Germany makes the world’s best inverters followed by Power One Aurora from Italy.
Power Tolerance – This refers to the percentage variation in the panel’s power production. A positive power tolerance means that the panel will produce at or above what it is labelled. E.g. a 200W with a 5% positive power tolerance will produce anywhere between 200W and 210W. The same panel with a negative power tolerance will produce anywhere between 190W and 200W.
Positive power tolerance generally means that the panel is of higher quality.
Temperature Co-efficient – As counterintuitive as it sounds; solar panels don’t work as well in higher temperatures. A measure of how much production a panels loses once it gets hotter than 40 degrees is the temperature co-efficient. For every 1 degree over 40 degrees, Suntech panels for example will lose 0.45% production – This is around what most panels lose so don’t be too concerned plus this is factored into the productions figures given for each city.
When looking at panels, go for one with a lower percentage or temperature co-efficient as it indicates a better quality panel.
The solar inverter is responsible for taking the DC electricity generated by the panels and converting it into 240V AC electricity which can then be used by your appliances. It also registers how much energy you’ve produced and some higher end models even allow you to connect to your computer via Bluetooth.
The inverter isn’t an area you want to skimp on as this is the first thing to fail in a poor quality system.
Over the last 2 years, thousands of homeowners have seen inferior quality inverters fail. As well as the hassle of having to call the installation company, who may or may not charge you to have it replaced (see Choosing a solar installer) you’ll lose money as you may not realise straight away that the system isn’t working. In this case, compare the solar inverter prices offered carefully. A few hundred dollars more to go for a good quality system would have been more than worth it. We recommend SMA and Power One Aurora, these 2 companies are far ahead of all others.
To find out more about other people’s experiences with purchasing a solar system, have a look at the Whirlpool Green Tech forum and feel free to start a discussion yourself asking the exact question you need an answer to, you’ll be surprised how many solar nerds there are out there happy to show you what they know.
The solar panel mounting system is extremely important as this connects the system to your roof.
There are generally 2 ways of attaching a system to your roof and this depends on whether your roof is tin or tile.
Most mounting frames in Australia meet Australian standards and this hasn’t been a problem so far.
Good quality systems include: Sunlock, Conergy, Clenergy, Grace, Unirac and Schletter.
This video demonstrates how mounting systems are installed on tile and tin roofs and the components involved.