A lot of people are wary of Chinese solar panels. China doesn’t exactly cover itself in glory with some of the low quality junk it manufactures. But, as I have said many times before, China also produces some fantastic quality stuff.
Need examples? I bet the device you are reading this blog on was made in the People’s Republic. The Macbook Pro I am writing it on certainly was and it is impeccably put together (the laptop – not the blog!).
And it is the same with solar panels. There is some absolute junk coming out of China, that will be lucky to last a few years in the Aussie sun. I’ve heard first hand stories of Aussies visiting suppliers who have converted clothes factories to solar panel factories. The bottom end panels in these factories are made from B or C grade solar cells which the other factories have rejected, and their environmental standards are horrendous.
At the other end of the scale, you have some first class solar panels coming out of gleaming factories in China with world class quality control in operation, and environmental standards as good as any western plant. I’ve heard Renesola and Yingli, among others, have very impressive Chinese factories. Their panels are certainly excellent.
Of course, a lot of wary consumers are making sure they get quality by simply demanding panels made elsewhere, like Germany, Australia or Malaysia etc. The downside of this strategy, of course is that you will be paying extra dollars for non-chinese panels. Extra dollars that a lot of householders would prefer not to spend!
How do you know if a Chinese panel is any good?
So if you don’t want to pay a premium for non-Chinese panels, you are in a bit of a bind. How on earth are you meant to know if the panels you have been quoted are junk – cobbled together in an ex-trouser factory with toxic effluent pouring straight into the local waterway – or top quality panels with expert engineering and QA behind them?
Well, the safest way has always been to go for a genuine ‘Tier 1″ panel. The problem here is that some sales people out there will swear on their mother’s life that the Tier 3 junk they are selling is really Tier 1 (usually because they have given it a German sounding name like “Mettwurst Solar”). How do you know the truth?
Well the first thing to understand is that there is no definitive list of “Tier 1” solar panels in Australia. But here are the ones that I think deserve to be Tier 1. If you think I’ve missed any worthy manufacturers off feel free to abuse me in the comment section for my ignorance:
Chinese Manufacturers classed as ‘Tier 1 in Australia’ (in my humble opinion)
- Canadian Solar
- ET Solar
- JA Solar
- Jinko Solar
- Trina Solar
Again, if you think I’ve missed anyone off unfairly – let me know in the comments!
If you want to be ultra-safe – choose a Chinese panel on that list.
But…there are still good Chinese panels which are not on that list, and they may be much cheaper, potentially saving you thousands on your solar system. Identifying those from the 600-1000 Chinese manufacturers that should not be touched with a bargepole has always been a challenge. Until now?
Enter the Chinese Government
In early January (2014) those fun guys in the Chinese Government released a list of Chinese solar panel manufacturers that they approved of. What does ‘approved of’ mean? Well, the Chinese pollies assure us that they’ve had an “expert review” of over 500 companies and assessed them on “solar panel manufacturing norms and conditions” such as:
- the amount of cells converted to panels
- minimum manufacturing capacities
- ingot and wafer quality
- environmental conditions at the factories
They ended up with a list of 109 battery, silicon and panel manufacturers who they approve. The companies on the list will be eligible for government support, export tax rebates and can bid on government tenders. The implication from the Chinese Ministry is that if you ain’t on the list you may not last much longer! It sounds to me like a move by China to cull the Chinese panel oversupply and stop the relentless downward march of panel prices over the last 5 years.
Now, the keen readers that downloaded the list liked to back there will have already realised that it is all written in Chinese!
Luckily I have a friend I can call on who can translate Chinese to English fairly well. Her name is Google Translate. When I ran the list through her and filtered out the battery and silicon producers I got this list:
- Zhejiang and Zhejiang Yuhui Solar Energy Co., Ltd
- Zhejiang Chint Solar Technology Co., Ltd. ( cells, modules )
- Zhe Jiang Qixin New Energy Technology Co., Ltd. ( cells, modules )
- Yingli Energy ( China ) Co., Ltd. ( silicon ingots, silicon ingots , wafers, cells, modules )
- Trina Solar ( Changzhou ) Co., Ltd. ( cells, modules )
- Sun Power Technology Co., Ltd. Changshu Artes (components )
- Sun Earth Solar Power Co., Ltd. ( Components )
- State Sunergy Co., Ltd. ( cells, modules )
- Solar Energy Technology Co., Ltd. Shanghai Super (components )
- Shanghai JA Solar Technology Co., Ltd. ( Components )
- Shanghai Chint Solar Energy Technology Co., Ltd ( Components )
- Shanghai Alex New Energy Co., Ltd. ( cells, modules )
- Realforce Power Company Limited ( cells, modules )
- Qingdao Changsheng Xinhua Solar Technology Co., Ltd. ( Components )
- Photovoltaic Co., Ltd. Guangdong Hina (components )
- Photovoltaic Co., Ltd. , Jiangsu Matthey (components )
- Phono Solar Technology Co., Ltd. ( Components )
- Ma On Shan Jing Electronic Technology Co., Ltd. ( Components )
- Juli New Energy Co., Ltd. ( cells, modules )
- Jintan Electronics Co., Ltd. is the letter of photovoltaic (components )
- Jinko Solar Co., Ltd. ( silicon ingots, silicon ingots , wafers, cells, modules )
- Jiangsu Yongneng Photovoltaic Technology Co., Ltd. ( Components )
- Hunan Red Sun New Energy Technology Co., Ltd ( Components )
- Hengdian Group Co., Ltd. ( cells, modules )
- Hefei JA Solar Technology Co., Ltd. ( Components )
- Hanwha Energy ( Qidong ) Co., Ltd. ( cells, modules )
- Hangzhou Zhejiang University Sunny Energy Science and Technology Co., Ltd. ( Components )
- Green light for the New Energy Co., Ltd. ( ingots, wafers , cells, modules )
- Eoplly New Energy Technology Co., Ltd. ( cells, modules )
- Ed Solar Energy Technology Co., Ltd. , Jiangsu (components )
- Dongguan CSG Solar Technology Co., Ltd. ( cells, modules )
- Desiree Jiang Jing Solar Technology Co., Ltd. ( cells, modules )
- Changzhou Trina Solar Limited ( ingots, wafers , cells, modules )
- Changzhou EGing Optoelectronics Technology Co., Ltd. ( wafers, cells, modules )
- Chongqing Daqo New Energy Co., Ltd. ( polysilicon )
- CEEG ( Shanghai ) Solar Energy Technology Co., Ltd. ( Components )
- Baoding Tianwei Yingli New Energy Resources Co., Ltd. ( ingots, wafers , cells, modules )
- AD Solar Co., Ltd. ( cells, modules )
I’ve bolded some of the better known brands imported into Australia there.
Now – you may be wondering where the all the “Tier 1” Chinese manufacturers are on that 2nd list. Well I pinged a few of them to ask. The only one to get back to me was Renesola who replied:
We submitted our name as ReneSola Zhejiang, however during the application process the following name was entered onto the list. – Zhejiang and Zhejiang Yuhui Solar Energy Co., Ltd
And the same is most likely true for the other “Tier 1” suppliers – their factory name is probably very different to their global brand.
So – if you are a bit of a bargain hunter and you want to do your research on a Chinese panel that is not “Tier 1”, I suggest you look for the company name on the panel spec sheet or on the web (or ask your installer). If it matches one of the companies on the second list, that is a sign that the company is probably one of the better Chinese solar panel producers.
But, if you really want to play it safe with Chinese panels, the simplest way to be sure that they are good quality is simply to insist on one of the brands in the first list.
And if you think there are good Chinese panels not covered in those lists – feel free to harangue me in the comments!