Are Chinese solar panels any good?

 

For a long time, Solar panels from China have  had a stigma attached to them with regards to their quality. For some manufacturers, this isn’t entirely undeserved but, there are a lot of good Chinese panels that suffer under this blanket assumption.

Where did this stigma come from?

In 2009 the Chinese government began offering significant incentives around solar panel manufacturing in order to produce a strong solar industry within China. This was very successful in that government incentives made it very easy to setup a solar manufacturing facility and significantly lowered the cost of production. This in turn allowed China’s solar panels to be sold more cheaply than panels manufactured in other countries resulting in less external competition for China’s manufacturers.

However, the drawback to this scheme was that it incentivised more than just the parties interested in making a quality product. The result was that China had and still has a more diverse spectrum of manufacturing quality; from the very good to the very bad.

Unfortunately the lowered cost of manufacturing and the close proximity to Australia meant that it was very affordable for both the high quality and low quality manufacturers to sell their product to Australians. This is where the problems arose.

In essence it boils down to two main factors; you only hear about problem products and all the products look the same.

Firstly, people who are happy with their system tend to just have it installed and then say nothing about it. However, people who have troubles with their system become very vocal. So the only Chinese panels widely discussed were the bad ones.

old-car
new-car

Secondly, solar panels are visually very hard to differentiate. If you look at the following two images, even if you know both come from the same place you can tell that the car on the right is probably going to be better than the car on the left.

But if both cars look the same and come from the same place, and you only ever hear about the bad ones then the stigma starts to grow that all cars from that place are bad.

So how do Chinese panels compare to German panels?

The Germans are undoubtedly the great innovators of solar panel technology. They are great at pushing the limits of efficiencies and improving manufacturing techniques to be more cost effective. But, while the Germans lead the way, the Chinese make good practice of copying the good ideas that come out of German research as well as making a few of their own. This means that the leading Chinese companies tend to produce panels that are similar in quality to their German counterparts.

German panels in the market appear to have be consistently high quality whilst, as has already been discussed, Chinese panels vary wildly with manufacturer. This view is skewed though, by the fact that China, being a very close neighbour can afford for even the inferior solar panel manufacturers to export to the Australian market, while only the biggest and the best German manufacturers can afford to bring product here.

In summary, there are a good number of high quality Chinese solar panel brands on the market but you need to do some research in order to sort the good from the bad.

Here are a few good quality Chinese brands available in the Australian market:

 

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Understanding Batteries

Off-Grid Systems

For some households a battery system can be of great benefit and minimise a home’s reliance on the grid. However, it’s important to understand for a battery to be useful your solar system needs to be generating excess energy for the battery to store, which you can then use at night or when the sun is not out.

When selecting a battery, you’ll want to invest in a system that is most suited to your home and can drive the best return on investment (ROI). Despite a larger upfront cost, a higher quality battery may significantly increase your ROI.

    Battery systems start from $6,000 and costs can vary greatly based on the following factors:

  1. Cycle Life-Time

    The number of times a battery can fully charge and discharge.

  2. Battery Power (kW)

    How fast it can be charged or discharged.

  3. Storage Capacity (kWh)

    The maximum amount of energy a battery system can store.

  4. Battery Management System (BMS)

    An electronic ‘smart’ system that gathers data and manages the battery ensuring it does not overload or operate outside of its safe functioning zone..

  5. Inverter

    Battery systems require their own inverter if your solar system does not have a hybrid inverter.

  6. 'All-In-One Unit’

    A system which includes the battery, BMS and an inverter all in one unit.

  7. Warranty

    Length of time or cycles the battery system is under guarantee.

  8. Blackout Protection/Backup

    It’s important to note this is not a common feature of a battery system and could cost thousands of dollars to include. Blackout protection not only requires additional components but also a specialised installation and rewiring. For grid-connected homes, the cost for blackout protection can outweigh the benefit.

Additionally, if your purpose for adding battery is to go Off-Grid and become completely independent from the grid you will need to ensure your solar system can generate enough energy to power your home and your battery system is large enough to store this energy. For homes in metro areas going Off-grid is not cost effective and is only recommended for those in remote areas with limited access to the grid. Off-grid solar systems with battery start at approximately $30,000.