The murky side of Australian Solar Panels

The insulation industry learnt the hard way that a sector with several decades’ experience and longstanding responsible suppliers can be absolutely trashed by a few new entrants who choose to cut a few corners, or aren’t entirely honest with customers.

The solar PV sector, which involves a product that is less familiar to Australian consumers, is especially vulnerable to reputational damage. As they say, first impressions last, and consumers lack the experience to effectively evaluate and distinguish between suppliers and brands. 

For these reasons it was concerning to hear that the ACCC has issued proceedings against P&N Pty Ltd trading as Euro Solar over allegedly false or misleading claims about the country of origin of the solar panels they supply. The watchdog is also taking action against them for posting testimonials from customers that weren’t actually real customers.

Euro Solar is a very prominent advertiser of solar PV in the Queensland market, and according to its website is a leading player here, or in its words: “Australia’s one of the largest solar panel suppliers” (sic – one of the many typos seen in its marketing material). 

But if you think that with a name containing ‘Euro’ it was claiming the solar panels they sell are from Germany or any other European country, you’d be wrong. Yes I was confused too when I saw its ads on the internet a few months back and tried to work out how they could offer such cheap solar system prices.

Turns out it sells Australian Solar Panels. You haven’t heard of them? Neither had I. So what’s Australian about them? Well, in marketing material distributed by the supplier of Australian Solar Panels to some solar installers it states:

Welcome to Worldwide energy & Manufacturing Australia Pty Ltd. Worldwide energy is an Australia [sic] owned and run company that specializes in producing grid connect solar panels for homes, schools, businesses and community buildings. Our brand name is ASP.,Which stand for Australian Sola [sic] Panel.--Australian Made Solar Module

But the ACCC thinks they aren’t manufactured in Australia at all (in case you were wondering Tindo Solar is the only Australian manufacturer of solar panels). And if you search through the Australian Solar Panel website it actually admits the solar panel is manufactured in China. But it does claim its panels are “Designed in Australia by Australians in an Australian company.”

Which is kind of funny because Euro Solar claims on its website that Australian Solar Panels are, “Designed by German Engineers”. Yet Euro Solar and Australian Solar Panel until just recently shared a director – Nikunjkumar Patel – whom the ACCC are also taking action against – so you’d think they’d get the story straight between them.

After further digging on the Euro Solar website to see what other solar panels they offered I came across another nationality-linked brand: Ameri Solar made by Worldwide Energy and Manufacturing USA INC. Worldwide Energy and Manufacturing USA prominently claim on its website that it is a “worldwide leader in solar technology”. Strange that I’d also never heard of them, and they don’t show-up in any assessment of the major solar PV manufacturers globally.

Confused about whether its solar panels were Australian, German, Chinese, or maybe even American, I called up Euro Solar’s customer service. The customer service operator explained that the Australian Solar Panel and Ameri Solar were both manufactured in the same Chinese factory by Worldwide Energy and Manufacturing. Also he cleared-up that they were not designed by Australians but assured me they are tested in Australia.  

China is literally brimming with companies that contract manufacture solar panels for others rather than sell under their own brand. Typically these manufacturers lack the same levels of automation and supply chain quality control of the branded major Chinese solar companies such as Trina, Yingli, Suntech and Canadian Solar (another company with confused nationality branding).  

In addition a large proportion of these contract manufacturers are ripe for closure in a market with huge excess capacity. That doesn’t mean their panels don’t work, but one should be very careful.  The Australian Solar Panel may be a good quality product in spite of its highly confused origins. But it would be incredibly difficult for a layman to be able to tell.

What's more there are a small number of companies bordering on the criminal who have entered the solar industry that were directly involved in insulation installation scams. I have been told by a solar industry veteran of a company that sets up a website, installs a small handful of systems, and then takes deposits from a far larger number of customers before shutting the company down, taking the deposits with them. They then simply set-up another website with a different company name and do the same thing over again.

One hopes the ACCC is doing its job properly by keeping a close eye over the solar industry, because it would be a tragedy if it were to suffer the same fate as insulation.

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Tris, be fair, Australia doesn't have a solar panel industry. I took a look at the Tindo web site and couldn't see any meaningful technical specifications for their one 'product', so I wouldn't consider buying from them. Every other solar panel comes from China, but as Anonymous and others report, their solar manufacturers are falling (failing) like ninepins. I give it a year and your eco-buddies will have to admit that solar and wind power is and always was pie in the sky, then we can all get back to business as usual using efficient and reliable power sources like coal, oil and nuclear. Cheers.

John,

You seem rather confused.

You wouldn't consider buying from Tindo, which implies you would consider buying solar panels, just not from them. But then you say solar is "pie in the sky".

And just how efficient is coal power?

Coal, efficient? Since when? Barely 20% of the original primary energy that was in the coal at the time it was mined ever gets to your house.

You almost certainly won't get 20% efficiency from a solar panel, but at least the fuel is free, and appears every day, day, after day, after..............

Mike The bad quality panels will begin to fail after a few years,and the better ones will lat a little longer. When the failures occur, the price to replace them will be astronomical.How does any one know what to use in these days of nonsense marketing?

For someone who has a love of detailed pickiness when it come to others...

"When I digged further..."

Dug?

Maybe Tristan will amend the web version of this article, after which I would be happy for my own picky comment to be deleted.

Otherwise, this article stands as testament to the tendency for scam artists to enter hot marketplaces and the difficulties faced by retail customers. Maybe we need a 5-star BS rating for suppliers. I, for one, would very much appreciate 3rd party accreditation and rating in the small solar, small wind and insulation industries.

John, to be fair, Australia does have a solar industry and has for many years. I know because like hundreds of others I have worked at the factories making panels by BP, Solarex, Silex and Tindo are having a crack. There are also a bunch of pilot and R&D facilities which have seen hundreds of millions invested.

Now for sure - it isn't easy and that why Tindo are the last man standing in flat plate PV, but we still have great R&D and even some Thin Film and Concentrated PV pilot facilities.

For what its worth solar panels are predominantly from China but certainly not only from there. Taiwan, Germany, the USA, Korea, Japan and Singapore all import too. So lets stick to facts.

Yep, give me reliable nuclear like Fukushima and Chernobyl, that would be awesome.

And yep, lets build more coal - oh wait - turns out they are closing them down and new ones can't get finance because the risk is too high and their energy cost (for new build) is more than wind and solar, that's right.

Your right John, lets stick to the same thing we've done for 100 years. No compelling need to change a thing and not a single skerrick of opportunity for innovation or fresh thinking here.

Affiliated companies are:Sun Solar Queensland, P & N NSW, P & N T/A Euro Solar, P & N Queensland T/A Sun Solar System, and Worldwide Energy and Manufacturing Australia T/A Australian Solar Panel

Stanley, Isn't the major fraction of the cost for solar installation related to the inverter? Also, solar panels are getting cheaper all the time, so even if they do break down after a few years (rather than 20-25), the cost is only likely to be a small fraction of the total installation cost. And that's only if the company has gone bankrupt because of poor government policy and therefore not able to honour the warranty.

Other ones the ACCC should be taking a very urgent look at are:

1/ Green Engineering and their "German Munsterland Panels" (guess what, they are made in China)

2/ All and any solar companies selling "Hanover" solar panels and not telling prospects that these are also Chinese

3/ get 3 quotes web sites that don't properly qualify the companies that subscribe to them to ensure appropriate ethics and honesty

A bunch of watermelons taxes 'carbon' and says it wants to close coal fired power stations so all the power industry want to invest in is gas peaking plants for quick returns, unless there's any pork flying around for geothermal, wind or solar. Since there's plenty of pork for solar and plenty of scientifically illiterate Greenhorns to be had, no surprises that there's the usual blowies buzzing around to relieve them of their dough. Something about taking candy from babies I believe?

I enjoy reading the comments section, I used to think dinosaurs were extinct but as J. Gardner and others demonstrate, they are alive and well and located on the conservative side of politics.
I'd refer people to the report just released by CPD "Going Solar: Renewing Australia’s electricity options" showing that "Rooftop solar has a key role to play in Australia’s transition to a clean, affordable and reliable electricity system. Powerful interests will resist such change". (and dinosuars !)

Doug, I don't think I'm a dinosaur, and I've seen the CPD report. But, if you'll allow me, it doesn't SHOW that roof-top solar has a key role to play — it ARGUES for that position, a different thing altogether. And I don't think it argues all that persuasively, either.

And I don't know how I came to be Anonymous. As my first comment showed, at the top, I'm Don Aitkin.

I recently had installed by EuroSolar a 5 Kw system in Melbourne. The job was completed some 10 days ago via their local branch & I have nothing but praise for them. They were very competitive in their pricing, efficient, responsive & pleasant to deal with & the quality of the installation was first class. I learned of them via adds in, I think, RenewEconomy and the generally positive Whirlpool commentary on them. I chose their "pricier" & better guaranteed ASP and SMA inverter options. They confirmed to me that the "ASP" panel was not made in Australia. I assume they're an Indian-Australian company & while their Indian-Australian dialect of written & spoken English was quaint at times, their service and product so far has proved excellent. And I can understand why they might choose a "Euro" sounding name, rather than, say, "Patel Panels" to attract initial inquiries from prospective Euro-leaning "Boomers" like myself. I strongly support enforcement of our consumer protection laws & processes compelling transparency in promotional material & EuroSolar's does need some revising, but I wonder if the ACCC action resulted from a disgruntled customer (which I doubt based on my positive experience above) or a competitor in a very tough market. I have no personal connection with EuroSolar bar being a satisfied client . Rob Mackay-Sim, Fri 10/5

Different countries are there offering <a href="http://www.energy-choice.com.au/gallery/ ">solar panels for sale</a> at affordable cost. Installation of such panels not only reduces carbon footprints on the earth but also help users to lessen their bills of electricity.

But doesn't Tony want to get rid of this regulatory burden that so hinders business from doing what it wants to do?