For several reasons, such as the available Federal Government rebates and increasing electricity prices, solar systems have been getting more and more popular in Australia in general and cairns specifically, as an alternative form of creating electricity for homes, commercial premises and farms.
In many situations, using energy from the sun can be environmentally beneficial, reduce the price of energy in your household, and even qualify you for government subsidies.
So if you’re thinking about getting a solar power system, you might be wondering how to make an informed and smart choice. With so many offers and brands on the market, how do you know what to purchase? How do you narrow down your choices and reach a decision?
To help you make a smart decision we have written down the different aspects of a solar system and how a cheap and expensive solar system differ.
Not all panels are the same
Solar modules will be exposed to far more than 150,000 hours of continuous sunlight, extreme changes in temperature, air, downpours, hail, and other elements over the course of their production warranty. Australia and the Cairns region especially has an incredibly tough climate.
There can be a big difference in panel quality and the price point reflects this. Cheaper panels tend to degrade faster, meaning the original wattage will become less and less each year – so that for example after a few years you are able to lose 5 or even 10% of the initial generation capacity. More expensive panels, for example, the LG NeON H and Q.Cell G9+ tend to degrade less.
Cheaper panels do perform less in hot weather. Contrary to popular belief solar panels deteriorate in performance if they become warmer than 25 degrees Celsius. So on hot days, when one wants to use the solar system to run the air conditioning, cheaper panels will generate less electricity than the ones of a higher quality. In some extreme cases, the difference in performance can be 10% or more.
Cheaper panels will have a lower salt mist corrosion level, making them more vulnerable to salt corrosion after a few years. Given that many solar systems around Cairns will be installed close to the coast, having a panel with a high to severe level of corrosion protection is very important, to ensure that the system will stand the test of time.
Cheaper panels will have a lower wind load resistance than more expensive panels. Given the local cyclonic climate, this feature again puts the long-term survival of the solar system at risk.
It’s worth remembering that inexpensive solar panels aren’t just cheap; they’re also generally made of lower-quality materials, an example of this being the backing sheet. The UV resistance of a solar panel backing sheet is very important in Australia with our intense and strong UV rays. A cracked backing sheet will let moisture enter the panel making it fail soon after.
One might say, why worry, after all, I have a long warranty on the cheap panels. Unfortunately, as many solar system owners have found out, chasing warranty claims on cheap panels can become a time consuming and frustrating experience, because it is hard to find the responsible party. This is especially true when one considers that over 400 cheap panel manufacturers have left Australia, often only a few years after unloading hundreds of thousands of panels, with the warranty still running.
So when it comes to cheap vs more expensive panels – the verdict is clear – while you might save money in the initial purchase of a cheap panel system, you also get less in the long run, so the question must be asked – was this a smart saving?
Not all inverters are the same
The next difference is the quality of the inverter. The inverter is a hard-working element of your solar energy system. It is used to convert the dc power generated by the solar modules into ac power that can be used by the appliances and lights in your residence/business.
When the radiation of light from the sun changes via changing cloud cover the inverter must modify the energy being generated. Throughout the day, an inverter never stops functioning and changing its output, sometimes every 2 seconds. It naturally switches off in the evening, after it has operated for long hours in all weather conditions during the day.
As a result of this demanding work schedule, choosing the right inverter solution is again critical to getting a long-lasting system. To make a strong financial return on solar of course the best return is achieved if your system lasts the longest possible period without any failures.
Inverters are complicated electronics devices that, like any other electronics product can be built for low cost as the focus or with a focus on reliability and efficiency. Cheap inverters have failed in their thousands in Australia after as little as 1 or 2 years, while quality inverters, which may be considered an expensive inverter, like Enphase, Fronius or SolarEdge are expected to still operate after a decade-plus.
There are many cheap inverters with a 5 year plus warranty even though they are not built to last that period. What the manufacturers do is either leave Australia when the avalanche of warranties come through or replace the relatively poor quality product with another unit. This means a lot of unnecessary waste is generated and often ends up in landfills. We recommend going for longer-lasting inverters and getting a better outcome for your peace of mind and the environment.
Even though the cost of inverters has dropped by about 30% in recent years, as a rule of thumb, you get what you pay for. From the outside, they all appear to be colourful boxes, but it is the inside that will make a significant difference in the coming years.
Not all accessories are the same
The third difference is the quality of the accessories. There are several different accessories that are a part of your solar system installation such as rails, mounting brackets, cabling, safety fuses/switches, cable ties and many more.
Sometimes just a minor detail can make a big difference. For example, the cost difference between a steel cable tie and a plastic cable tie is about $1 dollar. A normal standard solar install has about 50 cable ties used on the job – mainly for tying the panel cables to the rail structure.
The cheaper plastic cable ties will crack after about three years of UV exposure and in many cases, get stuck and clog the drainpipe. A steel cable tie on the other hand will still be doing its job after 10 years. So while the material cost difference might only be 50 dollars on the solar install, the outcome for the homeowner will be vastly different.
Not all installers are the same
It is surprising when one talks to people about their car, how particular many are on who fixes the brakes and the brake lights on their car. After all the safety of you and your family depend on the job being done well.
Solar is not any different. A poorly installed system where the installer has cut corners to save costs increases the risk that in years to come this electrical system will have a major breakdown. Solar systems generate live electricity, therefore having the installation done properly is very important. So why would one choose a cheap solution, maybe by someone who does not even have all the qualifications, putting the safety of one’s family is at risk?
The good installers, who might charge a bit more also use more sturdy brackets and usually use many more brackets when mounting the solar system, which allows for a more lasting solar installation, especially during a tropical storm.
After-sales service nonexistent with cheap solar systems
Finally, after-sales service. If the company that sold you the system cheaply, did not make enough profit to survive the ups and down of the solar industry and has gone out of business and your system stopped working, then you are not in a good position.
If the original solar installation company no longer exists and you are unable to locate the original licensed and certified solar installer, you have the option of contacting another local solar installer. Unfortunately, as he/she did not install the system originally, he/she will need to go through the job thoroughly to make sure he does not take on the liability for an unsafe system. For this reason, such repairs usually do not come cheap.
In summary – seek options from a reliable, local, family-owned installation company and avoid the problems above, You will end up in the long run with more money in your pocket.