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Some frequently asked questions for newbies

General Information

An inverter performs a variety of functions. Primarily, it converts the DC power from the solar panels into 240 AC power that the house uses. In addition to this, it has a maximum power point tracker (MPPT) that regulates the voltage of the panels to achieve maximum power. Some inverters have two MPPTs, which gives you greater flexibility when designing your system. Inverters also have a screen or counter that enables you to see how much power and energy you have produced.

 

Better inverters will perform their functions more efficiently, are more reliable, offer more comprehensive monitoring and features. High DC to AC efficiency is good, however it is not the only factor that impacts yield. The MPPT has complex algorithms that determine the highest yielding operating voltage. The better inverters have more refined algorithms from years of development, so they produce more power. Inverters from better manufacturers are less prone to failure, give better support, longer warranties and quicker replacements should something go wrong. They’re also far less likely to fail in fringe of grid or remote areas, where grid fluctuations are more common. Finally, better inverters will offer you connectivity and online monitoring for your system and even provide a way to monitor the consumption in your home in real-time – something which is becoming very popular.

This can be quite tricky, as they all look very similar and all solar providers will tell you that their panels are high quality. Doing research into your panel is important, as low quality panels often degrade quickly and are prone to manufacturing defects. Also, a 25-year warranty is only as strong as the company providing it, so you need to do some research into the manufacturer as well. Here’s a few tips on choosing a panel most suitable for your project.

 

If solar is a long term investment (three years or more), we recommend choosing a tier one panel. Panels from tier one manufacturers make up the top two percent of the panel market. The companies providing these panels have automated production facilities (reduces defects), are vertically integrated (meaning they have control over the entire supply chain) and have been producing panels for five years or more. There are many brands out there that are considered tier one and choosing a panel from one of these is a great way to ensure you’re making a good investment. In addition to this, we recommend choosing a tier one provider that has a strong presence in Australia, as any warranty claims will be much easier to manage if there’s local support. Finally, consider how many panels the supplier has installed for the manufacturer – tier one or not. Providers that have installed many panels from their manufacturers will have had to deal with warranty claims themselves. If the manufacturer was consistently not honoring warranties or regularly providing poor products, they would have moved on to another manufacturer. Providers changing panel manufacturers regularly are either frequently getting poor quality products or a consistently shopping for the lowest priced panel in that quality category, rather than a good quality product.

 

Premium panels are available and should be considered if you demand the best or have no intentions of moving from the home you’re installing them on. Premium panels will give you slightly more kWh per kW from day one, degrade less than other panels, perform better in lower light and in extreme heat. These features don’t pay for themselves straight away, which is why we believe they’re primarily suitable for investments five years or more. Premium panels can come with better warranties, be it longer, less degradation or inclusive of labour costs for panel replacement. They may also be more aesthetically pleasing with darker cells and black frames. Lots of panels claim to be premium, but you won’t know for sure until many years down the track. This is why we recommend looking for panels that have good performance in reputable independent tests and have sustained that performance over many years, ensuring the low degradation which many claim.

 

For people considering a short or medium term (1-3 year) investment, it still makes sense to consider the panels you are receiving. If the panel manufacturer disappears or if you don’t know who they are, it can be very difficult to follow up any warranty claims – which can be very likely early in product life. Tier two manufacturers can be a good choice and are obviously cheaper than panels from tier one manufacturers. Tier two manufacturers have been producing panels for at least two years and are still in the top 10-15 percent of the market. These are good choice if you’re looking for a cost effective option.

t’s very common to put more panel capacity on an inverter than its maximum output. There are two main reasons for this, firstly the panels will never perform at their peak rated power (or nameplate) output. The panels get their rating from standard test conditions (STC) which will never be seen in the real world at the same time. Below are some of the conditions in the test compared to what happens in the field:

 

  • The panels are flashed with 1000wm2 light intensity. Even in most places in Australia, we don’t often get that amount. It can occur in the middle of a clear day though.
  • The panels are in a temperature controlled environment of 25 degrees. The panels would be at about 50-80 degrees in the middle of a clear day.
  • The panels are perfectly perpendicular to the rays. In most places in Australia, when panels are mounted on a pitched roof, the sun’s rays will not be perpendicular in summer.
  • The flash test is done on the panels with minimal cable lengths, resulting in next to no loss here. This is not possible when panels are installed in the field.
  • The panels will degrade and accumulate dirt over time. In the flash test they’re brand new and have been cleaned.

Due to the above, 6kW of panels installed in most places around Australia would rarely output in excess of 5kW. This is why selecting an inverter that has the same or higher output capacity of your panels is an added cost for no gain. Safety of the inverters is not an issue, as quality inverters are designed for this and are warranted for much higher input capacities. For example, Fronius warrant their inverters to double the DC input capacity than the AC output capacity. This means you could put 10kW on a 5kW without jeopardising your warranty provided it was installed correctly.

 

The second reason is that while your inverter will never output more than its maximum AC power output, you will generate more yield (kWh) overall. If you did have a case where the panel capacity exceeded the nominal output capacity, it will for a short period of time be able to operate at the maximum output capacity. If this is exceeded, the inverter slows the output (referred to as “clipping”) of the panels, converting only what it can. While this may seem like wasted power, it’s seldom occurring and is far outweighed by the system turning on earlier, turning off later and producing more power in anything other than perfect conditions. It’s a small sacrifice for a big gain.

 

We tend to see and recommend this with 5kW inverters, as increasing your inverter capacity beyond this point excludes most residents from selling energy back to the grid. The 6th kW in these systems is also by far the most cost-effective and you will rarely, if ever, see any clipping. Also consider that if panels on your roof face different directions, they will reach peak output at different times throughout the day, so it’s even more common when this is the case.

A typical 3kW Solar Energy System will offset the following over a 25-year period:

 

  • Greenhouse gas – 80 tonnes (180,000 lbs)
  • Smog – 270kg (600 lbs)
  • Acid rain – 220kg (500 lbs)
  • Kilometers in the average car (lifetime) – 480,000km
  • Kilometers in the average car (per year) – 19,000km
  • Trees – The equivalent of planting roughly 1.5 acres of trees
  • Coal saved over the lifetime – Over 40 tonnes of coal will not need to be burned

The manufacturers also provide a warranty with their products. The panels all have a performance warranty (commonly 25 years) and a product warranty (usually 5-12 years). The product warranty covers any defects of the panel that doesn’t impact the performance. After the product warranty, any defects must impact performance before you’re eligible for repairs or replacement. Note that the panel warranty typically does not cover the labour costs involved in replacing the panels, although Solargain will do this in the first five years as apart of their comprehensive warranty. Some panel manufacturers (like Hanwha QCELLS and Sunpower) can have a labour component in their warranty, but speak to your consultant for more details. Inverters typically have a five year product and labour warranty, however some will have longer warranties or offer them for an additional fee.

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