With Cheap Solar Panels You Get What You Pay For

There is a myth going around that solar panels are all the same. The reality is this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The difference between cheaper Chinese panels and good quality solar panels from leading manufacturers like LG Solar is so vast that we are often left scratching our heads about how they are even talked about as the same….(?).

So let’s shed some light on why all Solaray customers get top quality panels from the leading manufacturers.

Solar Panel Longevity

In my view, this is the most important point and on its own should be enough to convince most people to buy top quality panels. Quite simply, good solar panels last longer… a lot longer.

LG Solar manufacture their panels to last over 30 years. We know these claims are true because historically top quality panels do last 30 years and beyond. We have seen it with SolarWorld panels, and we will continue to see it with the top brands.

LG Solar manufacture their panels on a fully automated production line. The wafers, cells and panels are manufactured using 500 quality control processes on a production line that runs like clockwork. There is no tolerance for variations; measurements are accurate to a fraction of a millimetre. This results in a solar panel that is built to last.

The purchase price of a solar system is an investment – you are spending an amount of money for a product and in return, you are looking to see reduced power bills for decades to come. In this context, it makes perfect sense to pay a little more to extend the life of your system by as much as 50%.

One of the most important points to understand is that a solar panel’s product warranty is only 10 years (12 for the top panels). Yes, there is a 25-year power output warranty but this does not cover panels that break or stop working. We know from experience that cheaper panels will struggle to last beyond this 10 year warranty period in many cases. If you get a standard system with a string inverter if one panel breaks the entire system is turned off until it is repaired. If you do not have a responsive installer and/or manufacturer you may be without solar power for months. We get calls like this all the time, and if your system is more than a few years old there is often little we can do to help other than replace the entire system. It’s a nightmare.

We are now seeing a worrying trend that the cheapest solar panels are not even lasting 5 years before they need to be replaced. The panels can turn yellow or can simply break. If you are planning on staying in your home for the long run, or you want to add value to your home you simply must buy better quality panels.

Output

Higher output means lower power bills and more money in your pocket. The obvious difference between the top panels and the cheaper ones is the output. Standard panels are still being mass-produced at 250W or 260W, while the top panels are now over 300W. LG Solar have their 315W NeON 2 panel available in Australia, and it has been so popular they are actually struggling to keep up with demand. Just the other day we had to wait a week for our next big delivery (lucky we have plenty in stock).

Higher output per panel gives you two choices. You can either use fewer panels for the same output and save the roof space for further expansion, for example, you might want to add some panels if you decide to get a solar battery or two. The other option is to Supersize your array. For example, if you can fit 20 panels on your roof your can have a 6.3kW system using LG 315W panels compared to a 5kW system if you were to buy 250W panels. That extra 1.3kWs can save you an incredible $17,000* off your power bills over 30 years.

The other point that makes a huge difference to your power bill is real world output. Manufacturers all make fantastical claims based on what their brand new panels did in a testing laboratory, but it’s completely irrelevant for anyone looking to install solar. What matters is real output – performance on overcast days, hot days, cold days, early in the morning and later in the afternoon.

The truth is, conditions are almost always less than ideal, especially in Sydney where we have hot summers and 265 days a year with some cloud cover. I love showing this graph because it is proof that good quality panels work better in low light conditions. Look at what happens between 3 pm and 4 pm on this day. Cloud cover blocked the sun 4 times but output was hardly affected. This is where you get your money’s worth.

Add Value To Your House

Recent studies by Californian economists posted in Forbes have confirmed that a solar power system adds value to a home. But here’s the catch: only if both the panels and the inverter are from the leading handful of manufacturers. This confirms what we have known for years. Solar power is great when it is working, and a nightmare when things go wrong. Quite simply, homebuyers don’t want to put up with faulty systems because the previous owner bought something cheap and nasty. It’s also why Solaray has never and will never sell any of these cheaper brands.

Reliability

Over the last five years, we have only had one warranty claim for a Trina panel and not a single claim for either Q-Cells or LG Solar. Of the hundreds of thousands of solar panels we have installed, we just don’t get any problems. Reliability means more money in your pocket because when a panel breaks the system is turned off until the problem is fixed (this is no longer the case for Enphase or SolarEdge systems as each panel operates independently).

As mentioned above, the better panels are manufactured to the highest standards possible on a fully automated production line. This ensures that every single panel is guaranteed, for example, LG solar has their ‘LG stamp of approval’ on all of their panels, a completely different business model to a lot of the panels made in China.

Support

When things go wrong time is money. The worst phone calls we get are from people desperately trying to get help. Their solar system isn’t working and their original installer either won’t answer their calls or has gone out of business. We can’t stress this point enough – a warranty isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if you can’t get a fast and free replacement with full service from your original installer. Read more: How Safe is Your Solar Panel Warranty?

R & D

This is a big point for many of our customers looking to help support the solar industry. It’s more about a person’s ideology and want to see a cleaner, greener energy future for Australia and beyond.

Tom in marketing here at Solaray has a contact who worked for REC in Herøya, Norway. When REC shut down their production facility the entire building was stripped down in a matter of weeks and the salvaged parts were all shipped off to China. It was also interesting to hear that Chinese workers were sending back as much information as possible so that new startups in China could essentially copy the procedures that had been developed by REC. Although this is all just word of mouth, it gives a great insight into the business model of certain Chinese manufacturing companies and why it is so important to support the companies that are driving the advancement of technology in the solar industry.

Companies such as LG, Q Cells, Trina and others spend serious money on R&D and create partnerships with leading universities to help change the world. The dream of a 400W solar panel is now just around the corner, and more is yet to come such as solar windows and even solar roads. But without healthy balance sheets, these world-changing ideas will be nothing more than pipe dreams.

This is a big part of why we support the manufacturers that are leading the way with R&D and are not just copying the technology that others have developed.

Looks

This is not for everyone but certainly, there are many of us who are house-proud and want the panel array to make a statement. LG panels have a thin profile, black cells, black rims and glossy black frames. Quite simply – they look fantastic. Standard polycrystalline panels typically have blue cells and plain grey aluminium frames.

Summary

If you buy cheap solar panels, there are two main things that we see happening over and over again. Either the output isn’t what it should be, or the panels simply break and need to be replaced. It’s rare for a cheap system to show any signs of trouble in the first year or two (by which time you have left a glowing review of how great your system is), but it is at around the 4 year mark (just when you are getting your money back) that things start to go wrong.

A top quality solar system will pay for itself through increased output, reliability and longevity. You will get looked after if you need support and you are helping the industry by supporting companies that are forging the way to a cleaner future. Get the system your house deserves. Your future self will thank you for it!

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