ABC 7:30 Report On Shonky Solar: Fair Comment Or Beat-up?

Leigh Sales - ABC 7.30 report on solar power

Is the solar industry full of shonks like the ABC implied? Should you be worried?

Who saw the 7:30 report last night? Its lead story was questioning the safety and quality of the Australian solar power industry. Leigh Sales promised to reveal “the dark side of Australia’s solar obsession”.

Bloody hell, that sounds bad. It certainly left the viewer wondering if buying solar was such a good idea. Especially if there’s a chance it will burn their house down! But we all know journalists like to sensationalise. So what’s the truth?

The bad news: Yes – there is a problem with low quality installations. Too many substandard and unsafe solar systems are being installed on roofs around Australia.

The good news: If you refuse to buy the cheapest system on the market, do your research into panel brands, inverter brands and solar installation companies you are highly unlikely to get a low quality install.

So let’s take  a deep dive into the ABC’s story to determine what was fair and what was not:

The report into inspections and dodgy installations

The Clean Energy Regulator (CER) is responsible for administrating the Renewable Energy Target and performs a “statistically significant” number of solar power system inspections each year.

The CER’s language is revealing. “Statistically significant” means they audit just enough installations get statistically valid numbers for their reports. But they don’t do anywhere near enough inspections to weed out the shonks who are installing shit every day. I’m guessing the project was designed by a bureaucrat who cares about pretty reports – not an engineer who cares about safety.

The Australian National Audit Office audits the inspection program and published a report way back in December 2018. Ronald wrote an excellent piece dissecting the CER inspection results here.

The CER handballs enforcement action on failed systems to the Clean Energy Council (CEC). The CEC boots a handful of installers out of the industry every year.

1-in-30 systems ‘unsafe’

The ABC was horrified that 1-in-30 (2.7%) solar power systems were found to be ‘unsafe’. The language used in the official report classes them as a ‘severe risk’. The ABC was right to be horrified. Conventional residential solar systems can have up to 600V DC running through the roof, which is more dangerous than plain vanilla 230V AC. Almost 3% of systems being a severe risk to safety is unacceptable.

The Clean Energy Council’s line that:

‘the number is going down’

is not good enough. After 10 years the CEC should have helped enforce an inspection regime that makes it  almost impossible for an unsafe system to be switched on.

In my humble opinion the 2.7%  figure alone justifies moving to 100% inspections by state and territory regulators.

1-in-6 systems ‘sub-standard’

How many solar power systems are on your street? I count 8 on mine. One of those is most likely sub-standard: officially at a ‘high risk’ of failing. That’s awful. Australia has been installing at volume for 10 years now. If we still have one ‘high-risk’ substandard system per street, the inspection system has failed us.

The ABC have a point. Too many solar systems are not up to scratch. The CEC claim things are improving. You judge for yourself:

Australian solar power system inspections

We need a step change in system safety. The simple solution is up to 100% inspections by state and territory electrical regulators.

Rex’s failed solar panels

The ABC used the case of a gentleman called Rex as an example of someone whose solar panels failed early. Rex was getting his panels replaced after just 4.5 years.

Although the brand was not named on TV, I know Rex had Trina panels. Trina Solar panels have had a huge problem with water ingress over the last few years. That’s not good. But Trina have a brand to maintain and as far as I know they are honouring all warranties (as they have to under the law).

I have been told that Rex paid nothing to get a full fleet of brand new panels from Trina Solar. So he bought a well known brand and discovered, happily,  that the warranties were worth more than the paper they were written on. Well done Trina and well done Rex.

I think the ABC should have mentioned that – the implication was that Rex was out-of-pocket1.

Rex bought a reputable brand

If you read my Solar 101 guide, you’ll see my solar panel brand chart. You’ll notice that Trina are on the far left2. That means I consider them a reputable budget brand. Budget brands are more likely to have issues – but should be easy to claim the warranty on.

Top tip: If you want to minimise the chance of having any issues with your panels for the next 2-3 decades, then buy to the right of the red line I scrawled on the chart:

Trusted solar panel brands chart

What about the environmental issue?

No one wants to see solar panels that should last 25-35 years going on the scrapheap. And if you buy an ultra cheap, no-name brand it is very common, in my experience, for them to start degrading within 3 years.

Happily – if you buy a well known brand (see above) they are likely to last much longer than the 1-2 years it takes to pay their embodied ‘energy debt’ back.

But what about the STCs? The STCs environmental benefit assume 12 years of generation3. Most panels should last more than double that – so a small number of systems going to the scrap heap will not drag the average lifespan under 12 years. Arguing that the STC scheme is not saving CO2 is disingenuous.

Recycling solar panels

Johann Fleury, an excellent solar installer, who was replacing Rex’s panels under warranty says it is likely the old, defective Trina Solar panels will end up in landfill. I hope that at the very least someone pulls the aluminium frames off them!

If Trina wanted to do the right thing environmentally, for $30 each they could be almost 100% recycled through a company called Reclaim-PV. Because I can’t see Trina forking out $600, I think any solar panel manufacturer that replaces a panel under warranty should be forced to cover the $30 cost of proper recycling of each panel. Serves them right for cocking up their quality control.

Solar panel fires & DC isolators

The report rightly pointed out that the weakest link in many solar systems is the rooftop DC isolator. The rule that insists on rooftop isolators is a stupid one that should be repealed. But who knows if it ever will be.

In the meantime what is the humble solar power system buyer to do if they don’t want a DC isolator on their roof?

Simple – you can buy a micro inverter system. They don’t use high voltage DC, so they don’t require a rooftop DC isolator. That’s what I’ve got on my roof. But then I am particularly paranoid – my house is literally made of straw.

If you already have a rooftop DC isolator then, if it was installed by a quality installer, you should get the isolator (and whole system) inspected every 5 years.

If you got a bargain basement system and are not confident in the install – get that sucker inspected ASAP.

Clean Energy Council says it’s all under control

Without a doubt the Australian solar power industry would be in a worse state without the CEC. They have recently lifted their game on panel and inverter quality4.

They are also taking action against some installers. But not enough. They only kicked out 12 last year (that’s 0.2% of 6000 installers).

They’ve had 10 years to get this right. And the solution is breathtakingly simple: up to 100% inspections by state and territory electrical regulators.

On Facebook – responding to the ABC 730 report – the CEC CEO said:

“As noted, state electrical safety bodies are reviewing their inspection programs. CEC supports this, including higher levels of inspections where appropriate.”

So perhaps we’ll get there and the CEC will come along for the ride. Perhaps they will actually start to vigorously advocate for many more inspections and stronger enforcement. We can but hope.

In the meantime – if you are a consumer who is buying solar power, here’s how to take matters into your own hands instead of waiting for the bureaucrats to do the right thing.

How to buy solar safely

    1. Ensure the panel brand is on this chart and the inverter brand is on this chart. Go as far to the right hand side as you can afford.
    2. Research your solar installation company thoroughly. Don’t just look at at their overall reviews score. Look at the worst reviews and see how they got those reviews. If a restaurant gets a 1-star review it might be because the meal took too long.  Or it might be because there was poo in the chocolate gelato. There’s a big difference between the offences! See what the solar company did to get their worst reviews. Did they earn a 1-star review by being late for their install, or using rude words on the roof, or did they do something really bad, like refusing to fix a system that does not work, doing a dangerous installation, or just being complete arseholes?  If you want to be really safe, use SolarQuotes’ new ‘AusRanking’ feature and go for a company with a score of over 80%. That means they are in the top 20% of all installers reviewed – the cream of the crop.
    3. Call the solar panel manufacturer’s Australian office and check that their panels – as used by your chosen installation company – will be warranted by them in the instance that the solar company is not around for the next 25 years. Ditto with the inverter.
    4. Get Solar Analytics installed. Uniquely, this monitoring system will email you if a problem emerges with your solar power system. This makes it much more likely that any problems that emerge over the decades can be fixed before they cause a safety issue. A friend of mine got a Solar Analytics alert that her energy yield had dropped to 78%. The installer came round and found a melted DC connector. Left undetected that could have started a fire.
    5. Get a solar power system safety inspection done every 5 years.

Done right, solar’s risks are tiny.

If the ABC 7.30 report scares you off solar energy, then it’s condemning you to many more years of high bills. That would be a shame. It is not fun paying exorbitant electricity bills when you don’t have to.

But if the ABC report nudges you towards doing your research and paying a bit more for better solar power from a well regarded installer, then that’s a good thing for everyone. Except the companies selling crap systems that are badly installed. They’ll be really pissed off.

Footnotes

  1. Under Australian Consumer Law his installer should also compensate Rex for any lost savings due to the faulty solar panels
  2. When Trina’s water ingress issues started, I seriously considered booting them from the chart. But by all accounts they’ve both rectified the manufacturing issue and honoured all warranties – so they have stayed – but moved to the left.
  3. reducing by 1 year, every year
  4. And good God they had to! Some of the crap that was getting approved a few years ago was unbelievably bad. Some of it made by CEC sponsors
About Finn Peacock

I'm a Chartered Electrical Engineer, Solar and Energy Efficiency nut, dad, and founder of SolarQuotes.com.au. My last "real job" was working for the CSIRO in their renewable energy division.

Comments

  1. I say it was fair comment… I think it showed that the CEC CEO to be a spin doctor… who claimed there was no problem with low quality solar – like really? Clearly as your article shows in the graphic, the sub standard installation rate trend line is increasing! I believe the answer is to institute a state based DC licensing requirement and then install a tiered inspection regime, with declining requirements for compliant tradesmen. So, remove the CEC accreditation monopoly from the Renewable Energy Act. ….Now, I will contact you privately as one of your “to the right of the line” companies does not deserve to be there as I have evidence of them attempting to evade their warranty obligations.

  2. ABC 7:30 should now interview you, seriously.

  3. Romeo De la Cruz says

    Hi,
    Thanks for all info in this article.
    I have a 5kw (16panels) installation of Canadian Solar panels. I see from your sketch above that these panels are not among the best and most reliable. My system has been working without fail for 3years now.
    I would like to know whom to call to get the installatio inspected to be sure it’s going to last longer trouble-free.
    Are you able to help me with a phone number or email address please?
    Thanks and best regards,
    Romy

  4. I think DC isolators should be required to be in fireproof boxes but do not understand why they sometimes catch fire if they are just an off switch.
    I have an isolator on my reverse cycle air conditioner but have never heard of them catching fire.
    I watched the program and must admit I was horrified at the low standards of approval and inspection in this country I regularly get ultra low price ads for systems in the letterbox, on my phone and see ads on TV which you can be sure will not live to see out their warranty

    • Jonathan says

      I think the main issue is the isolators on the roofs are often in the harsh elements all day long (sun, rain..etc) were as your air conditioner isolator is more than often on the side of your house and might only be exposed for short periods of time and often not as harsh conditions… Eg, (hot burning roof’s, heavy rain, hail..etc).. it’s also more susceptible to humidity and condensation on the roof which I believe is a major part of fires in that condensation builds up inside and can short which can start a fire)…

    • koen weijand says

      breaking a DC current in a long cable is called welding. putting a DC breaker far away from the inverter, without the possibility to disconnect the AC of the inverter first ,is asking for trouble. these switches make an installation unsafe.

    • R Barton says

      What a pathethic response from the Regulator

  5. If you think it is a good idea to require all installs to be inspected, then it would make sense for each homeowner to also have their install inspected.

    Given that, is the inspection checklist the CER uses available?
    Is the collected inspection data available down to the level of the installer?

    To get a ‘proper’ inspection of your own rooftop solar you would want to be able to access the checklist so you know what to ask for, and you would want to know who’s installations pass inspection to know who to employ.

    Is this information available? Are you able to help make it available?

  6. John Harrison says

    I’d like to ask What’s the point of having a DC Isolator going to do on a Rooftop anyway ? If the Roofs already on Fire sure as Hell I am not ( not that I will be able too at my age) going to climb up on a Roof to isolate the Dam thing !

    • An excellent point.
      I have 2 DC isolators next to my inverter. The electricians who installed the system emphasised there is a specific order in which the DC isolators, inverter and AC mains should be turned on/off to protect the pv system and mains board. If these were on the roof it would be a nightmare to turn on the system on or off.
      That being said I’m going to have to check to see if there are additional isolators on the roof which i don’t know about.

  7. Ellis Trautman says

    This smacks of the roof insulation fiasco of Kevin 07 days. Whenever there’s a heap of gov $$$s in subsidy, the Rory brigade come out from under their rock & make hay, shafting the consumer.
    Buyer Beware??? How can we trust anyone in high places. Regulators failing their job?? We the consumer have to take it at face value.
    Down the track these things deteriorate & need replacing anyway. Will that same gov subsidy still be available?? No, it’s a ploy to suck the consumer into their ideological scheme, & hope it all goes well. FOR NOW.
    No solar for me! Battery storeage? Well don’t get me started on that!!!

    • This is nothing like the pink batts scheme. For a start that was a rushed program designed to inject money into the economy to try and ward off the worst of the GFC. This is more a race to the bottom and failure to legislate an important industry. However it’s arguably no worse than the rest of the “unsubsidised” construction industry and possibly much better. How many homes do you think are built without myriads of problems related to sub-standard and even dangerous work? I think the percentage would be much higher.
      The Opal Tower – just one example in the media I can think of. So I think it’s more a symptom of the industry and Govt’s preferring to leave certification to private companies rather than taking on the responsibility and subsequent political fallout when things go wrong.

    • Wow, your post speaks like its too dangerous to step outside! Solar installed correctly is the BEST investment you can make. Australia has the lowest cost per kW installation rates in the Western world. As Mondo explains above – this is nothing like the pink batts scheme….which by the way (although we had a few deaths and quite a bit of fraud) has made hundreds of thousands of Australian homes more energy efficient! —- anyway… All you need to do to be safe is NOT buy the cheapest TV advertised solar system you can see and instead, pick a reputable local installer (in your area) with great reviews and as Finn mentions, look to see if there were any bad reviews and what they were for and how they dealt with it. If you don’t have any local installers – pick from Finn’s list

    • Geoff Miell says

      Ellis Trautman,
      You say:

      “Buyer Beware??? How can we trust anyone in high places. Regulators failing their job?? We the consumer have to take it at face value.”

      Indeed, “Buyer Beware”, whether it’s subsidized or not. Do your research before you buy, to minimize the risk of getting a dud product/service. And also research whether the manufacturer/supplier have a history of standing by their products/services when things go wrong, or are likely to ‘leave you in the lurch’. That’s what websites like this one are useful for.

      You also say:

      “Down the track these things deteriorate & need replacing anyway. Will that same gov subsidy still be available?? No, it’s a ploy to suck the consumer into their ideological scheme, & hope it all goes well. FOR NOW.”

      Everything eventually deteriorates and needs replacing. The trick is to get a better than adequate return on investment. Your rant is a straw man argument which suggests to me you are an ill-informed anti-renewable ideologue.

      You also say:

      “No solar for me!”

      IMO, if you are a home owner-occupier with an adequate, appropriately facing, unobstructed roof space (and you can afford it), have an appropriately sized PV system installed – it should be well worth the investment. Two million households (and counting) can’t all be wrong, can they, Ellis?
      See: https://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/news/number-of-australian-homes-with-rooftop-solar-tops-2-million-and-counting

      Otherwise you apparently like paying more for your energy.

  8. Finn, you need to run the whole solar inspection division across Australia.

    Common sense unfortunately isn’t that common anymore.

    You have my vote mate.

    Thanks for all your wise advice. When Im ready to get solar installed I’ll be sticking to your guidelines like glue.

    Cheers
    Mark

  9. Like John above I thought the roof (watching 730) was the wrong place for the cutoff switch and made a mental note to have mine installed undercover by the front door where heat, smoke and flames would be quickly seen by me, neighbours and firemen long before my brick and zincalume house suffered serious damage in the unlikely event that the switch that would be protected from the weather caught fire. Why place this weakpoint on the roof, firefighters arrive in trucks not helicopters.

    • Erik Christiansen says

      Richard, you have answered my question before I’d a chance to ask it. As the regulation here in Victoria seems to be that the DC isolator “Shall be installed adjacent to, or on, the electricity generation system so that a person
      operating the switch has a clear view of any person working on the electricity generation system.”, i had figured that mounting it on the soffit (underside of the eaves) would meet the regulation, yet shield it from rain. As most of the fires are said to be due to water ingress, that seems to be at least half as good as eliminating it, and relying on an isolator on the input of the inverter/charger.

  10. The lady next door to me is a widow and had solar installed about 5 yrs ago by the travelling shonks. The installation was substandard as the rood screws used are now unusable due to corrosion and the shonks have disappeared.
    When she goes to work I put her bins out and return them of an afternoon and I look at the display of the inverter to see if it is working.
    This day I see it was not working after I returned the bins and thought I would do some fault finding next day.
    The result was the DC isolator just below the inverter was full of water and this was mounted with some degree of cover from the elements.
    I drained it and left it partially open to fully dry out and then with the help of some silicon I sealed up the cover.
    I am and electrician and I looked at the enclosure and there is no way the cover can seal effectively so one of these on the roof would be prone to leaking.
    Late last year the installer for our system told me he uses a special waterproof enclosure for the isolator that is more expensive but has better sealing ability.

  11. Joe Blake says

    My experience(s) might be useful to somebody else. I was apprenticed as a “radio mechanic” in the Army in the mid-’60s and was introduced to photo voltaic and photo electric cells so I’ve been aware of them for decades. In 2004 I created a non-grid connected PV system with batteries (lead acid) as an experiment. In 2009 I called for quotes to install a rooftop grid connected system. Four guys turned up. One got out of his car, took one look at my solar HWS on the north facing roof, said it wouldn’t be worth doing anything and drove off. Two installers measured my roof area from the ground, one paced it out, the other used a tape measure. The last guy got up on the (tile) roof with a tape measure and “sun tracker” and camera and photographed the possible trees etc which would throw shade on the panels at different times of the year. Because of the HWS on the north, the panels would be installed on the west face of the roof. Although his quote wasn’t the cheapest, I went with the guy who got up on the roof. To me he knew what he was doing.

    Although the KACO Powador inverter fritzed itself within 6 months, it was replaced by the installer within 48 hours at no cost. In 2013 it was still doing stirling service when it was replaced by a higher rated model. I then installed a second set of panels on the eastern face of the roof. My initial installer had returned to Germany saying that he couldn’t work here because there were insufficient sub-contractors whom he could trust to work unsupervised(!), so I called again for quotes and the winner (again) was the person who got up on the roof with his camera and sun tracker to work out the possible shading. The second set of panels was installed with its own inverter and as I was going to install (sealed lead acid) batteries I had a “smart charger” installed to manage both sets of panels’ power. That was Dec 2014. To date the whole system is working well, but my detailed spreadsheet numbers show that the performance of the panels is slowly deteriorating, but since for 8-9 months of the year they still generate more than 100% of the house’s requirements I have no concerns in that respect.

    With the acquisition on an electric vehicle (scooter) I wished to see about increasing panel capacity and called for quotes (via the SQ people) and had three possible installers. Two visited and both informed me that my installation was so old that it would not meet the newest government standards, and it would only be possible to take a perfectly good working system down and replace it entirely to meet the latest standards. The third installer phoned me up and tried to sell me a system based upon his looking at an aerial photograph. He said I had plenty of roof space, but because he hadn’t visited the site, he hadn’t realised that (a) what he thought was existing roof space was actually the roof of my neighbour’s duplex (with panels and excess rails), attached to mine and (b) other roof space was actually a colour bond patio roof which was nowhere near substantial enough to carry such a load. Under no circumstances would that guy have got a Guernsey.

    I’ve decided to let the sleeping sun dog lie and keep my working system, despite its age. (It was interesting that during the initial installation, the isolator switch for the panels was installed on the wall of the patio, well out of the weather, and in the meter box was a clear sign indicating this. The second isolator switch was also installed on the same wall.)
    So as has been said elsewhere, do your homework and check everything you can. Ask around. Inhabit websites like this one.

  12. Reg Watson says

    I imagine as your livelihood relies on recommending solar installation companies you would have watched this with some concern as we know the “horses get spooked easily”.

    However your recommended installers seem to be mainly based on recommendations by customer reviews and your own screening process. Customers generally don’t know a lot about the quality and safety of the installation – mainly whether their quote was reasonable, they turned up to install on time, it worked when the switch was thrown and that they didn’t leave a mess. If they leave a great review because their boxes were ticked how can you be sure that some of your recommended installers are showing up in the bad lot above and some of the installations are “severe risk” ?

    To what extent has Solar Quotes had their recommended installers work independently verified for safety and quality ?

    Not having a go – just would be interested to know !

  13. Ralph Mullins says

    Regarding Trina Solar Panels…
    I had a 4kW Trina Honey (~250W) panel system (16 panels) installed in early 2014. They worked well until 24th March 2019 where 8 of the 16 failed (50% failure) (causing a complete solar system generation failure) due to an internal short in those panels cause by water ingress.
    I have an unanswered question (request) with Trina Solar Australia, asking whether there is any way to protect the remaining “working” 8 panels from future water ingress. No response from Trina since 2nd May 2019 when the request was opened with Trina Solar Australia.
    Finn, do you know whether there is any preventative measure that can be taken to protect the remaining 8 working panels?
    BTW.. The entire system is still not working (as of 28th May 2019) as I’m still waiting for the replacement Trina panels, which I’m told have been approved for replacement under warranty. There was/is also the issue of when the “installer” is available to visit the site, as they are so busy making money installing new sites. Still no notification that the 8 replacement panels have been shipped from Trina Solar Australia.
    If there is no preventative measure that can be taken to protect the remaining 8 working panels, I have no option but to wait until they possibly fail in the future and hopefully fail within the 10 year warranty period.

  14. Finn, I have Trina Honey 270w panels on my system which 18 mths down the track has been running very well. My question is, how long ago did they resolved the issue during manufacturing ?

    Also, what signs should I look for regards water ingress ?

  15. You say that 1 in 30 is 2.7%. It isn’t.

  16. With business in sales of electronic gadgets, rated IP67, considered by most people to be “waterproof”, manufacturer responding to complaints about moisture failures recommended drill small breather hole at lowest point, to let water out! Too big a topic for debate here but IP standards don’t consider ingress and condensation if saturated vapour. After its in, it wets seals so that condensate can’t get out. So drill a little hole.

  17. Another great article – thank you, although I think you need to be careful about how you rank solar panels. Your initial ranking left to right was based on price, but you are now factoring in the quality of the panel. I would say that it would be nearly impossible to rank the panels based on reliability or manufacturing quality as they would all pretty much be assembled in a similar nature. I would go one more, the ability of a manufacturer to take responsibility for their workmanship and warranties should be given a LOT more weight. Trina Solar has been fantastic in this regard. I doubt whether 50% of all the manufacturers you have listed on your recommended panel brands list would have been as accommodating as Trina Solar Australia, especially as the water ingress issues were only impacting on the panels where they were installed with a fall less than 12 deg. You can see from the ABC 7.30 report video that the panels being removed (two top rows) were installed with very little fall. It is recommended that panels be installed with a min fall of 12 deg. Some manufacturers include this requirement in their product warranty disclosure statement. I would say that there are going to be many more ‘major’ tier 1 panel brands that will be impacted by water ingress issues before their ten-year product warranty expires. As was explained to me recently by a panel manufacturer, if you have a pool of water collected between the aluminium frame lip and the glass, over time (it may be 4 years or 15 years) water (or moisture) will eventually get into the panel. It will be interesting to see how these other major brands respond to the warranty claim if this does happen. Trina should be given top marks for honouring their warranty. I know that this is the main reason why we have stuck by them as a brand for the last 4-5 years.

    Finally – I asked the Head of Trina Solar Australia about their current warranty and installing panels under 12 deg. I was assured that it would not impact on the 10 yr product warranty – but industry best practice would have you use a frameless solar panel for flat roof installations or use a tilt frame system. I think consumers who install brands like LG, REC or Sunpower panels which have a 25-year warranty should be VERY cautious about installing panels on a roof section with minimal fall. Maybe you can check the limited liability product warranty disclosure statement for the above-mentioned companies and check if they would honour a warranty claim in say year 15 for water ingress where the panels have been laid flat?

    • Ralph Mullins says

      You made reference to installing solar panels with more than 12 deg minimum incline or it could result in water ingress over time.
      In my situation the failure rate due to water ingress of the Trina Solar Honey Panels was 50% (8 of 16) at 5 years old, all installed with an inclination of 28% deg, 8 facing North and 8 facing west.
      This does not fit the less than 12 deg installation situation you mention.
      When constructing a solar panel the manufacturer should never rely on the aluminum frame to act as a seal due to obvious issues with expansion. The solar panel “wafer” must be totally vacuum sealed before the aluminum support frame is attached. If the Trina Honey Panel “wafer” was vacuum sealed before adding the frame, this would mean the solar panel “wafer” seal broke down over time allowing water ingress to occur, after the water passed between the aluminum frame and the solar panel wafer, possibly at the corners.
      Water ingress into a solar panel where there is no physical damage to the panel, would indicate a manufacturing fault that in this case eventually results in the panel wafer seal no longer working as a seal.
      Should this type of failure be covered by warranty? Yes.

  18. Why didn’t you participate in the ABC 7.30 report?

  19. hi finn, i was tossing up between jinko or q cell panels, i see q cells you have rated a better panel, can you explain to me the advantages/disadvantages of q cell panels over jinko please regards ann

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Hi Ann, Ronald here.

      Solar panels have product warranties and performance warranties. Jinko’s product warranty is for 10 years while QCELLS is for 12 years. QCELLS performance warranty is also better as it allows for a little less deterioration. While they are both reliable panels, all else equal I would go with QCELLS, but you might be able to get a better deal on Jinko panels.

      You can compare the two panels, as well as others, on our solar panel comparison table:

      https://www.solarquotes.com.au/panels/comparison/compare-solar-panels/

  20. Ray Meeuwisse says

    I have had to replace hundreds of Trina panels, it does not matter what angle they are mounted at, they were just poorly manufactured, by sub let companies by Trina about 4 – 5 years ago. Trina a rubbish product, Trina are the worst to deal with, and trying to get warranty replacements, is nearly an impossible task, believe me, I have had the misfortune, of trying to navigate their horrible Trina web portal. They make the warranty process so difficult, they actually count on you going away, and not making the claim. Then if you are successful, they DO NOT WANT TO PAY, WHAT IT IS REALLY WORTH, to remove the failed panels, and re-install the new panels, and then to top it all off, they want to supply NON COMPLIANT solar panels. I have had personal dealings with TRINA, and believe me its not easy. The best course of action is to actually go back to the Solar wholesaler you purchased from, as they are the ones that have the responsibility, for replacement, I have done this myself, and have also authenticated this through Fair Trading, and the Small Business Commission. end responsibility is with the wholesaler, play hard ball with them, as they are the ones, making the huge profits after all.

  21. Interesting variations from all who comment. We have the DC Isolator switches (two of them) under each Solar Edge Inverter (yes we have two side by side connected, one for each row of 10 panels. All is installed within properly enclosed sealed and UMR garage, but I still had a smoke alarm installed above the inverters on the garage ceiling to give me at least a starting chance to deal with any unexpected fire from that part of the system! Disappointed Finn that you now give Canadian Solar panels a less than good rap – given that I sought your advice two years ago prior to purchasing. However, went with hopefully a reputable installer (Infinite Energy) in Perth.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Hi Bronte, Ronald here.

      We still consider Canadian panels to be reliable and they are on our chart of recommended panels. If you have Canadian panels installed you don’t have much to worry about. But if people want extra peace of mind they can pay more for premium panels. Personally, I think it makes sense to get a larger system with reliable but lower cost panels than to only be able to afford a smaller system with high cost panels. But that does come down to personal preferences.

  22. Great article Finn
    As you stated the simplest solution is to get ALL systems inspected. Like what is currently the case in Victoria……
    I’m interested to know if the rates of failure are lower in Vic. as a result of the mandatory inspection upon completion of every installation. Surely all states can implement this and quickly!

    Your ‘Aus Ranking’ system is a fantastic initiative so consumers can understand and filter the good installers from the not so great.

    • “I’m interested to know if the rates of failure are lower in Vic.”

      Very good point, would validate if a compulsory inspection did actually make a difference

  23. I should also point out that having a decent installer does not guarantee you won’t hit problems. I used a solar quotes recommended installer and one of my DC Isolators (next to the Inverter) blew up just under a year after installation.

    Once I had found it (Solar Analytics pointed out something was wrong) they had it fixed in a few hours but it was a right mess and if there had been anything inflammable under it it could have been nasty.

  24. David Olsen says

    Australia and New Zealand share the same wiring standards to which the PV Solar electrical work is to be installed. In part of this shared standard/document Australia differs their requirements, including insisting on DC isolators adjacent to the PV array where as New Zealand does not (NZ Govt Regulators identify this as a area of risk).

    New Zealand electrical regulations mandate Electricians to Certify the installation followed by Electrical Inspections by registered Electrical Inspectors to inspect these PV solar generators (issue a Record of Inspection Certificate) before they are put into service.
    These two examples above is how New Zealand is reducing risk to Life and Buildings.

  25. Bob Campbell says

    I am tossing up between buying a 5Kw system using a solax (5 yr warranty ) inverter with Seraphim panels (19 panels x 275w)., or a Sungrow (10 year warranty) with Canadian Ku (split) panels (19 panels x 350w).
    I’m told that the output of the Solax inverter would be 21kw p.d and the Sungrow would be 26kw.

    Which would be the best set up to go with.?

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Hi Bob, Ronald here.

      The Solax and Seraphim setup will be 5.225 kilowatts while the Sungrow and Canadian would be 6.65 kilowatts. Just going by size I would recommend getting the larger system. The figures you were given for average kilowatt-hours produced per day look about right. Solax and Sungrow are both good lower cost inverters, but a 10 year warranty for the Sungrow is clearly superior to the Solax’s 5 year warranty. The Canadian panels may provide slightly more output because they are presumably a little more resistant to the effects of shade, but on a roof without significant shade this won’t make much difference.

  26. BUY Local, then you will have greater security with an Australian Made Product,
    Try arguing with a manufacturer from another country when you have a problem, – good luck with that.

    I used to buy cars made in Australia, But not everyone else did, Now my son will never work in the Aust car industry,
    If we don’t buy Australian Solar products , a lot of our kids will never get a chance to work in the Ausy solar manufacturing industry either.

  27. Mark Stevens says

    The number of systems inspected found to be ‘Unsafe’ was actually 3.44%, not 2.7%

    http://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/DocumentAssets/Pages/Inspections-Update-No-17.aspx

  28. Peter Rce says

    I have been taken down by Euro Solar.
    Now trading as something else afrpter going into liquidation.
    They have not provided any warranty for a faulty inverter.
    – Suntwins 5000TL. Had paid extra to ensure 10 year warranty. Has now failed.
    Supplier denying any, liability.
    Will not return phone calls or written correspondence..
    $6000 investment down the drain.

    Be warned everyone.

  29. Peter McDougall says

    Had an additional 5kw system installed alongside our original 3 KW system about 18 months ago and were notified the utility company was going to attend to inspect the new system.
    The inspector turned up and checked original and new system for compliance and shut down reconnect etc. I asked him if he would like to check out panel installation which was out of view on the other side of the house and he said they were not interested in the DC side of it ! Wow, I thought seeing the DC side is the most likely area of danger. He was only really concerned the systems shut down when the grid went down and reconnected in the required manner when the grid came back on. To my mind apart from the obvious disconnect reconnect protocol being correct the next area to inspect would be all of the DC side including the manner in which high voltage DC is routed from the array to the Inverter/s through roof spaces and the seriously stupid roof top isolators.

  30. Hi we had a 15.5 kw off grid system installed 2 years ago by SA energy solutions half way through the install he changed his name to SA energy group . We have had an independent person inspect the system as have had problems with the generator cutting in constantly & the system never running to its full potential . We have now been told that we were supplied with 12 year old second hand scrap batteries . I have gone through the process of consumer affairs mediation & this person wants me to pay half the money for new batteries when I’ve already paid for a $50 thousand dollar system . I’ve given him notice to pay for the full amount or I will be taking civil action against his company . I’ve had no reply there is no protection for the consumer so I’m now out of pocket for about $ 16 thousand dollars for new batteries & rework . This so called doggy installer is accredited by the clean energy council what a load of crap . I will be getting the media involved I don’t want to see this happen again by this person . His first company is in liquidation & the new one is registered in his fathers name for which consumer affairs is investigating .ive never been so disappointed for going off grid

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