THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A TIER-1 SOLAR PANEL. It’s the first point which must be established. This is the most misused term in the solar industry. If you like the sound of the term Tier-1, glossy datasheets promising the world with unproven warranties and stories of fluff, stop reading. Before seeing the images of critical failure in cheap, so-called “Tier-1 solar panels” understand this, Tier-1 solar panels do not exist. Ask anyone with respectable knowledge in the industry (not a sales-person) and they will tell you the same. In a bid to keep it simple, see below.
Tier-1 in a nutshell.
- Only Tier-1 solar panel manufacturers exist.
- Tier-1 is a term created by Bloomberg with no criteria of quality in the selection process.
- Bloomberg does not audit manufacturing facilities or product. It’s purely financial. Therefore, the Tier-1 list of solar panel manufacturers changes quarterly.
- Tier-1 is a label which will not stay with the product for life as it is not a quality guideline and Bloomberg is not a testing institute.
- Random audits on dubbed Tier-1 solar panel brands found cases of inadequate production against the nameplate value when subjected to Standard Test Conditions straight out of the box.
- Tier-1 solar manufacturers rated by volume have greater product defects.
- Australia is regarded as the world’s dumping ground for cheap versions of solar panels by Tier-1 solar panel manufacturers not fit for entry in other developed nations.
Simple proof that Tier-1 is no gauge for quality. The fact is, Tier-1 is a term low-end market sellers exploit to give the buyer a feeling of confidence without the full story. In most instances, beneath the surface is an underperforming electrical mess, despite the bankability of a certain manufacturer in a nominated quarter. Industry experts suggest “be the savvy shopper” and always seek BEYOND TIER-1.
Pictures tell a thousand words.
WHAT THE INTERNET UNCOVERED in the last 3-years of critically failed “Tier-1 solar panels” installed in Australia alone. The images below from deemed Tier-1 manufacturers are less than 1% of catastrophic solar panel failures system owners have endured from 2015 to 2018. Expel the myth that Tier-1 is a quality guideline. Exposed are the avoidable results of inferior product selection.
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Microcracks are stress/pressure induced cracks in the silicon solar cells of solar panels. These cracks can’t be seen by the naked eye, only with different testing methods. Microcracks are one of the main reasons for solar panel malfunctions and inactive cells in solar modules, some of the causes for these cracks are:
- Panels not being handled with care during installation.
- During transport, if the panels are not handled with appropriate care.
- During the assembly (human errors do occur if the system is not fully automated).
- Heat effects (If the module cannot handle the climate).
- Low-quality silicon cells.
Although micro cracks only cover a small percentage of the silicon cell’s surface, they can cause great efficiency degradation to the cell. In a study using Dark Lock-in Thermography, it was shown that the microcracks in the cell caused the local temperature to rise, even though the cracks were inactive sections of the silicon cell. These cracks inside a panel can lead to many malfunctions including glass cracks, dead cells, delamination and a local temperature rise which can cause hot spots. There are rumours that say all panels have microcracks, but manufacturers such as SolarWorld test their modules using a high-resolution diagnostic tool to bring these defects to light. There are two solutions to microcracks, number one is quality, look for a product that has undergone all the required testing and has the requirements to endure the rapidly changing Australian climate. Number two is professional installers, ensure the installers have CEC accreditation at a minimum and are in-house so that you are always covered with no passing the buck.
2. Hot spot
Hot spots are localised temperature rises within the solar panel causing devastating effects to the efficiency and degradation of a solar module. If you see these on your solar panel immediately get in touch with your installer. Hot spots are not stable and will eventually cause catastrophic failure. There are a few reasons they occur:
- Silicon cell damage (eg. micro-cracks, handling without care, etc.)
- Inferior materials used in production.
Hot spots are not something to brush to the back of your mind, these need to be taken care of ASAP and are already causing irreparable damage. When hot spots are created by weather/climate or cell damage it is normally a case of the panel being made with poor quality materials. Australia is known as being the dumping ground of poor quality solar panels that are labeled “Tier-1”. There are ways to combat environmental caused hot spots, such as cleaning your panels regularly. All that is needed for this is water, as using standard cleaning products will create a layer over the glass that can affect efficiency. Another way to ensure your panels don’t have this problem is to do your research before you invest in solar, look at the data sheets and testing data and if you can’t find testing data on a panel, has it been tested?
Probably the most frightening thing you could think of to happen to your solar panels, especially being on the roof of a family home! Solar panel fires are not as common as microcracks, but they do happen. Fires within a solar panel can be caused by:
- Poor quality materials used in manufacturing
- Production faults
- Hot spots, microcracks etc.
Most fires in the solar industry are not directly related to the panels, but the installation. This is why it is a good idea to make sure your installers are CEC accredited and use in-house installers employed by the company. This doesn’t mean that solar panel fires aren’t an issue, most of the solar panel fires are because of the quality of the module and the materials used in production. It is always a good rule to check if the panel has undergone the required tests, and research reviews on the panel. Glass-Glass panels have a higher resistance to fire because there is not any plastic to ignite.
Delamination is when the plastic backing of a solar panel is separated from the glass and is a common issue when low quality plastics are used. When this happens water can seep into the panel and cause extreme damage. The causes for delamination are as follows:
- Low quality plastics
- Manufacturing issues (if the plastic is not correctly melted to the glass or the glass is not cleaned before application)
Delamination is a serious issue as it allows moisture to penetrate the solar panel which can cause catastrophic failure, requiring replacement. As you can see from the images “Tier-1” panels are no stranger to this problem, being manufactured with low-quality materials and causing people to lose faith in solar. How to defeat this issue? Research before investing, Glass-Glass panels don’t have a plastic backing, the cell is sandwiched together between tempered glass, making it virtually impossible to allow moisture inside.
Shattering solar panels are mainly caused by weather/climate conditions:
- Thermal Shock.
- Extreme Hail.
The durability of a solar panel is extremely important. It means you can install a system without having to worry about a cricket ball, tree branch or major hail storm destroying your panels. Plenty of panels are not tested under harsh enough conditions, and one little accident could mean replacing panels on your roof.
Ingress is when water penetrates the panel, increasing the degradation of the panel and eventually leading to catastrophic failure of the panel. The causes for ingress are:
- Poor panel assembly
- Low-quality materials
Ingress is mainly caused by low-quality production. The only way to avoid this is to research into the best quality products and make sure they have undergone the required testing.
Deformation in a solar panel traditionally occurs in the centre of a panel, where it will begin to slump and bend. This is simply caused by low-quality materials used to manufacture the panel. The weather/climate conditions over time will degrade the panel, causing it to lose all aesthetics and if not replaced, affect the overall value of your property. If this happens to one solar panel in the array, it’s more than likely going to happen to another which means constant repairs and maintenance.
Discolouration will make a panel appear a yellow/brown colour. This is a chemical reaction between the materials and will appear in the first few years of sunlight exposure. This comes down to lack of testing and product quality to ensure that the materials used are compatible. It is not yet known the effects on the efficiency of the panel that this chemical reaction causes.
You wouldn’t buy off milk.
You’ve seen the marketing with the words Tier-1 solar panels, High-Efficiency, 25-year warranty. This means absolutely nothing of value to the savvy shopper. Any solar business which stresses these features is playing on your lack of knowledge and actually has no real positives about the product in a modern sense. Reading between the lines what should be interpreted is; cheap, outdated-technology, prone to critical failures with a sub-standard 10-year product warranty (25-year warranty is a Standard Test Condition performance warranty only and worthless when the product fails beyond 10-years).
Australia is regarded as the world’s dumping ground for cheap versions of solar panels by Tier-1 solar panel manufacturers not fit for entry in other developed nations. Warranties in most Tier-1 instances provide painstakingly limited protection without recourse for monetary losses during the time it takes to activate the warranty claim. With critical failures now more common than what would be perceived, the right product selection from the start is vital. High-efficiency tier-1 solar panels sound great but that’s about as good as it gets. Understand that to develop high-efficiency, robust, industry-leading solar panels takes a refined process which costs money and a calibre of integrity which exists beyond the Tier-1 norm.
An impressive product stands on its own without the overexcited phrase Tier-1, due to notable advanced qualities. Features that are patented and impossible for the old technology of the world to compete. Therefore the inferior tend to exploit the term Tier-1 solar. Equally overused in the solar industry is the term High-Efficiency. The Tier-1 average is in fact 25% less efficient than the most efficient solar panels available in Australia today.
A superior solar panel with no dependency on the term “Tier-1”, “high-efficiency” or a misleading warranty statement.
Be the savvy shopper.
Select solar panels based on performance and superior build quality, with awards and accolades by recognized industry bodies. Modules that are proven to outlast in Australian conditions with better than expected returns. “Tier-1 solar panels” is the easy-to-believe, lacklustre industry term extorted by low-end marketers, usually spruiking a price which appears too good to be true, backed by the same warranties as of the sector leaders, claiming to be industry leaders themselves.
The sad part is these unscrupulous companies exploit your little knowledge on a confusing purchase in a sea full of competition trying to win your business.
An extreme reputation.
BEYOND TIER-1. Bank your money in a vault, not at the casino. Here’s our pick of solar panel manufacturers with an extreme reputation. A reputation with a proven history of manufacturing an enduring product with minimal requirements for warranty repair or action over the warranty period and beyond. A reputation far beyond Tier-1 solar qualification.
With the world’s greatest product warranty one should not ignore German made SolarWatt solar panels for superior quality. SolarWatt solar panels are available in Australia from September 2017.
Which panel to select?
Selected glass-glass versions available only.
SolarWorld has had an industry presence producing high-quality solar panels for over 42 years. As Germany’s largest solar panel manufacturer, SolarWorld manufactures every single element of each solar panel for complete quality control, from sand to module. Also backed by some of the industry’s greatest warranties, an investment in a SolarWorld solar panel is a secure one.
Which panel to select?
Glass-Glass or Bisun Duo versions.
News (Aug 2017): Now privately owned SolarWorld Industries GmbH surges as one of the strongest financially backed solar panel manufacturers in the world. Read more >
You be the judge.
The PSW Energy technical department has been advised not to publish the names of the particular Tier-1 solar panel manufacturers featuring in the above 8 categories. However, those with a keen eye and solar industry knowledge can easily identify distinctive manufacturer cell designs and product structure. If you can identify a particular solar panel please comment below…