Solar Power Installation Tale of Woe

I just received a long email in response to my blog post about what to watch out for with ultra cheap solar power systems.

After reading the email (published below) – It sounds to me (without knowing any other details) that the fundamental problem here may have been that the system was not properly designed by a CEC Accredited Solar Designer. (note: A CEC Accredited Solar Installer is not necessarily qualified as a Designer –  so always double check). If a CEC accredited designer had done the most basic calculations on this system initially – then the oversizing problem would have been avoided.

The moral of the story: Always ask to see the design document for the system you are about to invest thousands of dollars in. And make sure that that document is signed off by a real person who is CEC Accredited as a Solar Power System Designer.

Here’s the sorry tale as told by Phill in his email:

•28/09/2010 Jim from Xyz calls in to discuss our solar power requirements. He advises us that the system we require for our power usage is a 5kw system, using a 5kW inverter with twenty six 195 Watt solar panels.

• Jim tells us that the company has four of these systems in stock and that to secure ours we would need to sign up and make a deposit today.

• Jim also tells us that with a deposit of $5000.00 we would get our system installed within six to eight weeks, well before Christmas.

• We told Jeff that we require a quote that was all inclusive. We wanted to know exactly what we were getting. We told him we wanted no hidden costs no more to pay. We wanted the system to up and running in his quote to us. We made this very clear to him. Jeff assured us that the quote he was giving us was all inclusive, no more to pay, no more to do. It would work. The only thing that might cost more was upgrading the meter box to ensure electrical safety and compliance to Energy Australia standards.

• Jim gave us a quote for our requirements for $25,895.00 (including GST) less REC Rebate $9,200. We bargained with Jim and eventually agreed to sign on the dotted line for $500 less leaving us $16,195.00 to pay.

• We gave Xyz $5000 cash as a deposit leaving us $11,195.00 owing on the system. We had a receipt emailed to us from Xyz there and then for the $5000. Jeff signed the receipt.

• Eight weeks come and went. We contacted Xyz wondering when our system would be installed. We were told that because of changes to the government scheme there was a big hold up with Energy Australia approving our system, but we would defiantly have our system before Christmas.

• Just before Christmas we contacted Xyz. We were told that in early January our system would be installed. Mid-January we call Xyz we are told that there is a hold up with the inverter and that in the first two weeks of February our system would be installed. Note: First time we realise that the system we thought we had already secured by signing and paying $5000 for has got away on us. (They did not tell us this but we know it.)

• At the end of the first week, 4/02/2011, we contacted Xyz. We are told next week it will be installed.

• Mid February 15/02/2011 we contacted Xyz. We are told end of the month for sure.

• Weeks come and go Xyz do not contact us on the 7th or the 8th of March we contacted Xyz and ask to speak to the manager he tells us there has been a problem with their installer but they have got a new one. He asks would we like to book in a date. HELL YEAH! He asks whether the Thursday 17th or the Friday 18th would be suitable. We decide the sooner the better, Thursday 17th will be the day. We verify the time and date with the secretary. Between 8-9 am they will be there.

• Thursday 17th comes. We contact Xyz at 10.00am. We are told yes they are coming, they are on their way. So we wait at home all day at 4pm we contact Xyz they tell us no, they are not coming. No intention of coming today. What the? The phone call is a bit heated. Wonder why?

• We ask when now? We are told next week. We ask when next week Monday? Friday? Wednesday? When? We are told, don’t know.

• Xyz contacts us to tell us, “good news” they have now got a new installer his name is The boss. Xyz gives us his phone number for us to arrange a time and date for installation.

• We contact The Boss and agree on Wednesday 23rd of March.

• Wednesday 23rd of March 26 panels are installed and inverter fitted. We are advised by The Boss that we have to get a class 2 electrician to connect to the grid. Why, we ask does he not do this? He says that he does but this is additional cost and a different crew that does this work, it would be cheaper for us to get a local class 2 electrician to do this for us. We tell The Boss that all our costs for this work were paid by Xyz. This was our understanding. No hidden costs. Up and running. He told us to contact Xyz to be sure of this.

• We contact Xyz and are told no, we, not they, are responsible for arranging and paying for this work. We say, no, that this was part of our agreement with them. Eventually we agree to a $200 dollar rebate and we will organise and pay for our own class 2 electrician to do the work.

• We contract a class 2 electrician to do the work. We paid $363.00 for this work, $163.00 more than Xyz had allowed for this service. But we thought; oh well at last the system, sitting idly on our roof, was going to be working. On the 5th of April our system was finally connected to grid. Happy Days!

• NOT SO

• After the connection we had a look at our new inverter and were disappointed by a red LED fault light lit. On the display panel “High DC INJ” which means Output DC Injection Too High. We rang our class 2 electrician who told us to reset the system by switching off and restarting it. If the problem persisted to contact our supplier.

• Over the next couple of days we kept an eye on the inverter and every day the fault light came on. We rang The Boss who told us he would look into the problem for us.

• We contacted Xyz and were told we had to pay all money outstanding then they would fill out a warranty form. After all our experience with this company we were not comfortable parting with our money for a product that was not working properly. We let Xyz know our position in this regard and after some wrangling they decided they would send The Boss fix the problem. They told us as soon as it was fixed we had to pay up.

• The Boss came up and decided there were too many panels for inverter and removed four panels. Xyz decided they would give us $1200 off our total due. We did not get asked if this is what we wanted to do they just did it.

• Xyz rang us persistently the next couple of days wanting their money. When are we going to pay? How were we going to pay?

• Two days and the inverter was working alright no fault lights then on the third day the fault light is back on same problem “High DC INJ” We rang The Boss asking what the problem was now. He told us he would look into it.

• On Wednesday the 20th Sharon received a call from an Alan claiming to calling from Xyz wanting payment immediately for the system telling her if she did not pay up it was a very serious criminal offence and the matter would be referred to the police. She told this Alan, yes that she agreed that it was a serious matter and she welcomed the involvement of the police. She told Mr Alan that the matter was so serious she had notified our solicitor and had been advised not to forward any moneys in payment of the faulty system under any circumstances.

• Mr Alan than rang myself whilst I was at work telling me the same thing. I was unaware of his call to my wife. I got very upset when I was told it was a very serious matter, a criminal offence. I told Alan much the same as what Sharon had told him. Bring the sheriff, bring the police, bring them all and I’ll bring my people, my solicitor and I even told him I would involve the media. I was angry.

• This has gone on far too long. All we want is the system we signed up for in the beginning. We want the system to work properly and efficiently. Once this has happened we have no problem paying for it. We have an excellent credit rating. Never refused to pay for anything before. We have always paid our depts.’ on time. We are disappointed we have had to involve solicitors and other third-party’s but see no other alternatives.

• On Saturday 23rd of April, Easter Saturday, We received another call from Mr Alan. Mr Alan wanted to come and look at our system. I told him I had been advised by my solicitor not to allow anyone else from Xyz on the property. He asked why and I told him that last time someone came from Xyz, solar Panels had been removed. These had been taken while we were not at home. We were told after they had been removed that we did not need them and would be reimbursed $1200.00. Mr Alan said that our system was working properly and that we must pay all moneys owing to Xyz at once. I asked Mr Alan, “If the red LED fault light comes on saying DC High INJ the hand book says to refer the problem to the supplier. I have referred this problem to you and your telling me there is nothing wrong this is normal operation.” He said that “It does not matter what the hand book says, at the end of the day you owe Xyz money and it must be paid”. I replied saying, “after all my experience with his company, with a system that clearly does not work properly we would be stark raving mad to even consider paying the money owed while, they (Xyz), do not even acknowledge there is a problem with the system”. The conversation deteriorated into a shouting match with Mr Alan talking over the top of my questions. Eventually my wife took the phone from me, and after giving some parting words of advice and good wishes hang up the phone.

• There are also a lot of discrepancies in the paper work we have received from Xyz. In our original invoice that both Xyz and myself signed on the 28th of September 2010, it states we would be supplied (26) twenty six 195 watt solar panels. After the four panels were removed from our roof, we were sent an invoice stating supply of (22) twenty two 190 watt solar panels. I have asked but received no clear answer. Are the panels 195 or 190 watt?

• Also worth a mention, in their paper work when we signed up there were optional upgrades we could have a larger capacity inverter for $995.00 per 1kW. Why should we have had our system downgraded because they sold us the wrong inverter? They bought 4 panels back from us for $1200. For $995.00 according to their paper work a 6 kW inverter could have been fitted, a least giving us a system not downgraded but one that could handle the panels supplied.

• Below is a sample of what the inverter is doing over a period of days. The red LED fault light always comes on with the same fault message. “DC High INJ” I have to ask, is this normal like Mr Alan says? Is this what other inverters do? If so I don’t want one anymore.

Friday 22nd of April Day and date
1h 03min .2kW how long inverter has been running and how much energy generated
Reset 7.30am Time inverter reset

Saturday 23rd of April
6h 24min 14.4kW
Checked 2.30pm did not reset, inverter did not come back on.

Sunday 24th of April
43min .2kW
Checked 8.48am Reset 8.53am

Monday 25th of April
2h 46min did not record kW
Reset 12.55pm

Tuesday 26th of April
2h 16min .8kW
Reset 8.54am
48min .8kW
Reset 10.00am
24min .4kW
Reset 11.11am
54min 2.2kW
Reset 12.27pm
40min 1.2kW
Reset 2.32pm
34min .6kW
Reset 3.54pm

Wednesday 27th April
51mins .1kW
Reset 7.20am
2 h kW not recorded
Reset 10.58am
40min .8kW
Reset 12.12pm
19min .4kW
Reset 4.30pm

• Mr Alan tells me the inverter normally turns on and off every day. From my very limited and unprofessional experience, yes the inverter turns off every day, but never turns back on once off.
• I admit we should have seen the warning lights from the beginning but thought we were dealing with honest people who would give us a fair go. Maybe we are in the wrong. I have changed the names of all people involved to give them the benefit of the doubt.

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’m currently doing an University assignment about solar energy systems. If anybody is interested in this topic it would be really helpful if you could take 10 minutes out of your day to complete this survey I have created to gather data on people’s opinion on solar energy systems.
    http://adelaide.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_2hs1PtndLmm22B6
    All responses are completely confidential.
    Feel free to pass this on to anybody else who may be interested.

  2. Hi – I wondered if anyone has technically evaluated this system as a designer? I would be happy to do so, if you supplied the Brand and Model of Panels and Inverter, and a wiring schematic (mainly – how many strings and how many panels per string?)

  3. Bill Butler says

    Hi Finn,
    if your inverter is a “Inspire Solar” inverter which is really a Kinglong your fault may be to replace
    Diode No 20 and resistor No 76 (10ohm). both available from Jaycar at under $5. Several have now been done successfully for “High DC INJ” faults.
    hope this helps
    Bill

  4. Thomas B says

    I have the same Problem.
    I cant’t find the Diode No. 20 and the resistor No. 76.
    Can u help me please? There are 3 platines inside. On witch platine are the diode and the resistor?
    I have 300 pieces of these inverters. 3000W , 4600W, 5200W…

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