Bad News: Your Solar Panel Performance Warranty Is Probably Crap

Solar panel performance warranties are crap

I’ve actually read the solar panel warranties for most of the major solar panel brands. They are almost universally full of crap clauses. Thankfully you are protected by Australian Consumer Law no matter what the warranty says.

SALESMAN:  Hi everybody!  I’m Ronald Brakels and have I got a deal for you!  Right now, for a limited time only, I am selling Brakels LED lights.  And let me tell you, they’re the best.  We have all the best LEDs here at Brakels Incorporated.  If you install these LED lights you will cut your electricity use, protect the environment, and reduce your electricity bills.  And what’s more, we have such faith in Brakels LED lights, they come with a 25 year performance warranty.  Buy a pack of 10 today!  Don’t Delay!

LITTLE OLD LADY:  Excuse me young man, but I bought 10 of your LEDs and 2 of them have stopped working.  I’d like them replaced under their 25 year warranty.

SALESMAN:  I’d like to help you, I really would, but it’s a 25 year performance warranty and bulbs that don’t work at all have no performance and so aren’t covered.

LITTLE OLD LADY:  But that’s ridiculous!  You said they had a 25 year warranty!

SALESMAN:  No, I said they had a 25 year performance warranty.  It’s right there in its name.  You over there, blondie!  Can I help you?

NORWEGIAN WOMAN:  My name is Helga.  I am coming from Norway.  I bought 10 of your LED lights and three now only provide 70% as much light as when they were new.  This makes me SAD.  Literally.  The lack of light has given me Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Your 25 year performance warranty says it applies if their output falls below 80% of their original brightness, so I would like all three replaced.

SALESMAN:  If you look at your copy of the 25 year performance warranty you’ll see it says I only need to provide you with sufficient replacement LEDs to increase the light output to 80% of what the original 10 were producing.  So I will give you one new LED light as its extra light will be more than sufficient to do that.

NORWEGIAN WOMAN:  But that makes no sense at all!  I don’t have a spare light fitting I can just screw it into!  Even if I did I want brighter light in three rooms, not just one!

SALESMAN:  Sorry, but the terms are all written there in your performance warranty.  I know I didn’t make this clear when you bought them, but it’s your own fault for not reading it.

CONSUMER LAW MAN:  Excuse me, sir.  I’m not a lawyer, but I am a superhero, and according to my understanding of Australian Consumer Law, since any reasonable person would conclude that a performance warranty would cover LED lights that don’t work at all, you must provide either a repair, replacement, or refund for them.  Also, any reasonable person would conclude that a warranty means you promise to repair, replace, or refund each light that under performs and not simply provide one new light to make up for the reduce illumination.   Furthermore…

SALESMAN:  Wait!  What’s that over there!  (Throws smoke bomb and disappears.  The smoke clears.)

CONSUMER LAW MAN:  Where’s my wallet?


The scenario I wrote above is obviously absurd.  The idea that a performance warranty would only cover products that are performing poorly and not those that aren’t working at all is nuts.  And it’s just as nonsensical to think that it is okay to make up for the loss of brightness from three under-performing lights in different rooms by providing just one additional light.  Clearly, no one would ever accept a performance warranty like that.

Unless of course you have bought solar panels.  In that case, the accompanying 25 year performance warranty is almost certainly that bad.  Most panel manufacturers appear to think they have no obligation under their performance warranty to do anything about solar panels that have completely failed.  Also, according to the terms of their performance warranties, they can often make up for multiple under-performing panels by providing a single new solar panel if its capacity is equal to or greater than the total decline below the permitted limit of all the under performing panels in a system.  But this makes no sense because:

  1. In most installations an under-performing panel will drag the performance of all the panels on its string (electrical cable) down to its level.  This means poor performing solar panels need to be removed because they are a liability.
  2. There is no place to add additional panels to a normal solar power system.  They can’t hover in the air next to existing panels and magically boost the system’s output.  They need to go where the under-performing panels are and replace them.  And there needs to be one new replacement panel for each solar panel that doesn’t meet its performance warranty.

The good news is Australian Consumer Law gives protections that go beyond what is in written warranties.  While I am no lawyer, in my opinion, if a company says they give a performance warranty and don’t clearly explain it doesn’t apply to items that don’t work at all — and they never do — then it has to cover items that stop working entirely and not just ones that perform poorly.  Also, they have to fix problems under warranty in a reasonable way.  They can’t just give one panel to make up for loss of performance across multiple panels because solar systems don’t work that way.

The bad news is, some makers of solar panels may decide they’d rather not live up to their obligations under Australian Consumer Law and pack up shop and leave Australia altogether.  This will leave installers on the hook for the performance of panels they have installed for up to 25 years.  While they were not responsible for the manufacturer’s warranties, they are required to provide products that are lasting and it seems likely that solar panels will be expected to last as long as their 25 year performance warranty.

The Two Types Of Solar Panel Warranties

Solar panels come with 2 kinds of warranties:

  1. The Product Warranty:  This covers defects in materials or workmanship.  It is for 10 or more years.  Or at least it is for any solar panel that’s worth buying.  For the love of god, don’t go getting panels for your roof that have less than a 10 year product warranty.  This is the warranty that is the strongest and most useful to households.
  2. The Performance Warranty:  This promises a panel’s performance won’t deteriorate beyond a certain point.  Generally they promise a panel will still provide a little over 80% of its rated output after 25 years.  Some higher quality and more expensive panels guarantee a higher percentage and there are a few that guarantee performance for 30 years rather than 25.  This is the weakest warranty and the one that is least useful to householders.

If a panel fails while under product warranty, those responsible for it will usually offer some sort of solution.  Usually this would be a replacement but it could be a refund.  But if a solar panel fails while it is only covered by its performance warranty, then to get a satisfactory outcome it may be necessary to use your protections under Australian Consumer Law and take the responsible party to a consumer tribunal or small claims court — or at least tell them you’ll do that if they don’t live up to their obligations.

The Responsible Parties

If a manufacturer has an office in Australia then they have a responsibility to fulfill the warranty they provided.  But if the manufacturer doesn’t have an office in Australia, the responsibility for the warranties lies with the importer of the solar panels.

If the manufacturer has packed up shop and departed Australia or the importer has gone out of business, then responsibility for the panels lies with the installer.  This is because while the product and performance warranties are provided by the manufacturer or importer, retailers — in this case solar installers — have a responsibility to ensure consumer guarantees are met.

There are a number of consumer guarantees and you can read about them here, but one is that products must be of acceptable quality and this means that, among other things, they must be lasting.  Here is what the Australian Consumer & Competition Commission specifically says:

Australian consumer law and product quality

Image: ACCC

So a product must be lasting and just how lasting it should be depends on what would be expected for that product.  I strongly suspect a consumer tribunal or small claims court would expect a product to last for at least as long as its original warranty, which for solar panels would be its 25 year performance warranty.  This means installers could be on the hook for the performance of solar panels for a very long time.

The Good Guys

There are a few manufacturers out there that are very unlikely to give you any problems when it comes to replacing either a non-functional or poorly performing solar panel for the full length of their performance warranties.  This isn’t because their performance warranties are necessarily better written than average, but because their product warranties are as long as their performance warranties.  There are two manufacturers with product and performance warranties of identical lengths of 25 years:

And there is one manufacturer who provides 30 years for both warranties:

SolarWorld is almost up there as they provide a 20 year product warranty.  But the company has had some financial difficulties in recent years, which means it’s possible the company won’t be around long term to honor their warranties.

The Bad Guys — Oh So Many Bad Guys

I have been looking through a lot of solar panel performance warranties.  There’s a huge stack of them on my desk.  They’re in electronic form so the stack is only a few microns high, but going by reading time it’s a huge stack.  I was going to say I have a plethora of performance warranties but the dictionary tells me a plethora is when you have too many of a good thing, so that word definitely does not apply.  I think the most appropriate term would be “shitload”.  I have read through a shitload of performance warranties.

As a result of my study I’m afraid I don’t have a good opinion of them at all.  If I remove my rose coloured glasses and strike them with the full force of my unshielded cynical gaze and assume manufactures will do the absolute minimum their written performance warranties require, then they are almost useless.  But I won’t go into their details now.  Instead I’ll save that for when I write part II of this article.

I guess that since performance warranties are pretty insubstantial this article would be Part I: The Phantom Warranty.  While I guess the next one might be Part II: Attack of the Clowns.

SaveSave

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. Thank you once again for bringing this to the attention of the wider community Ronald! What you are saying, we have known all along and we have only ever expressed a 10yr product warranty to our clients. We make no reference to a 25-year performance warranty, and if the customer brings it up – we pretty much tell them it’s worthless. We tell customers this to protect both parties. I know that a lot of solar panel manufacturers will NOT be trading in Australia in 10+ years time because the Chinese have a ruthless approach to trade. If business slows down, they close shop. Those who have been in the industry since 2009 will have first-hand experience of this when we had our first major downturn after the sola bonus scheme was axed. We are also aware that as the retailer/installer, we take over any implied warranties on the products we have installed. For that reason, we make it very clear, that the product warranty is the only applicable warranty.

  2. TJ Roberts says

    A long time ago in the South, that is, in the Unites States “South”, they referred to these salesman as “carpetbaggers”, people from the Northern states of the US who went to the South after the Civil War to profit from the Reconstruction. I guess it’s the same in the Land Down Under, too. Quality and value sacrificed on the altar of lowest price.

    Love your articles, Ronald. I know you’re a real populist down there, and we could use you up here! With regards to solar, that is a key reason I embrace Enphase. Although they had their M190 debacle, the newer micros from M215 forward seem to be pretty rock solid. My system is hitting the 6 year mark, and knock on wood, I haven’t had a single failure yet. I did have a bad solar panel, though, and was able to quickly deduce it, and get it replaced early on. I had to go through quite a few hoops to get it replaced, and the company did not want the replaced panel back — costs more to ship it back to them than worth it. Another advantage for Enphase is their micros deal with low-voltage DC, and it is optimal wear and tear on the electronics compared to your high-voltage string inverters, which also come with the nasty issue of Phase-Induced Degradation, also due to high-voltage. With their IQ7PD, Enphase will be able to replace M190/M210’s with IQ7’s at a much lower cost, and at a much higher value given to the customer. Cheers, man.

  3. As mentioned elsewhere re. warranties (deep-cycle batteries) : never mind the product: get an enforceable warranty.
    And the way to make it enforceable is to NEVER buy anything online (how stupid is it to send money off into cyberspace without ANY guarantee about who is on the other end?)
    And secondly insist on going to where the product is and picking it up personally. If the ‘enforcability’ requires more persuasion take a couple of big mates carrying pick-handles with you.

  4. That doesn’t sound legal mark good luck with that.

  5. Create wriggle-room. When I had my first system set up (mainly for the FiT) I spent a few weeks ringing prospective installers. Finally got onto one 3-man firm owned by a young bloke whose extended family lived where I’d grown up ~ and some of whom I knew.
    His prices were a bit low, so asked him about his supplier (China, when anything Chinese was highly sus) and how good their warranty was.
    Answered all my questions confidently and showed photos of the same stuff he’d installed at several relatives’ houses.
    He also said that although the products had no established track-record he’d spent a month in China and thoroughly checked everything. As an electrical engineer he was prepared to PERSONALLY back up the warranty. We composed and agreed upon a warranty and the system was installed. (still fairly expensive back then ~ the days of a 66c FiT!). There was one (known) problem with the inverter six months later. One phonecall and a replacement arrived early next morning, with apologies by the importer, by courier. Never a hitch for the next 10 years or so that I lived there. And the warranty details were passed on to the next owners ~ with Simon’s agreement. (though the inverter warranty was about to lapse, but nonetheless.) There’s never been a hitch with the panels, although I believe there was a problem with them in the US (due to installation tampering) but the (Chinese) company apparently honoured all claims regardless.
    The point is do your homework and (within reason) write up your own warranty/expectations. If the provider balks at the idea of being personally responsible go elsewhere.
    There are plenty of people willing to take your money.

  6. Sadly, there are no laws to get rid of caveat emptor. We pay for what is supposed to be a quality item, and good money at that, only to find it has failed and no back up to their so called warranties.
    We don’t want ourselves in a nanny state but it is time some of those shonky salespeople realize their names will be mud if they don’t live up to the promises by the salespeople. Trouble is the damage has been done and people are out of pocket because they believed in the shonkies’ claims.

  7. Installers will find a way to avoid their warranty obligations, or sell the company on to someone else, who’ll change its name, move its incorporation, or the company will have gone broke or been wound up without adequate provision for its warranty liabilities.

    Anyone who thinks the back end of a performance warranty is worth anything much is crazy. The costs of enfocement compared to the individual claim size is huge and not worth sending good money after bad. So many installers are so small that they will have no assets even if they are still notionally in business and you can find them.

  8. As the syndrome of chinese manufacturers disappearing, is mentioned above, has Hanwha Q-cells similarly vapourised?

    In checking the components of our domestic rooftop photovoltaic system that has failed, the installer company (Solar Express) went into liquidation about a year ago, the inverter manufacturer (ReWatt) has no presence in Australia, but, it occurred to me that the PV panels, which are apparently, Hanwha, are supposed to be of a reputable brand.

    However, the link from the web page at
    https: slash slash www dot solarquotes.com.au slash panels slash hanwha-q-cells-review.html
    to
    http: slash slash www dot q-cells.com.au slash company slash about_hanwha_q_cells_australia.html
    and, the URL
    http: slash slash www dot qcells.com.au slash
    both return “Page not found!” (the famous error 404, from memory).

    I note that, at
    http: slash slash www dot ecogeneration.com.au slash business-directory slash 784 slash hanwha-q-cells-australia-pty-ltd
    is
    “Hanwha Q CELLS Co., Ltd. emerged as a new global solar power leader by combining two of the world´s most recognised photovoltaic manufacturers, Q CELLS and Hanwha Solar.”

    So, has the company Hanwha, also, now, vapourised?

  9. I note that, regarding my last previous post above, regarding the ReWatt/Hanwha system, Installed by Solar Express (actually, they slightly changed their name(s) a couple of times, I noticed, in the paperwork), the ReWatt inverter appears (?) to be working, but appears to have no power going into it (from the PV panels).

  10. I have just noticed that, whilst the invoice says that the panels are Hanwha, the installation document says thay are Linuo.

    An Hanwha appears to be Korean, and, Linuo, definitely Chinese.

    Foiled again!

    However, …

    Unfortunately, the WA state government has abolished consumer protection in Western Australia, burying it down a mineshaft.

    From what I understand, Linuo, as such, does not have a formal warranty claims office. or. otherwise, service and spare parts office, in Australia, for contact regarding servicing Linuo products, or, to which, to make warranty claims, regarding Linuo products.

    However, …

    Information published on the World Wide Web (it is not “the Internet”; it runs on “the Internet”), shows that Linuo has an Australian trademark;


    On Wednesday, May 11, 2011, an australia trademark registration was filed for LINUO POWER by SHANDONG LINUO SOLAR POWER HOLDINGS CO., LTD. NO.30766, JINGSHIDONG ROAD, JINAN CITY, SHANDONG PROVINCE. The Australia IP office has given the trademark application number of 1424608. The current status of this trademark filing is Registered/Protected. The correspondent listed for LINUO POWER is W.H. Chan of 39 Canberra Street, St Johns Park, SYDNEY NSW, AUSTRALIA 2176 The LINUO POWER trademark is filed in the category of Construction and Repair Services , Computer & Software Products & Electrical & Scientific Products.

    So, without knowing whether that person is someone operating out of a shed in a back yard of a residence, as I found nothing published on any Linuo web site, otherwise showing an Australian presence, if that person does exist, and, exists at that address, if that address is a genuine address, then, Linuo appears to have a (kind of) presence in Australia, for satisfying warranty claims.

    It is unfortunate that the contact details are only a street addess, thoudsands of kilometres away, and, the local starte government her, abolished consumer protection, so as to protect bodgy companies from accountability.

    Oh, and,

    “The applicant has advised that the Chinese characters appearing in the trade mark may be transliterated as LI NUO GUANG FU which may be translated into English as STRENGTH; PROMISE; SCENERY; PROSTRATE”

    But, this does not seem to hold much promise, and, the warranty, being unlikely to be honored, appears to not have much strength…..

    No web site found for Linuo in Australia; no contact email address found for Linuo in Australia; just a name, and, a street address, both of which may be imaginary.

Speak Your Mind

*

GET THE SOLARQUOTES WEEKLY NEWSLETTER
%d bloggers like this: