Are German solar panels the best?

 

The Germans have a reputation for producing the best quality solar PV components in the world – and rightly so. Germany has led the way in producing the best and most consistent manufacturing methods for solar panels. This extends to the point where some factories are entirely automated for the whole end to end process.

Why is this so important?

There are two reasons why an automated end to end process is important; quality control and millimetre accurate precision.

The only solar panels worth buying are those that are from a ‘Tier 1’ manufacturer. Tier 1 manufacturers take raw materials and produce solar panels. Tier 2 or tier 3 companies on the other hand, may only produce some parts of the panel and buy the rest, or at worst buy all the parts separately and just assemble the panel. You want a tier 1 manufacturer to ensure that every piece is designed to fit perfectly with every other part of the panel and the quality control is consistent throughout.

The second reason why you want a panel with the rigours of manufacturing the Germans put in is because solar panels are not simple beasts to put together. In fact tiny differences can have huge impacts.

Take for example a phenomenon known as Potential Induced Degradation (PID). PID can cause a panel’s maximum output to fall quite dramatically in the first 2-3 years of service. A panel with PID protection may drop to 98-99% of its original maximum output in that early life, whilst a panel without PID protection would drop to, on average, 94-95% of original output.

The difference between the two panels? The first panel’s anti-reflective coating is uniform across the panel. The second panel, however, had less than a millimetre’s thickness of irregularities over this same coating. That’s a 5% difference between the two just from a single layer of the panel – and not even one of the layers that is involved in producing power!

Does this mean German panels are better than Chinese panels?

Chinese panels are more of a mixed bag than German panels. Generous incentives from the Chinese government have led to a large number of panel manufacturers appearing. Some of these companies are very good, Tier 1 companies. However, there are a number of poorer manufactures taking advantage of the incentives scheme they have in China.

What this means is that, while a good number of Chinese brands are of similar quality to German brands, you need to be more discerning when looking at what specific Chinese brand you buy.

Are all German panels made in Germany? If they aren’t made in Germany are they worse?

The German solar industry has gotten to a size where it has customers worldwide. To base all manufacturing in Germany and then have to ship panels to places like Australia becomes very costly; which would reflect in the price of the panel.

Therefore multiple German companies have manufacturing plants in a number of diverse locations. An example is the German solar panel company Conergy. The Conergy panels that arrive in Australia are manufactured by their Malaysian factory. This by no means indicates that the panels are any worse; in fact the factory in Malaysia is built as an exact replica of the completely automated factory in Frankfurt Germany.

Common German brands sold in Australia (All Tier 1 companies):

 

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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.