Solaray In The Information – Australians pay the value for reasonable, plentiful solar

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Jonathan Fisk, Co-Founder and Director of Solaray, was in the news today discussing the growing problem of cheap solar systems with pv Magazine Australia.

The Solaray team is currently inundated with service requests from homeowners trying to fix their broken solar systems. With one in four Australian homes now being fed by the sun, we fear that there will be a major problem in the future years if the current rate of system failures persists.

In addition, there is a growing problem in Australia with solar systems starting house fires, which is directly related to the outdated technology used in these cheaper systems.

“A lot of the problems we see are cheap products that are installed cheaply. This leads to very bad results for everyone, ”Jonathan Fisk told pv magazine Australia.

“Over time, these systems deteriorate or fail, so that many consumers no longer have recourse or remedy, since the installers have long since left the market.”

It's something we've been warning people about for years and things are just getting worse.

Certain solar installers (who frequently use call centers in Asia) have promotional prices that are many thousands of dollars cheaper than the industry average. You would think this would be a good thing, but it is going to be an absolute disaster based on the number of service calls we are now receiving.

We see two main types of “cheap solar systems” being offered:

  1. The best brands (like LG Solar, Enphase, etc.) are discounted by $ 1000 or more compared to the industry average. More here …
  2. The cheapest brands that are sold (usually a 6.6kW system with Tier 1 panels and free WiFi) cost less than $ 4000 – what we call “cheap solar”.

The “cheap solar” disaster: 1 in 4 solar systems is faulty

When homeowners search for solar power prices online, the first thing that people see is ads like these:

And what about this one! The floor of the solar market is getting cheaper and cheaper:

If you are new to solar power, your first online search can assume that a good quality 6kW solar system will cost anywhere from $ 2500 to $ 4000. These ads use words like “Premium” and “Tier 1”.

Most of those cheap solar systems advertised online use no-name panels, and we hear stories from people being left up and dry by prone installers every week. We know from experience that this happens because the installer cannot afford to keep up with a growing number of warranty claims. So they just close the deal and start a new one. This approach is not restricted to small operators either. Many very large solar installers have done this repeatedly over the years, leaving their previous customers without support if or when something goes wrong.

This unethical practice has become such a problem. It is estimated that an incredible 1 in 3 solar systems in Australia are unsupported as either the manufacturer or the installer go under.

It's easy to come, easy to go

“The entry costs for starting a solar company are negligible. Put up a good website, claim to be Australia's leading solar installer with years of experience and there is no recourse to it.

“If we go back a few years, Australia's largest solar installer is no longer trading, and we've seen this three or four times in the past six or seven years. And in general, the biggest installer in Australia is the one who sells systems at the lowest price, or at least advertises the lowest price, ”said Jonathan Fisk.

The largest solar installer in Australia in 2017 was known for selling cheap solar systems and it came as no surprise to us when these recently went into liquidation. They have joined nearly 1000 installers who have left the industry in the past few years. As many industry insiders say, the guarantees that come with these systems are not worth the paper they are written on.

The strange thing is that most of the people know all about the dangers of buying a cheap solar system. The entire industry is often treated badly because of the reliability issues with these systems. From defective components to dubious installations to non-existent services. There are thousands of horror stories posted online and we get dozens of calls every week from people trying to get their system back online after people gave up on getting help from their original installer.

There is growing pressure from industry groups to use regulations to raise standards for solar operators. Until that happens, however, it is for the time being a case of “buyers watch out”.

It gets worse: cheap solar & fire hazard

Last year Firefights participated in 139 solar panel fires across NSW, and as of January 26 this year there had been 18 fires.

Fires are caused by what is known as a direct current arc, in which high-voltage direct current “jumps” through the air when two conductors are close enough together. The heat from a direct current arc can get so hot that the surrounding material can easily catch fire:

Solar systems with high-voltage direct current flowing from the switchboard to the inverter must be closely monitored for arc faults, which pose a significant fire hazard. Even the smallest device failure, such as a damaged cable or loose electrical connection, can cause an arc fault. Once an arc fault is triggered, it can be difficult to stop because the voltage in DC systems is constant and you must be able to break the circuit or the arc will continue.

A DC arc fault usually occurs in a faulty DC isolator, a switch used in solar systems to allow firefighters to shut down a system in the event of a fire. This switch isolates the electricity generated by the solar panels.

Standard solar systems that use a central inverter do not have a quick shutdown function like an AC system, and ironically, it is often the safety switch itself that causes the fire.

If a system is poorly installed, there is a risk that, over time, a failure in the system will start a fire. We are seeing more and more examples of this and it is really worrying.

There is already a safe solar solution that has been around for years!

Indeed, there has been a solution to this serious problem for years and almost all of our customers have chosen Safer Solar since 2014.

The risks of DC solar systems have been known since the beginning of the solar industry over 10 years ago. Since DC arcs only occur above 80 volts, DC arcs do not occur in solar systems that use microinverters, as well as in some systems that use DC optimizers, which automatically reduce the DC voltage to safer values ​​in the event of a fault.

Micro-inverter systems avoid the risk of DC arcing by converting the DC power generated by the solar modules into AC power using a micro-inverter under each module. This means that the cable connecting the panels to a central inverter does not contain a high voltage DC power supply. There is also no need for a DC isolator.

In addition, a micro-inverter system automatically turns itself off when there is a power failure or fault. This is known as a rapid shutdown and should be mandatory in Australia.

Micro-inverter systems have been recognized worldwide as a safer solar solution for around 10 years. In fact, the United States even mandated Safe Solar with its fast shutdown legislation in 2014.

All these years later, the delay in regulatory oversight in Australia means buyers are still at stake, and there are likely to be hundreds of preventable solar panel fires across the country in the years to come.

Jonathan Fisk stated, “We warn people looking at cheaper solar systems how easy it is for the cowboys to remove $ 500-1000 from an installation, but it's difficult to get the message across and explain exactly why this is such a security risk.

“When you tell people that their installer may be using a cheap DC isolator, it goes right over a person's head until they see the photos of the fires. Then it begins to sink in. “

Bella Peacock's pv Mazagine item is available here: Australians pay the price for cheap, abundant solar


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