The danger in going cheap on your solar system

I’m not so different from anyone else; I love a bargain too and so I can understand why consumers and solar importers are occasionally lured by low priced PV panels.

However, I can see big changes ahead for our industry as a result of some of the issues around low quality and non-genuine products, some of which have made their way to Australia.

The quality issue

I’ve harped on about what true quality manufacturing means before but I had a fascinating conversation with a highly experienced buyer of PV in China recently which really drove home the issue of quality.

Making a solar panel is a bit like making a cake; there is a recipe of materials and some steps to follow. The best ingredients make a better cake but sometimes the result is subtle and sometimes more obvious.

In my recent conversation the sad reality hit home to me of where our industry has got to, in some cases.  

It is literally possible to visit some solar manufacturers and get them to tweak the recipe by substituting lower quality materials. ‘You want a 10-15 per cent lower price? Sure, we can substitute back sheets, use low grade or reject cells, non genuine connectors and lower grade glass. It will look the same and for the first year or two, perform almost the same as well.  We can put your brand on it too. Only a short warranty though.’

There are times, it could be argued, that using up otherwise wasted materials and producing functional solar panels at a price point that those with little income can afford sounds like a great idea. In the world’s poorest nations, where the alternative is eye disease from kerosene lanterns I could even support it.

However, in Australia, where we enjoy a very high living standard is it justifiable to save a few bucks, even a few hundred on a solar system? I would suggest not.

Unfortunately, in the race to survive in Australia’s hyper competitive market a number of companies have resorted to this practice and the results of poor quality are starting to show.

Parallel importing

A related issue is how these solar panels make their way down here. I have recently spoken with a number of PV manufacturers who are very concerned; and taking an increasingly tough stance on parallel importing.

Technically, whether you get your solar panels through ‘official channels’ or through someone who is having a clearance sales in a far flung country because they are overstocked shouldn’t matter.

But it does matter for several reasons.

Firstly, there is the quality/recipe issue. Solar panels that may have been made for a specific project or region, say, to a lower quality standard. Bringing this type of product in and selling it with 100 per cent transparency might be acceptable but there are emerging examples of this happening with vendors trying to pass them off as high quality products when they are not of the same build quality.

This is deceitful, misrepresentative and driven purely by greed; and has no place in an industry trying build consumer trust and loyalty.

The second issue around warranty is that a number of manufacturers now trace the origins of their product and specifically EXCLUDE parallel imports from warranty coverage.

Manufacturers build the cost of warranty support into their sales price differently in separate regions based on many factors and although no one expects or wants failures, the accruals are built in to make sure support can be handled.

By bringing in products through un-official channels you run the risk of not having the same – if any – warranty conditions attached. Again, 100 per cent transparency might be barely acceptable but emerging examples how that the temptation to misrepresent is very high.

The bottom line on these issues is that you get what you pay for. I don’t see a single manufacturer of commodity solar panels making big (or any?) profits so they can’t reasonably be accused of price gouging.

For goodness sake, use genuine supply channels, don’t substitute materials and if you hear of this kind of garbage going on, report it!

Nigel Morris is the Director of Solar Business Services.

This article was originally published by SolarBusinessServices. Republished with permission.

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