Black Max Solar Panels Review: Beware Conflicting Warranty Claims

What the hell is a Black Max solar panel?

I recently wrote an article on black solar panels and included pictures of sexy black ones from SunPower and LG Solar.  What I didn’t do was mention Seraphim Black Max panels.  This is something I probably should have done, as we have received some inquiries about ‘Blackmax panels’.

Fortunately I wasn’t asked directly because all I could have said about them a few days ago was, “They are black solar panels made by Seraphim that are called Max.”

I have now researched Blackmax panels and have memorized everything specifically relating to them on the Seraphim Solar website.  This was easy because there was nothing there.  The word Blackmax does not appear on their site.  Looking further, I found there is an Australian installer called Integra Energy Group that is selling Seraphim Eclipse SRP-E11B panels and calling them Blackmax solar panels.  On the Integra site you can download a datasheet for Blackmax panels that is identical to Seraphim’s datasheet for their Eclipse SRP-E11B panels, except for the addition of the words “Blackmax Solar”.

What Is A Seraphim Eclipse SRP-E11B?

Seraphim Eclipse panels are made by taking ordinary solar cells, cutting them into strips, and overlapping them.  This eliminates the spaces between solar cells and allows the main electrical conductor, the busbar, to be hidden under an overlapping strip so it won’t block light from reaching the solar cell.  This allows higher efficiency than the solar cells would provide when used normally and the SRP-E11Bs are from 17% to 17.6% efficient.  SunPower’s P-Series solar panels have a similar design and I wrote about them here.

What Is A Blackmax Solar Panel?

A Blackmax panel is a Seraphim Eclipse SRP-E11B but is called Blackmax, which is much more exciting.

Blackmax Or Bluemax?

Seraphim makes two kinds of Eclipse panels.  One using cheaper polysilicon cells and another using more expensive but more efficient monosilicon cells.  This picture from the Seraphim site shows them together:

Mono vs Poly Panels

As you can see, the panel using polysilicon is dark blue, while the monosilicon one is grey-black.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide which looks better, as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but what is interesting is the Eclipse SRP-E11B that Integra calls a Blackmax solar panel is actually the bluer polysilicon panel and not the blacker monosilicon one.

There is nothing wrong with using a cheaper polysilicon panel.  They should both be of equal reliability and high efficiency panels are only really important if you have a limited amount of roof space.  But it seems an odd choice to call the blue one Blackmax instead of, you know, Bluemax.  And if they start selling the monosilicon solar panels what are they going to call them?  Blacker Blackmax?

Black & White

You can see Blackmax panels looking pretty black in this screenshot of Integra’s Blackmax website, but because it’s a black and white photo it doesn’t count.

Looking Blue

They are looking bluer in this screenshot.

 Blackmax Or Black Max?

On Integra’s site the datasheet they provide has “BLACKMAX SOLAR” on it, but everywhere else they refer to them as “Black Max” panels.  I have nothing against giving solar panels a human name like Max.  I’ve known several Maxes and they’ve all seemed to be decent guys and gals, despite varying levels of madness.  (Except for that Mel Gibson guy.  He’s a few cogs short of a Babbage Machine.)  I’m just not 100% comfortable with calling them Black Max panels.  It just seems a bit odd to give them a human name and then immediately call attention to their color as if that is the most important feature of a human.  To me it’s a little reminiscent of the Dutch tradition of Black Pete.

Integra’s Strange Warranty Claim

On Integra’s site it clearly states Black Max panels have a 25 year output warranty, usually called a performance warranty, and a 20 year product warranty:

Double Warranty

They put asterisks next to both of those claims and advise you to:

“Please read warranty information for greater detail.”

It’s a good thing they do that, because when you download the warranty document they link to you will see the product warranty is actually 10 years, not 20.  This made me wonder if the 20 year claim on their website was a serious typo.  But then I found this information in their company brochure:

Screen shots from the Integra company brochure. The parts with the blue background and white background were on separate pages, but I stuck them in one image for convenience.

I believe any reasonable person seeing this would conclude if they buy Black Max solar panels they will get a 20 year product warranty, which is way beyond what Seraphim normally offers.  Also, the 25 year performance warranty in the previous screenshot is now a 30 year performance warranty. But what I couldn’t find on their site was an actual warranty document detailing the protection they provide above and beyond Seraphim’s 10 year product warranty and 25 year performance warranty.  Instead I found this on their terms and conditions page:

 

No Long Warranty For You!So here they make it clear Integra provides no product warranty so you only get the 10 years provided by the manufacturer, Seraphim.  In other words, their claim of offering a 20 year product warranty does not stand up.  This could have potentially very serious consequences for them, as according to my understanding of Australian Consumer Law1, if a reasonable person would conclude  Integra Energy Group offers a 20 year product warranty on Black Max solar panels, then that is the warranty they have to provide.  It doesn’t matter if they have an asterisk telling people to read the warranty for “greater detail” and that “detail” is that the product warranty is actually only half as long.

Update 01 Feb 2018:  Kent P. from Integra has provided us with a link to the warranty document for the 30 Year Limited Peak Power Warranty and 20 Year Limited Product Warranty for Blackmax panels: 

Seraphim’s Unacceptable Warranty Condition

If you buy Black Max panels it looks like you’ll have to rely on Seraphim’s warranties – and I have some bad news there.  While looking through their warranty document I noticed an unfortunate provision in it.  I have excised it, stuck it below, and underlined the offending bit:

Lousy Warranty Condition

So, if the solar panels fail to live up to their performance warranty Seraphim will, at their choice, either:

  1. Repair them
  2. Replace them, or…
  3. Provide extra panels to make up for the power loss

The first option is unlikely as it is easier to replace panels then repair them, but the third option is unacceptable.  If you discovered that 4 out of 20 Seraphim solar panels on your roof were performing at 20% below the minimum their performance warranty allowed, you’d expect Seraphim to replace all 4 of the under-performing panels.  But according to their warranty document they could decide to just give you one new panel and claim that makes up for the loss of output.  How is that supposed to work?  Are you meant to just hover it in the air off the edge of your existing solar panels?  Unless an old panel is removed there is no place for it to go.  Even if you could just hover it in the air, for the large majority of solar power systems, the performance of an array of panels is dragged down to that of the weakest one, so leaving the poor performing panels in place will lower the output of the whole system.

I am not aware of Seraphim handling any warranty claims this way, but it should not be an option.

Note you are protected by Australian Consumer Guarantees, regardless of what Seraphim’s written warranty says.

Integra Energy Group Claims To Manufacture Blackmax Panels

Intega’s website says, and I quote:

“Black Max is manufactured by and exclusive to Integra Energy Group.”

What?

What?  No it’s not!  Black Max panels are Eclipse SRP-E11B panels made by Seraphim Solar, a Chinese manufacturer of tier one solar panels located in Chanzhou, the city with the Chinese Jurassic Park and dragon beard noodles.  It says Seraphim right on the datasheet they provide.  The warranty document they give is from Seraphim and the address at the end of it is in China and not goddam Hallam, Victoria:

Chinese Address

Maybe they mean Seraphim makes the solar panels exclusively for Integra, but that’s is not the same as manufacturing themselves.  But Seraphim does not make Eclipse SRP-E11B panels just for Integra.  They sell them in the Philippines and plenty of other countries as well.  The best they might do is use a specific bill of materials2 for Integra, but that is a long way from Integra manufacturing them.

I don’t know why Integra are claiming to manufacture the panels when they don’t, but it’s a really bizarre thing to do.  There is only one manufacturer of solar panels in Australia and that is Tindo.  If the city of Chanzhou was in Australia I’m sure we would have noticed by now.

Fun On The Phone With Integra Energy Group

I called Integra Energy Group to ask them about their warranty and was told someone would have to get back to me.  I asked the person who answered the phone how long the warranty on Black Max panels was and she didn’t know.  Someone from Integra called me back under the impression I was a potential customer with a question about warranties, but he was not able to tell me how long the warranty on the solar panels he sold was.  Even though he was forewarned he still could not tell me.  He said his understanding was they had a flat 25 year warranty but he’d have to get back to me on that.  This is from a guy who works for a company that states their warranties are “Solid as a rock” and “Clear, honest and comprehensive”.

When he called back he said Seraphim offered an extended 20 year warranty on Black Max solar panels.  I said I was surprised by this and asked where I could find a copy of this extended warranty online.  He said it was new but they would get it on their site in about a week.  I asked for details of the warranty but he said he would need to talk to one of their technicians about that.  He told me their duraflex glass really improved the efficiency of the panels.  I asked him how it improved efficiency and he couldn’t tell me3.  He said he’d have to talk to one of their technicians about that.  I asked him to have one of his technicians call me. He said there was only one available and he’d have to check his schedule to see when he could call me, or maybe he would talk to him and then call me back himself.

I gave up at this point and said goodbye even though I hadn’t got around to asking them why they claim to manufacture the panels.

Footnotes

  1. Note I am not a lawyer and this is just my personal understanding.
  2. A Bill of Materials or BoM is a list of specific materials used to manufacture a product.  This specific list is important because materials vary in quality.
  3. Kent P. from Integra has said in the comments that duraflex glass does not come standard on Eclipse panels and it makes them stronger.  So it appears Black Max panels do have a high quality Bill of Materials and the stronger glass should help them last long term with limited degradation in output.
About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

Comments

  1. Lawrence Coomber says

    Ron, in the solar PV industry in general, the term warranty could reasonably be replaced by the term “in good faith between parties – and if able to be actionable” because this is eventually what all warranty negotiations will finally come down to in practice. I have seen a lot of it, even at PV container full levels.

    The solar PV manufacturing start-up industries in China in the early 2000’s (under Australian CFO’s who managed the commencement of the modern Chinese PV industry on the ground there as we know it) decided to create a warranty term that would apply to promote the industry international growth; I know the very prominent Australian gentleman who decided what that value would be and it was adopted throughout the Chinese industry without any further ado. That period was 20 years. It sounded a great promotional value. And it was and still is.

    Anything with 20 years pinned to it is not a practical warranty pe se. It at best indicates that some “good faith” may be negotiable at some point if necessary – or might not be possible at all due to time elapsed.

    Lawrence Coomber

  2. It annoys me that there are so many nefarious solar installation organizations usually those with big advertising budgets and very pushy sales people. There are simply too many out there.
    There is nothing they hate more than a customer who has researched a little and made his choices based on brand recognition, reputation and quality. The phrase “Tier One”should be banned, it is misleading.
    And what they really, really hate more than anything else is a customer with the temerity to ask for micro inverters. They literally foam at the mouth.

  3. The last time i checked Seraphim Solar was in a legal dispute on the “Intellectual Property” over those panel with a American patent holder Solaria Energy “solaria.com”. Not sure if it has been settled, but Solaria is claiming ng that Seraphim gained access to their “bus bar less” method of stringing together solar cells without their permission.

  4. Thanks for the review on Seraphim Eclipse and Blackmax Ron. Integra Solar is updating the language we use on the website to stipulate ‘for integra’ not the incorrect ‘by integra’.

    Furthermore, Declan you spoke to you on the phone apologises for his lack of knowledge of the product he is new at Integra, and he is responsible for booking in appointments only.

    Another worth mention is the duraflex glass is not a standard option on eclipse panels and does add to the cost to manufacture and increases the loading to 8000 Pa (thus able to withstand more wind and soccer ball attacks.)

    Finally, Eclipse modules were one of the first to past the TUV thresher test.

    The extended warranty of 20 years is supported by Integra Solar.

    btw. Sorry I missed your calls, although from what I understand not many of your Solar Quotes partners use Seraphim and no one uses the Black max module specifically. I thank you for your mostly positive review on Seraphim Black max and the acknowledgement that the Modules are a reliable and premium option for Australian homes.

  5. Ron , Well done
    What you expose is just a tip of an Iceberg
    We have salepeople, marketing people running around promise the Heaven

    I think , Fair Trading should have a department to check and burst False and misleadind Advertisement as they penalized E*** Solar

    Thank you

    Mel

  6. Hi Ron
    Thanks for your informative investigative reviews
    even when companies and their sales people are caught out misleading the public they continue to talk and pretend as if they haven’t done anything wrong

  7. Lawrence Coomber says

    Ron I hope Kent P, after some positive comments, takes up your fair and reasonable offer, to provide you with a link to a 20 year warranty document? You have certainly extended him a courtesy to do so. If not – well people can draw their own conclusions!

  8. Did you get the price? They want more than 7000 for 3kW

  9. I am an arse-backwards consumer, taken in by a cold-caller from Integra which, according to the caller, was breaking into the ACT solar market with a generous installation offer for a client with a property profile that would enhance Integra’s advertising campaign in the ACT. I agreed to receive a visit from an Integra salesperson, who confirmed that my property fitted the profile for a maximum discount, but I would need to sign up quickly as the offer could be made to another potential customer with a similar property profile. The upshot was I signed onto the “cutting edge Blackmax panel” spiel, agreeing to a six-panel system with a 2 Kw inverter for a “very special price”. Under the agreement, I’m not allowed to disclose the price, but it’s way north of $3,000 which my subsequent research indicated would be a reasonable price for a similar system. Have I got this right, or has my research been defective?

    • We just had the same deal in the ACT tonight.
      But a 12 panel system so much more $$ than what you were quoted.
      We didn’t sign up tonight as we are waiting on a quote for some roof works.
      I was surprised the salesman didn’t leave a single brochure or piece of info, and when I asked for a business card said he’d get the office to send it out with our information.
      Because we wouldn’t sign up tonight they can’t gaurantee the great price as they may pass it on to another potential display home in our suburb.
      I can’t find the brochures and stuff he showed me on their website.
      All seems a bit strange.

  10. We got exactly the same story here in Victoria…only we didn’t go for it….the caller became angry and pushy. It didn’t go very well!

  11. I’ve since had a discussion with an Integra rep which resulted in some assurances and a good faith offer which, if delivered, give me more comfort about the outcome of my dealings with Integra.

  12. I am an accredited solar installer and electrician that runs a small solar business and I am mortified this practice still goes on!!!! I nearly lost a job to Integra because of these stated warranties, however I was able to talk the client out of this sale and use a reputable supplier called Sunpower, installing the E20 327 watt panels at a slightly higher price backed by a real 25 year product warranty.

    I spoke with a supplier about this warranty who actually sells the panel to Integra and he was confused when I told him they are offering a 20 year product warranty, as he told me this panel only comes with 10 which made me as confused as he was!!. When I rang and spoke with Integra, a salesperson told me that they themselves provide an additional 10 year product warranty. Please tell me Integra, who will service this warranty, if you are no longer in business in 10.01 years from now?

    This is a disgusting practice by companies such as this and should be ashamed, continuing to give the solar industry a bad name. My advice is to buy systems from smaller businesses that have accredited installers selling products that have been in the industry for a number of years, as I am extremely confident the information received will be the most accurate when it comes to product quality and warranties.

  13. mathew.

    Australian warranties are mostly easier to pursue than overseas warranties. Furthermore a large operation with solid history with warranty insurance provides more peace of mind to a consumer.

    We have engineers and a larger access to more professionals to look over challenging designs for instance, this is just one way a larger operation provide more value to the end consumer.

    Yes smaller one man operators can can often offer lower prices as they typically do not offer some of the support larger operators can. Everyone has different preferences when making purchases for the home so there is value created and a place for small and large operators to be present in the marketplace.

    • Ben, I do not agree with you at all. I win 80% of my installs when I am up against larger companies even though I am more expensive and do not offer lower prices. Reason I am more expensive is that I offer high quality products and most importantly extra time to complete my installs to make sure it is completed to a professional standard. Have you heard of Sunpower, maybe you should do some research?

      People would much rather deal with an accredited installer that provides the right information than your typical salesman as this is the feedback I receive from my customers.

      Challenging designs? give me a break!! Engineers? these would be based out of China wouldn’t they? Support some of the larger operators can offer? Is this why you hear of so many systems offline by customers who cannot get these large operators to return to site to rectify?

      Avoid large operators like the plague, unless they have been in the industry for a number of years and have a proven track record. Unfortunately the ones who don’t, will shut the doors when they have countless warranty claims and start again under a new business name.

  14. We met some Integra Solar sales reps at the local (Wandin) field day. Pleasant to speak to, but quite clueless. Neither of them couldn’t provide any price estimates. I asked the same question about 4 different ways.. Did sign up for a visit/quotation, but called later to cancel after speaking with another installer who had a brain.

    The Integra reps were spruiking their Black_Max panels. They pointed out a 19% efficiency and monocrystalline, consistent with the efficiency. This is from memory – I’ve lost the glossy brochure.

    The warranty did sound impressive and I did some poking around on ASIC..

    “INTEGRAL SOLAR” is a business name of INTEGRA ENERGY GROUP PTY. LTD. (ACN/ARBN: 149 558 181). “BLACK MAX (IEG)” was also a business same of theres, but it was cancelled last year:

    Business name: BLACK MAX (IEG)
    Status: Cancelled
    Registration date: 5/07/2014
    Renewal date: 5/07/2017
    Cancelled date: 16/11/2017

    I wonder what the implications are for the “warranty” re the “Black Max” branding??

    BTW: SAE Group (saegroup.com.au) claims to be the sole importer of Seraphim panels….

  15. David Beard says

    Update.
    In the Wandin field day guide, the mob that appeared to represent Integra Solar are listed as “National Grid Support”.
    http://www.nationalgridsupport.com.au gives an address of 18 Flockhart St Abbotsford, VIC.
    A whois gives the registration name of “Kent Pomare/AUSTRALIAN PRECISION GROUP PTY LTD”.

    There’s a “Kent Pomare”, a bigwig at HC Progressive Pty Ltd. at 20 Flockhart Street, Abbotsford, Vic according to https://www.zoominfo.com/p/Kent-Pomare/1911442756. They’re basically a marketing mob…

    What a coincidence – couldn’t be the same Kent!?

  16. Disgusted Customer says

    Integra solar is the worst retail experience I have had in my whole life! I cringe every time I hear their name, and to see more negative reviews makes me angry every time.
    The sales rep was an arrogant turd, but I was really sucked in by such a great warranty, and “put up” with his manner, just to get this “awesome product, with awesome warranty”. Integra also gave me a “super special” offer that I was not able to disclose as part of the deal, and the only reason they’d give me such a good deal, was if I agreed to give a testimonial for their web site, and put signs on our property advertising their product.
    I said that my last solar experience on my previous property was a farce, and took way too long to get grid connected – Integra promised I’d be grid connected within a month…. it took 5 months!!! The inverter failed within 3 months and needed to be replaced. The salesman really pressured us to get a 3.5kW system, we refused, and after (nearly) pleading, was finally able to get a 5.6kW system.
    I told the salesman that there were other companies offering 6kW systems fully installed for $5k (admittedly, they weren’t great quality systems EuroSolar was that brand, I think.
    The salesman scoffed, and said no private residence really needs a 6kW system!
    I have so much negative stuff to say about the company and the staff, but I’d better not, In case I get myself in trouble. But, as I said, this was the worst retail experience of my life! Avoid them like the plague!

  17. We were approached by an Integra salesman and he gave a solid explanation about the 20 years warranty and that the BlackMax solar panels used ‘nano-technology’. He gave us a generous 15 mins to decide if we wanted to take the fabulous offer of ~$5000 for 8 panels. He mentioned they are tier one panels and would never require any maintenance and that the power absorbed and generated were much higher than other panels. He mentioned that BlackMax was exclusive to Integra.
    This article at least helps future clients make an informed decision before they buy.
    Thanks

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Nanotechnology? Seriously? That alone is a clear sign you were dealing with a con artist. No silicon solar panel relies on organized structures that are less than 100 nanometers in length (the broadest definition of nanotechnology). That’s one reason why they are reliable as they are — no tiny structures to damage.

  18. Hi Ronald
    i am very concerned about this clam of “duraflex glass” not being a standard option.
    If this panel has a different BOM then it MUST have a different registration with the CEC. There is only one that can be true.

  19. Solar Hybrid Solutions says

    I hope the coming ” Behind The Meter ” codes ( BTM ) which are not finalized yet ( in draft ), will fixed most of the sales problems that we had for the past years.
    and I hope that most customers will be aware the existence of this code and download a free PDF copy from the CEC to know their rights. This code is customer focused and make things easier when things goes wrong

    and I also hope that more CEC Solar accredated installers will do their own sales , so that a more customized solar solutions can be more beneficial and lead to good value for money and longer lasting PV life.
    At this end , I feel many Electrician / installer lack sales experience and I recomend that solar warehouses in general step in to conduct seminars / road show espeacially for installers with CPD points awards.

    At the moment I see more solar sys less than 10 years already need panels replacement due to degradation

    Behind the Meter Code | Clean Energy Council

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