A customer who paid little money for solar panels was previously likely to accept a ‘no-frills’ product and installation, especially during the time of high feed-in tariffs.
In June 2011, the New South Wales Department of Fair Trading undertook an audit of grid-connected solar systems in Sydney’s northwest. Of the 658 systems inspected, only 120 solar systems were installed correctly. 121 systems – or 18.5 per cent of systems – had major defects, and 417 – or 63.5 per cent – had minor defects.
Inspections conducted earlier in 2011 by the Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator had revealed issues such as some systems with ten panels facing north and two panels facing south, low quality fly-leads exposed on metal roofs, and cheap panels with hot spots and corrosions due to water penetration.
Fortunately, many of the installation companies who offered such poor quality have already left the industry. The new code of conduct for the solar industry as proposed by the Clean Energy Council is definitely a step in the right direction, and hopefully it will help in reducing poor solar installation outcomes. Where do the end customers stand in all of this? What about their rights and warranties?Article continues below…
The vanishing solar system supplier
When solar manufacturers offer a 25-year output warranty, the customer is looking for a 25-year relationship with their panel manufacturer. How many solar manufacturers can actually deliver such a long-term commitment?
A large number of the current module manufacturers are likely to disappear over the coming years as the increasing oversupply of modules leads to ongoing price cuts. This race to the bottom in pricing is likely to spell the end for many solar-only manufacturers.
Today, most panels leaving solar factories cost the manufacturer between $20–50, if all true expenses are counted. To demonstrate the enormous cut in margins one needs to consider that a 200 watt (W) panel cost $1,200 in 2005 and is now available for around $300 or less. Naturally, such losses can be absorbed by solar module manufacturers only for a given time, before hard decisions will be made by their banks.
What’s a consumer to do?
Where does this leave the end consumer, with a panel where the manufacturer has gone bust? Most likely they will need to search on overseas websites – using Google Translator – to find a compatible panel – a most unenviable position.
High quality solar companies are already receiving calls in record numbers from exasperated consumers with failed cheap systems and their original installer nowhere to be found. The Australian solar customer of the future will consider the back-up support and long-term durability of the solar product manufacturer as a key point in their decision-making process.
Installers with bricks-and-mortar businesses in their local town and a solid track record in quality installations will win out over operators offering only cheap systems, but no long-term support. As we move to larger solar systems in the commercial and industrial space, bankability, quality and reliability will win the race.
The solar module manufacturers dominating the industry of the future will be diversified manufacturers who manufacture to high standards, possess the bank balance to invest in innovation and have a brand name that is widely recognised and trusted.
Markus Lambert is the National Sales Manager for Solar and LED Lighting at LG Electronics in Australia. Mr Lambert has previously worked at Suntech Power as Business Development Manager, at Conergy as Senior Marketing Manager, and at Energy Matters as the New South Wales State Manager. Mr Lambert has also worked extensively in all levels of government, such as in Communications and Marketing at Parramatta and Fairfield City Councils, Business Development at the New South Wales Government, and as a Campaign Manager for the New South Wales Liberal Party at state and federal elections.