Trina Warranty Dispute Has More Questions Than Answers

a befuddled homeowner reading a Trina warranty document

Here’s a solar warranty story with so many unanswered questions it could easily fill a TV episode of ‘Unsolved Mysteries’.

A SolarQuotes reader contacted us recently with a rooftop solar dispute in which there was a line of businesses doing a great job of ‘passing the hot potato’ but no one prepared to take ownership of the problem.

Our intrepid reader, fed up and disappointed with his lack of support for Trina’s Warranty, eventually decided to take a pragmatic approach and rectify the problem himself.

The Story Goes Something Like This

Back in 2012 our SQ reader, Jeffrey, had a rooftop solar system installed at his house in Tamworth NSW by a franchisee of a well-known national solar company. The 10 kW system consisted of 40 x 250 W Trina solar panels and two Sunnyboy 5000 grid-tied SMA inverters.

An Unwelcome Hail Storm

Everything was hunky-dory until a nasty hail storm decided to dump on his roof in 2019. Hail storm? That surely would wreck his solar panels! Or would it? The mystery begins.

The roof damage was purely cosmetic, so Jeffrey decided to wait with his insurance claim because, due to recent floods, there were many other worthy recipients of insurance dollars that were in the queue.

After about 12 months he decided to proceed with the insurance claim. The whole house had to be reroofed, and obviously, the panels had to come off to complete the work. As far as Jeffrey was aware, his solar panels had been ticking along nicely the whole time.

His insurance company NRMA engaged a local solar company (different to the install company) to remove and test all panels. The whole lot tested OK, so the roof was replaced and solar panels were reinstated. All good… for a while.

The Problems Begin

Around November 2022, Jeffrey noticed a fault light on his inverter. This was accompanied by a warning in his Sunny Home Manager app indicating that something was wrong with his PV system, and more information could be found in the system log. After an hour or so the fault cleared.

The same thing happened a couple of months later, gradually becoming more prevalent, and so by January this year it was every week. Then it got to the point where it was every single day, and then for most of the day. By that time Jeffrey, being the patient man he is, decided to act and call the insurance company and let them know something wasn’t quite right.

NRMA re-engaged the aforementioned solar company to come out and do another inspection to see if they hadn’t accidentally pinched any wiring, or check to see if the fault was in the inverter or the panels. They completed the second inspection and confirmed that the fault was isolated to four Trina solar panels in one string.

Their findings this time – the panels in question were faulty due to degradation, and not damage from hail. This determination cleared the insurance company of any liability.

Trina’s Questionable Warranty Terms

The solar company then contacted Trina’s head office in Sydney to kick-start the warranty process. Trina emailed back stating their requirements which involved testing and documenting the whole system again, more rigorously, even though it had been done before! This was all to be done at the customer’s expense.

Trina stated that under their warranty terms, they needed every single panel tested, photographs of every serial number, and pics of any corrosion or heat marks or cracking or other defects, photographic proof of test readings for all panels so they can go through and say this panel is within spec, this one is not, etc.

The solar company that did the first two inspections then came back to Jeffrey and told him the bad news, which included removing every single panel again to do the testing! Their quote – in excess of $2,000 to complete a third inspection to the specifications required by Trina Solar!

Sounding a bit over the top?

Jeffery was not a happy man. Why should he have to foot the bill to the tune of $2,000 for another inspection when it had already been inspected and tested by an authorized solar contractor? And then, not knowing the outcome, he may have to pay even more to have new panels installed.

What About The Original Installer?

All this time the company that installed the system hadn’t even been brought into this mess. Just as well, because they didn’t exist anymore! The owner had retired and sold the business. The new business owner/s were still franchisees of the aforementioned well-known national solar brand, however, the details of the contract are unknown, so it’s unclear whether the new franchisees or the franchiser would have any liability under warranty claims anyway.

Jeffery said the only time he contacted the new owners was to track down receipts from the wholesaler that the original business owner had bought the panels from. He said Trina had asked for proof of purchase, and the new business owner/s were quite helpful in tracking down the required paperwork.

Regardless of the proof of purchase documents, by now, Jeffery had reconciled with himself that he wasn’t about to fork out $2,000 to do work that had already been done just on a whim of getting four panels replaced, so he started looking at other options.

Alternative Options

He contacted NSW Fair Trading to see if they could help. Jeffery tells me that the person he spoke to on the phone was next to useless. As far as he could tell, the guy just looked up on a website and said we’ve got this process, and you can lodge so-and-so form, and do this and that. Jefferey thought that would be just a big fat waste of time, and put the idea immediately to bed.

The next option was to purchase some panels himself and have them installed. The problem is that it’s now nearly impossible to get solar panels with the same specifications as his old 250 W ones, let alone the same model. During his previous dealings with Trina, they had informed him that some 265-watt panels were available in one of their warehouses.

Pretty soon this option also disappeared because, similarly to their warranty process, they were asking Jeffery to jump through too many hoops in a convoluted process that involved transferring funds into US dollars, yada yada. Trina wasn’t in Jeffery’s good books so he wasn’t about to bend over backward for them.

Finally, good old Gumtree came to the rescue. Jeffery was able to track down some used 250 W panels that had similar specifications to his faulty Trina ones. Although not as pretty as his old solar panels, after a lengthy trip down to Newcastle and back, they are now sitting on his roof, and haven’t missed a beat… yet.

This Saga Has More Questions Than Answers

So that’s Jeffery’s story so far. As you can see, the whole saga provides more questions than answers.

Q: Are Trina’s warranty terms unreasonable, asking for more rigorous testing at the customer’s expense, even though the same solar company had previously tested the whole system and concluded that four panels were faulty due to degradation?

A: ?

Q: Regardless of their terms, did someone at Trina think that one through? A giant solar manufacturer with a credible name risking its reputation for four measly solar panels is perhaps not the smartest business decision!

A: ?

Q: Is the solar company engaged by the insurer trying to take advantage of Jeffery by asking an exorbitant amount of money to carry out the testing they already have done and mostly have results for? Is $2,000 a fair figure, or are they trying to wash their hands of this job?

A: ?

Q: Has the insurance company made the wrong determination about the cause of the faulty panels? Despite Jefferey pushing NRMA for a conclusive detailed report, none has been forthcoming – zero transparency. Is it possible that the faulty panels were actually damaged by hail? What protection does an insured person have against an insurer making a line-ball decision in their own favour?

A: ?

Q: Is the original installer somehow liable, considering they provided the warranty in the first place? Is that liability, if one exists, transferable to the new franchisee, or even the franchiser of the well-known solar company of which we have not yet revealed?

A: ?

Someone, please fill in the blanks!

Warranty Vs Reality

Although a warranty may look OK on paper, it doesn’t always play out the same in real life. The exact terms are sometimes open to interpretation or may not even be stated. Consumer law establishes a pecking order but is hardly useful for the average person with limited funds to seek justice. Each person’s situation is unique, and at the end of the day, when things go pear-shaped, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Given the same circumstances, I’m sure many of us would have gone down the same pragmatic road as Jeffery.

About Kim Wainwright

A solar installer and electrician in a previous life, Kim has been blogging for SolarQuotes since 2022. He enjoys translating complex aspects of the solar industry into content that the layperson can understand and digest. He spends his time reading about renewable energy and sustainability, while simultaneously juggling teaching and performing guitar music around various parts of Australia. Read Kim's full bio.

Comments

  1. Gumtree is definitely the cheapest and easiest way to get hold of vintage solar gear. If your inverter bites the dust too, there’s a good chance you can pick up something that counts as like for like cheaply and avoid having to go through the waste of a system replacement

    • Where the process failed is the lack of the insurers understanding of the impact of hail on solar modules. It can take 12+ months before the effects of hail can even be detected with thermal imaging. Clear processes need to be implemented with insurers such as notifying the insurers of a hail event and then having a follow up inspection at a later time. Also every customer has the option of panel level monitoring and most choose not to take it to save money upfront. It is not uncommon to have 24 panels on a a system and perhaps only one module faulty. Unless you have panel level monitoring, the only way to properly and efficiently diagnose is to test every model. Solar panel warranties need to be completely overhauled in Australia, every manufacturer keeps extending the length of time and installers are eating it up with no real consideration for the long term consequences. There needs to be a standardised process for warranty claims for all CEC approved models with a focus on correct testing procedures and common failure points taught as part of the installer accreditation.

  2. Required individual testing is probably not unreasonable.
    General warranty rules for faulty item testing seem to require the owner to prove the item is faulty, BUT, if the testing finds the product is faulty, then the cost of the testing is supposed to be repaid to the customer.

    • Rikky Sampson says

      Trina are very very good at hiding their problems. I know of around 500 Trina panels being replaced in the last 3 years to 0 Jinko panels. Warranty claims have been painful for our now customers. Trina have come to the party in most cases but they’re not covering the racking that has now seized and can’t be re used. They have asked for individual panel testing in some cases and only asked for pictures in others. What you need on any given day is anyone’s guess.

  3. I never buy any thing just because it has a long warranty. Especially products that are exposed to nature and the fault can be blamed on exposure or degradation. I’ve heard these types of stories on different products in different industries. Consumer affairs departments in all states are toothless tigers. They have no power, the company just ignores there direction and it’s up to the consumer to take them to court at your own cost.

    • Ian Thompson says

      100% agree – toothless tigers, and USELESS.

      • Hi,

        The state’s consumer depts. are not there to take every individual problem that people have to court. They are there to help/offer advice WRT ACL. After lodging an enquiry or complaint, they will give assistance and if that doesn’t resolve the problem, they will tell you to lodge a claim at the state’s tribunal, EG. VCAT (Victoria), NCAT (NSW), or whatever it is in your state. The tribunal does have teeth (AFAIK).

        It is a long process, but low cost. No solicitors involved.

        dRdoS7

  4. Far different to my warranty experience with Jinko panels: Failure on one string & Jinko replaced the panel with no complaints. (Different installer from original too)

  5. Hi,

    He should still go to his state consumer affairs, and lodge a complaint, claim the cost of the replacements, installation, loss of feed-in, etc.. He’s proved that only 4 panels are faulty. I’ve found NSW FT very helpful in the past (2019-20), even though I’m not in that state, but the seller I was having a problem with is (problem eventually resolved, and received a full refund without NSW FT needing to do anything – except write him a letter).

    dRdoS7

  6. The solar panel company should be compelled to arrange for the testing of the panels at their cost and stand-by their product. Personally, I would return the faulty panels at the doorstep of Trina. I believe this will be a sign of things to come and will be more prevelent as solar systems get on in age.

    • Nothing to do with this Solar company. The initial company that sold and installed them doesn’t exist any longer.

  7. Contact Choice magazine. They will tell you your rights under consumer legislation and may even give the business a nudge because what business wants to see their name besmirched in Choice.

  8. We had 22 250W Trina Panels installed in 2012 (5kW System). They started to fail around 2019. Two were taken off the roof and replaced by Trina. Then 6 more failed, also replace by Trina. I had to pay the solar installer that I know well to do the tests Trina asked for and he did the work for a reasonable price.

    The even more panels failed and my installer tested all, took photos of the panels and serial numbers etc. as Trina asked for. Finally Trina replaced all panels I had.

    It was a bit a lengthy process, but thankfully Trina kept its promise to warrant the panels.

    The Trina 250W panels from around 2012 seem to have defects. My installer replaced those panels on other roofs. I also got the red light on my Aurora inverter after rain. It disappeared when they dried.

  9. From memory there was a Nationwide company that got caught out with switching labels to doidgy panels malking the customer think they were purchasing Trina when in fact they were not.

    I believe the ACCC caught up with them and they folded pretty quickly.

    These may not even be the real deal anyway.

    Sadly none of this helps the end user that seems to have ended up with a bad experiance.

  10. Ian Thompson says

    I’m sure you are probably correct – at least in theory.
    Unfortunately, your statements have not been my experience here in WA.
    I even tried calling an interstate office, about a systematic and systemic abuse of warranty obligations, throughout Australia – they were not at all interested in examples, nor specifics. An example was a company offering a 10-year warrant on roof painting. They were watering down the paint, and offering a lower cost job – to obtain a reputation as a high-volume vendor – then used this (as a con) to sell the business at a premium. The paint started failing after about 2 years – but the new owner had only bought the assets, not the warranty obligations. The con artist had moved inter-state, to set a new similar business to rip off more people – but consumer affairs were not interested.

  11. hmmmmm, very Interesting indeed as I am about to purchase 50 x 415w panels for an offgrid instal. Trina WAS one of three brands I had narrowed my choice down to.
    And now there are two.

  12. sheejaryan says

    Is there any reason Nation Wide Franchise’s name hasn’t been revealed? Perhaps they are buying solar leads from you? and you don’t want to upset them? We have been using Trina since long time and never had an issue with any warranty claim. You should have answer to all of the question you asked before putting anyone’s name in the article. We all know how insurance companies work in Australia and being a solar expert, doesn’t $2000 ring a bell just to inspect mere 4 solar panels to you? Brining Trina’s name and putting catchy image in the article, you can easily get the attention but you should have done due diligence and opted a balance approach.

  13. Scott Meloni says

    It’s Not Only Trina, We had the Same for a customer trying to claim warranty on SUNTECH 9 year Old Panels, 30Kw System on a Gym Building, We found 75 Panels with visual Faults, Advised the customer to contact installer, Installer didn’t Help, We found another Solar Electrician to Check, He found same as I did. Owner contacted Suntech to be Told Same thing as you mentioned, Every Panel had to be Tested, Flir Tested for Hot Spots, The cost that this was going to take for the Owner of the System, it was better off getting new Panels installed. Don’t know why bullSh*t about 25 year warranties etc if they are going to find ways out of it!

    Warranty? What Warranty?

  14. Peter Harding says

    I too have had issues with Trina, and they happened to be 250W panels, a 2.5kW system, I recommended the same installer to my friend and he also put on 5kW system and SMA inverter. Both strings of my friends system went down to earth shutting down the inverter, the seller came out and tested the panels not individually but strings only and both had low readings, Trina replaced the panels and the seller installed the new panels and also the smart Tigo units that went with the panels got installed as well. He was happy as he got 270W panels in place of the 250W which is better for him. That was around 2020 when they were replace and original installed 2015.
    My panels started to fail in 2021 giving intermittent earth faults. At the time I had another system being installed and he would not proceed until the warranty for the Trina system was fixed. John my original seller of the system would not come out to test them and put in a claim, so I did it myself being an electrician, I borrowed a 500V megga and had to prove with photos of faults and serial numbers on every panel 10 in total to prove my case, as it happened 6 out of the 10 had low readings to earth and then Trina finally agreed to replace them so they gave me 275W panels. I then got my new installer to replace them, and he then had to bill Trina for his labour. It doesn’t stop there.
    My son also had bought Trina panels sold to him by John in 2015 and his has go to earth intermittently and he has been told that he has to not only supply insulation reading but they also now want open circuit test and short circuit test, on each panel and he has also 250W panels and 3kw system. His roof is quite difficult to move around on and would requite 2 people and half a day to carry out tests.
    So there is enough evidence to say the Trina 250W panels produced around 2015 were a faulty batch or of inferior quality panels and replace them.
    I will never buy Trina panels again nor recommend them. Thats is 3 out of 3 failed

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