Crap Solar: A Cautionary Tale

crap solar a cautionary tale heading featuring solar panels

In Australia out of 1.7 million installations, too many are in the category of ‘crap solar’. ‘Crap solar’ is a system that under-performs or is simply dead – sometimes without the owner’s knowledge. Avoid being a ‘crap solar’ owner. Buy cheap; be seduced by ‘no-brands’ with long but worthless warranties and you will be the proud owner of ‘crap solar’.

There is even a Facebook page with close to 37,000 members called ‘Crap Solar’.

If you would like to view the page yourself, you can find it at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1453886731514406/

Burnt Inverter min 2

We have selected a range of submissions from the ‘crap solar’ facebook page to give consumers a greater awareness of the pitfalls and risks of buying cheap quality solar system in search of a bargain. This should highlight the need for caution when making purchase decisions. Today a quality 5kW system will cost between $7,000 and $10,000. Be careful if the quote is much cheaper than that. A quality system will take about 5yrs to pay itself back and can last for decades. 

Buy quality; buy once.

Disclaimer: Some of the comments have been edited to make the meaning clear and explicit language has been removed.

Low Panel Quality (Posted 2017)

3 examples of crack/shattered solar panels

Original Poster: “What causes this? Contamination?” 

Installer 1: “Micro cracks usually from poor/rough handling or shipping (inverter and bolts etc stacked on top of flat packed panels on pallet, followed by too many blokes who have no idea except faster, faster!!!). Rest might be bad seal (cheap panels have crap finishing during manufacture) allowing moisture ingress. Micro cracks can cause permanent shorts, until one day it burns through the backing sheet, causing fire on the roof.”

Installer 2: “I have also had to deal with this”
Installer 3: “The cheap solar cells themselves have problems.”

Panel Hotspot (Posted 2017)

A shattered solar caused by a hot spot

Original Poster: “Anybody ever seen this? It looks like it has shattered the panel from what looks to be some sort of hot spot? I can’t see any evidence of impact anywhere else.”

Installer 1: “Had the same the other day.”

Installer 2: “It seriously looks like the cell has caused it. I suppose heat build-up could cause expansion between the backing sheet and pop the glass outwards, shattering it. Pretty extreme result though. Crap gear anyway.”

Installer 3: “Yeah had the same thing a few days ago.”
Installer 4: “Crappy bus bar soldering.”
Installer 5: “Yes, seen it happen a few times actually.”

Low Quality Panels De-laminating (Posted 2015)

De-laminating solar panels

Original Poster: “I get sick and tired of going to a quote where the customer says they had a quote for “German” top quality product and asking why their quote is a lot cheaper than ours*. Here we go again with the whole explanation. Now I have the evidence, not only is it only a couple of years old the panels are stuffed with de-lamination and water ingress. Quality stuff right there? How’s that spelt in German. “Schittsa”, there you go. Get the Schittsa out of here!”

*Explanation: Some German sounding brands are made in China & not made in Germany.”

Installer 1: “Ah – there’s your problem. They were installed outdoors.”
Installer 2: “Last time I was there, they were filling a 40ft container, with dead Hanover and Topsola solar panels… pallet after pallet. Was amazing to watch.”
Installer 3: “People are not driven by reality they are often driven by what they want to believe is true, this is where the issue is, people for some reason can’t understand that you cannot buy the latest Mercedes for the price of a Datsun 120Y yet they for some reason think they can get the Mercedes (top range) of solar panels for a budget price.”
Installer 4: “You can’t blame them for thinking this, as they have been oversold budget products as quality for many years now resulting in total confusion in the industry for the lay person.”

Cheap Panel Fire Risk (Posted 2017)

a burnt solar panel

Original Poster: “Called to a Fronius not working, customer said they have a panel cracked! This is what I found.”

Installer 1: “This is scary. Looks like the panel has been put inside a large microwave for a couple of minutes (put a CD in a microwave to see what I mean).”
Installer 2: I’ve seen this on a job I installed with the same panel but not as drastic hot spots.”
Installer 3: “Pretends to be quality, in reality – crap solar.”

Installer 4: “Found one a while ago in a similar state.”
Installer 5: “Buy from reputable companies and good brands, everything else is like buying a ticket in a lottery.”

Low Quality Panel with Dishonoured Warranty (Posted 2017)

Burnt solar panel with dishonoured warranty system

Original Poster: “Anybody have a contact for this panel from LDK?”

Installer 1: “LDK went bust a few years ago.”
Installer 2: “I think they came back from the dead recently??”
Installer 3: “Probably same company – different name and won’t honour warranty.”
Installer 4: “That’s nasty.”
Installer 5: “Yes it bugs me, our supplier passes it on, the importer is no longer in business and my customer wants the 10 year manufacturer’s warranty, like I told the owner at the time, we only buy from the companies that will be around in the long run.”
Installer 6: “Call 1800 crap solar.”

Poor Quality Panel (Posted 2016)

two cracked solar panels

Original Poster: “From a supposedly quality Tier 1 panel circa 4 years old. Customer says over half his 18 panels are suffering like this. Thoughts?”
Installer 1: “ Snail trails. I see them regularly on crap panels. Don’t know why.”
Installer 2: “My opinion is that these are the cell cracks that are actually picked up in the electroluminescence test (EL). This test happens right at the end of the build process, and generally every manufacturer has its own criteria as to what will pass or not. The cells are cracked during the soldering or prior (but from memory they get an EL during cell manufacture) but i’m guessing that some arise during lamination.”

Installer 3: “It does not matter if your panel fails if the tier one company has flopped. You receive no warranty, no nothing. Most people on this page have been doing solare since 2010. Seen it many times.”

Poor Installation and No Follow-up (Posted 2015)

burnt solar panel system

Original Poster: “Someone had a crack at string protection.”

Installer 1: “All parts from an unnamed company recalled, no longer in business. The solar retailer is no longer around. The worst part is the original installer came out to check it and said he’d be back. Never came back and the system had been left on.”

Installer 2: “At least it’s isolated now.”
Installer 3: Cable entry on the top of a weatherproof box is just plain poor workmanship.”
Installer 4: “Rooftop isolators make sense – that is the source of power (you wouldn’t put a breaker next to GPO). They are no worse than an air-con switch. The problem is loose standards, poor quality components, and dodgy tradespeople.”

Installer 5: “And hope like hell that the installer has put appropriately rated DC isolators in the system. If not you have a nice little fireworks show. I’ve seen 240vAV isolators used before.”

Poor Parts & Installation (Posted 2017)

damaged and exposed parts to weather

Original Poster: “When the owner can’t get onto the original installers so you get a call about their solar not working. Find this 80% of the time I reckon. Cable entries were on the top of the enclosure and fixing screws were not siliconed, so there’s a good chance it was moisture. How hard is it to: #1. Use a good weather proof enclosure? #2 Cable entries and exits out the bottom? #3. Use glands with rubber inserts with holes for cables which seals the glands? #4. Silicone up any holes for cables which seals the glands. #4 Silicone up any holes or screws? We have never, not once had this problem! But we find it on other jobs all the time.”

Original Poster: “Who uses a c10 breaker?”

Installer 1: “I know”

Installer 2: “Nothing wrong with top entry. Know how to seal them properly and you don’t have a drama.”

Original Poster: “I totally agree. Just never seen another installer do it properly to be honest, which is very sad.”

Carelessly Secured Panels During Transit (Posted 2017)

unsecured solar panels in trailer at set of traffic lights

Original poster: “When you send the first year to grab the panels…”

Installer 1: “That’ll be those damaged ones on e-bay.”

Installer 2: “Wouldn’t even tie them in.”

Installer 3: “Wow, this will be future service work… near future.”

Installer 4: “What micro cracks?”

Installer 5: “Jump on the brakes when some idiot pulls out in front of you and they are all stuffed, that strap will do bugger all. With all that weight the front of the trailer will just fold over and they will end up in the back window.”

Burnt Isolators - Cheap Components (Posted 2017)

burnt isolaters

Original Poster: “Pretty fried.”

Installer 1: “I’m going to start calling you Mr Charcoal”

Original Poster: “Yeah, two in a week. This one actually burst into flames when I opened it.”

Original Poster: “Drove past this beauty today.”
Installer 1: “Sure got value for them STCs! What crap.”
Installer 2: “Hope they are not in series.”
Installer 3: “With shade like that? Wouldn’t matter much.”
Installer 4: “A responsible installer would have said: I’m sorry but your roof is just not a good candidate.”

Original Poster: “How do you like your isolator sir? Well done?”

Installer 1: “Customer had the fire brigade out because of the amount of smoke apparently.”
Installer 2: “Dodgy install – can’t be that old.”
Installer 3: “Rooftop isolators are our industry’s version of the introduction of the Cane Toad. When you have people out of their depth without the necessary underpinning knowledge making poor decisions based on false assumptions for the industry in general this is the end result. Proof is in the pudding.”

 

Shaded Solar System - Poor Installation (Posted 2017)

solar panels fixed on houses covered in shade

Original Poster: “Another example of shaded installation.”

Installer 1: “I see the problem, there’s a guy standing in front of the array shading it”

In summary, one gets what one pays for. Tier 1, 25 year output warranty are meaningless terms. Tier 1 is no reflection of build quality and is not a reflection of the financial strength of the manufacturer. The 25 year output warranty is close to worthless and will be very difficult to be claimed. The fine print prevents that. The manufacturer warranty and the strength of the manufacturer is all that counts. Buy big brands with a quality reputation and you can avoid being a CRAP SOLAR customer.

You Get What You Pay For

failed and cheap solar panels waiting to be disposed of

              Cheap panels waiting for the tip.                                              Failed solar panels in recycling yard.

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