Choosing the right solar system components

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 has now been around long enough that clear market leaders have emerged and it’s not hard to find out what these leading brands are. These brands aren’t that much more expensive than the rubbish brands 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.

Solar Panels + Inverter + Mounting System = Solar System

 

Solar Panels

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 quality 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.
  • Have the panels been used on utility scale solar farms?If a large corporation is investing hundreds of millions in a large scale system, you can be sure that they’ve done due diligence on the panel and the company who made the panel. Check their website and if they’ve done large scale systems, you’ll be able to easily find info on these.
  • 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 in the opposite direction, 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 originWhere a panel is made is not by itself a problem due to the fact that they don’t have many working parts and also because 80% of the worlds panels come 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 (40% of global production) followed by Power One Aurora from Italy.
  • Power ToleranceThis 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.Solar cells with a positive power tolerance are selected by higher quality manufactures and generally indicates a higher quality panel.
  • Temperature Co-efficientAs 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.What are the differences between Monocrystaline, Polycrystaline and Thin Film panels?

Inverter

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. The inverter also registers how much energy you’ve produced and some higher end models even allow you to connect to your computer via Bluetooth and view much more in depth information.

Over the last three 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 also 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. You’ll find that these 2 brands are used most on utility scale solar systems.

IMPORTANT: The inverter isn’t an area you want to skimp on as this is the first thing to fail in a poor quality system.

Micro inverters are another form of technology that you may be offered in your quotes. They represent a small proportion of systems installed nationally and are best used in specific situations. Like anything, there are advantages and disadvantages in utilising this technology. You can watch a video here which explains how they work.

To find out more about other people’s experiences with purchasing a solar system, have a look at the Whirlpool Green Tech forum (http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/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 will come to your rescue.

Mounting system

Mounting System

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.

The video below provides and excellent explanation of how mounting systems are installed on tile and tin roofs and the components involved.

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