A Solar Installer Questioned SolarEdge’s Reliability And SolarEdge Is Furious

angry man pointing at review

Spat over inverter review intensifies as SolarEdge go legal.

At 3:15pm on Christmas Eve, when most Australian families were kicking back with a drink and looking forward to at least 2 days with family, friends and no work worries, Mark Cavanagh1, owner of the highly regarded solar installation company, MC Electrical2 received a five page letter from lawyers acting for $1.6 billion Israeli inverter manufacturer, SolarEdge.

I have not seen the letter, but it asked him to remove certain parts of a blog he posted on his website reviewing SolarEdge inverters and optimisers. Possibly they didn’t like the part that outlines his personal experience of SolarEdge hardware failures: 45 optimisers failing out of 130 jobs – in just over 3 years.

Having had plenty of experience over the last 10 years of companies, big and small, threatening to sue me for stuff I’ve published online, I can understand how that letter would have made Mark feel. These letters are cleverly written to scare you into acceding to their demands. And the ones I have received have been pretty damn scary. When you get them you feel sick to your stomach.

Scenes flash through your mind of judges banging their gavels and crying “Guilty!”. You imagine the bailiffs at your door taking everything you own. You imagine what it’s like to be destitute, losing everything, and people laughing at you for being such a fool. You get paranoid that you’ve inadvertently written something that is untrue or stupid. You feel very anxious and alone.

So I’m guessing Mark didn’t have the best Christmas with his family this year.

On December 28 Mark posted this on an industry FB page:

Mark Cavanagh - MC Electrical - SolarEdge

Clearly he’d been feeling the pressure for 4 days and was reaching out for support.

The responses from the Australian solar community to Mark’s post were mostly very supportive. But there were a small number of folks who believed if he ‘poked the bear’ he should expect a ferocious response, and others who believed that a solar installer should not post product reviews on his website.

Why does Mark Cavanagh review solar products on his blog?

I know Mark, and I know how passionate he is about sharing information that he feels will help everyone in the solar industry – customers, suppliers, installers and manufacturers. The experiences he relays are real and the opinions he expresses, while not always popular, are honest. He will be positive or critical depending on what is warranted by the circumstances. He doesn’t have an agenda and doesn’t run vendettas against particular companies or products.

Mark’s reviews aren’t static pieces of writing. He is always prepared to reconsider his opinions if his experiences with a product change or new information is available. If the performance of a product gets better, or worse, he will say so.

In my experience, here’s what drives Mark to publish warts and all reviews of products:

  • To help customers understand why he installs the products he does.
  • Because he enjoys it.  Telling the truth and helping consumers buy solar well gives him a strong sense of purpose. That may sound airy-fairy kum-ba-yah to some people – but in my experience the people who are driven by purpose are the happiest, most successful and most pleasant people to spend time with or do business with.
  • To identify areas where he has observed problems or issues arising so that products and performance continue to improve.
  • To drive traffic to his website by providing well written content that helps people. Mark’s posts do just that.

Mark is a qualified electrician and solar installer who installs products almost every day. He has much more experience with the products he writes about than keyboard warriors like me (or Ronald)! I learn an enormous amount from Mark’s blogs about the real performance of products in Australian conditions, and will be devastated if this experience causes him to stop sharing the good and bad of the products he has tested and sold.

In fact, Mark is the only solar installer I can think of that publishes the good, bad and ugly of the products he tests online. Google ‘SolarEdge Reviews’. You’ll see Mark’s blog and customer reviews from this website (SolarQuotes) that are useful. You’ll also see a number of other reviews from solar companies that could almost have been written by a SolarEdge PR person. For most people reviews that just go on and on about how great a product is trigger the BS filter quicker than Donald Trump can say ‘fake news’. No products are perfect. People want to know the pros and the cons and everything in-between before they shell out thousands for a product that is expected to last decades.

Why the industry should support Mark.

I don’t know what Mark will do. You need to be incredibly brave (some would say stupid) to stand up to big companies in the face of threatened legal action.

Whatever he decides, I hope that the solar industry supports him in any way it can. It is incredibly important that solar installers can talk (and write) freely about their experiences with and opinions of solar hardware.

I don’t want to live in an Australia where consumers can’t read the critical opinions of big companies’ products from professionals who install the stuff every day.

I think SolarEdge have made an error of judgment going after Mark in this way (not to mention the mean-spirited timing). But in another life I have worked for big companies so I can understand how bad decisions can sometimes be made by committee. I totally understand that SolarEdge are defensive about their products, but responding to evidence of problems with legal aggression is a lose-lose.

SolarEdge lose because they risk coming across as “big bad corporate bullies”. In my experience Australians don’t like to reward that.

Mark loses because he has a shit Christmas, more grey hairs than he deserves and potentially a long road ahead defending his words – taking a large emotional and financial toll on him, his business and his family.

But more than anything SolarEdge lose because bad feedback about a product or service from an expert who cares deeply about progressing the solar industry is invaluable.  Mark is not lying in his blog post. He has had genuine problems with SolarEdge hardware and his observations can help SolarEdge make their products better.

Around 2010 another premium solar manufacturer, Fronius, had huge reliability problems with their IG range of inverters in Australia. To cut a long story short, one of the circuit boards in their inverters did not handle the Australian climate well and they were failing left, right and centre. Fronius owned the problem, worked out a fix, the blown inverters were repaired and the fix was reliable going forward. They used this experience to design their next generation of inverters that have proved to be very reliable in Australia and are now selling like hot cakes. Fronius have gone from a previously tarnished image to become arguably the most respected inverter brand in Australia right now. Certainly if anyone getting quotes through SolarQuotes® today specifies a string inverter brand – it is almost always Fronius.

It is also interesting to compare SolarEdge’s reaction to Mark’s blog with that of another inverter manufacturer, Huawei. A few months ago Mark published a highly critical review of Huawei’s brand new inverter. He basically said it had major design flaws that meant he couldn’t consider using it in Australia. As might be expected, Huawei contacted Mark to discuss his review. But Mark tells the story of them saying something like:

“Thank you so much for putting so much effort into critiquing our design for Australian conditions! The points you make are good ones, and we are using your feedback to make sure the next model has everything the Australian market needs to deploy them successfully”.

Now that’s a breath of fresh air.

Funnily enough Huawei are currently defending a lawsuit from SolarEdge who have sued them for patent infringement.

I spent half of Sunday writing this post because I wanted to show my support for Mark; as a friend, a client and a bloody good bloke. I know he is stressed to the eyeballs right now. If you would like to show your support, please let him know.

Footnotes

  1. personal friend of mine
  2. Who have been a SolarQuotes client for many years
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.

GET THE SOLARQUOTES WEEKLY NEWSLETTER