Australian consumer group Choice released results of its survey on solar power late last week; with some food for thought for both the industry and potential buyers of solar panels.
The survey was carried out with 700 respondents from across Australia, with 59% living in capital cities and 41% in regional areas.
A very interesting finding was relating to system size. Choice says only 13% of respondents had solar power systems 4kW or less, 26% installed a 5kW – 9kW array and 41% had a system 10kW or more. The remainder were unsure of system size.
The large percentage of 10kW+ systems doesn’t align with government-supplied data and is likely not a true average or accurate reflection of the Australian market.
German solar panel brands attained a satisfaction score of 88% compared to 83% for Chinese brands.
According to local solar provider Energy Matters, some Chinese panel brands are as good as German-made modules.
“The number of German brands, and I mean panels that are actually made in Germany and not just rebadged imports, is relatively small. These are the well established players, so its not surprising the satisfaction score is high. These genuine German brands also tend to be a little pricey.” said Energy Matters CEO, Jeremy Rich.
“The number of solar panel manufacturers in China is astonishing. However, just a handful produce excellent panels at very competitive prices. These are the only companies we’ll work with; along with top manufacturers in other countries.”
Mr. Rich says Energy Matters puts manufacturers into one of three tiers.
Tier one includes the top 2 percent of solar PV manufacturers. They are well established, use the best components, control each stage of the manufacturing process, invest heavily in research and development and use advanced robotic processes.
Tier two includes companies who have been operating for 2 – 5 years, invest less in research and development and employ both robotic and manual work on production lines.
Tier three encompasses 90% of new solar PV manufacturers – with many of these in China.
“These (Tier 3) companies assemble panels only, they usually don’t manufacture their own cells and don’t invest in research and development. They use human production lines for manual soldering of solar cells, which often isn’t the best approach as quality can vary operator to operator and day to day,” states an Energy Matters guide to choosing solar panels.
Another important finding in the Choice survey was the level of dissatisfaction with some solar installers. One of Australia’s largest energy retailers scored a satisfaction rating of just 62%, significantly lower than other installers combined (79%).
“Unlike Energy Matters, for some companies solar isn’t all they do – and perhaps it isn’t something they really want to be doing,” said Mr. Rich. “This can be reflected in their processes and workmanship.”
“In addition to requiring top quality components, solar done right needs real passion and the best people – and that’s everyone from the sales team to admin staff, coordinators and right through to the installation crews.”
To assist potential solar buyers in making a purchase decision, Energy Matters offers a free 23 page Consumer Guide To Going Solar; which has been downloaded more than 20,000 times.
More results of Choice’s survey on solar power can be viewed here.