The latest issue of industry bible: Photon International has an in depth review of the popular Growatt 5000MTL 5kW solar inverter from China.
It performs well in the efficiency tests, scoring an A grade at high irradiation (i.e. strong sun) and a B grade at medium irradiation. It ranked in the top third of all devices tested by the magazine over the past few years.
So to cut a long story short – Growatts are one of the better Chinese inverters out there. And they are certainly a lot cheaper than the European inverters on the market.
But there is a question mark over the quality control in the Growatt factory.
The first inverter that the manufacturer provided the Photon Magazine’s labs for testing actually failed during the test. They had to get a replacement inverter to finish the test.
I think this highlights the tradeoff you are making if you choose a cheaper, Chinese inverter over a more expensive, European model.
Whilst the new breed of Chinese inverters are stellar performers efficiency-wise, sometimes beating their European counterparts, their reliability is just not quite there yet. And this is perfectly understandable. Most of the Chinese companies have been around less than 5 years, whereas many of the European companies have been in the game for decades.
That means the Europeans have had decades to learn what makes an inverter reliable and tweak their designs every year to improve that reliability. And if you have been making inverters for thirty years, then I would argue that you are a lot more convincing when you promise that your inverter will last for 20 years plus!
So am I saying you should always buy an expensive European model over the Chinese models?
No, I’m not.
Let me be as clear as I can be:
If you want to buy an inverter that has the highest likelihood of lasting over 20 years without failure, and you can afford to pay for it, then go for an inverter from a manufacturer that has been making them for decades. e.g. SMA, Fronius, Power-One or Delta.
If you are on a budget, then the good Chinese inverters (e.g. Growatt, Samil Power, Eversolar) are great performers and their reliability is improving all the time. But get a 10 year warranty and make sure both the solar installation company and inverter manufacturer has an Australian presence and a reputation for fast warranty claims at no cost to you.
After all, being pragmatic about it – if your Chinese inverter fails after 10 years, bearing in mind the plummeting cost curve for consumer electronics, a replacement will probably cost a fraction of today’s price. And the replacement will probably be cheaper than the extra you’d pay for a European model today.
What do you reckon? Spend more for the European models? Or be “economically pragmatic” and get a good Chinese brand with a good warranty? Let rip in the comments below!