What are the Warranties for Panels and Inverters?
Performance warranties are one of the most misunderstood aspects of the solar industry. A lot of consumers confuse the performance warranty with the product warranty but they are not the same thing by any stretch of the imagination.
I was once told that in the early days it was simply a “performance guide” until a savvy marketer decided to spin them into a “guarantee” which then morphed into a warranty under Australian Consumer Law. In Australia, it is actually mandated that a panel must have a minimum 25-year performance warranty. But what exactly is a performance warranty?
Solar panel output slowly reduces over time and typically 1 year, 10 year and 25-year performance loss figures are provided by a manufacturer. A typical industry average would be a 2-3% loss in the first year followed by x% every year with an expected output after 25 years of at least 80%. In layman’s terms, this means a 100W panel you buy today will be rated at 80W in year 25.
New technology is constantly being released and some manufacturers now claim their panels will lose less than 10% over 25 years. For example, the LG NeON2 panels have warranted output of 90.8% after 25 years. This all sounds pretty good until you are informed on how to claim this warranty.
You cannot simply provide some figures of your systems underperformance from your monitoring portal, you also cannot provide onsite test results from a qualified installer using a testing tool that usually costs thousands of dollars to purchase.
No, instead you are required to remove the panel/s and ship them to a certified testing facility to be tested at your own expense (there are only 2-3 testing facilities in Australia).
If the panels are then found to be underperforming there is no requirement for the manufacturer to replace the panel, after all if the panel has not had a critical failure it is still working, its long term performance is just down on what was promised.
Instead, they may simply provide you with a token financial figure that won’t come near the cost of getting to the point of making the successful claim - rendering the entire process a total waste of time and money.
The final kick in the teeth is when you have a panel with a 10-year product warranty with a 25-year performance warranty and the panel has a critical product failure in year 11 and no longer works. This is classed as a product failure which is covered by the 10-year product warranty so you get nothing!
Panel Product Warranty
Panel Product Warranties cover manufacturing or workmanship defects and are commonly for 10 years in Australia. Higher-end panels and manufacturers are starting to increase these up to 15, 20 and even 25 years. These new 25-year product warranties are relatively easy claimable warranties unlike 25-year performance warranties.
Product failures are usually quite obvious and can be more often than not be diagnosed onsite by qualified technicians and a report written to provide to the manufacturer. Once accepted by the manufacturer the removal/reinstallation labour, freight and replacement/compensation costs of the failed product must be covered by the manufacturer.
Things to keep in mind with product warranties is they may or may not be transferable to new owners if you sell the property. 25 years is also a very very long time and not many companies have a lifespan that long unless they are hugely diversified conglomerates.
Inverter warranties have to this point almost always been for five years. Some manufacturers like Fronius have been offering special +5 year upgrades if you register the inverter and your details with them. It is important to understand though that these bonus warranty upgrades may not cover labour or freight and may just cover the product. Still, this is good value considering a replacement 5kW inverter can set you back up to $2500 installed when a +5 bonus warranty turns this into a callout or two and some interstate freight costs.
We are starting to see some manufacturers increase their warranties to 10 years or more. For example, Enphase warrant their microinverters for 10 years and SolarEdge warrant their inverter for 12 years (SolarEdge also warrant their optimisers for an incredible 25 years)
Most manufacturers also offer upgrade options that can extend the warranty up to 10/15/20/25 years. These extensions are generally not free and may be offered at the time of the sale or the time of the installation. Additional warranties can provide good value if they are low in cost, but it is important to understand how much the price will rise.
The warranty for the installation is called a workmanship warranty and is provided by the installer. It only covers workmanship, all the products that are installed are covered by their own manufacturer product warranties.
Usually, trade based workmanship warranties are for 12 months. However, as the solar industry is rife with high volume sales-type companies who are always looking for a marketing edge to increase sales for some time the trend in the solar industry has been to offer longer workmanship warranties. As a result, a 5-year workmanship warranty has become the perceived minimum length that most companies offer and some even offer far longer and I have on occasion even seen lifetime workmanship warranties.
One must understand that on average 50% of Australian businesses cease operating within their first 5 years, so if a relatively newly established company is offering longer than usual workmanship warranties you have to take this with a pinch of salt as its more marketing spin than anything else!
Generate is a CEC Retailer and part of being a CEC retailer is the requirement to offer a 5 year “full system warranty” on top of a minimum 5-year workmanship warranty. That means that if a product has a 2-year product warranty, and fails in year 3, Generate Energy is obligated to cover that warranty from years 3 to 5. In our opinion, this warranty has far more value than a newly formed company offering 10/15 or even a lifetime workmanship warranty!
What Should You Ask Your Installer About Warranties?
Before choosing an installation company for your solar panels and inverters, make sure to ask that company about the individual product warranties. The installer may say there is a 25 year warranty, but it is important to understand what type of warranty this is and that it does not cover everything. It may simply cover the panel performance, other aspects of the job have warranties that are much shorter. It is very important to understand exactly what you are getting.
It is also important you check that the installers you are working with have a reputation for quality operations and installation. Generate Energy always works towards earning the highest accreditations in quality control and safety. This has recently been recognised in our LG Installer of the Year Award for South Australia, 2019. LG Solar awards dealers across Australia for meeting strict quality measures for products and installations. We had this to say about the award:
“We are immensely proud of our team for all of the hard work they have put into quality installations, using only products from the best manufacturers in the world. We look forward to another year of powering Australians’ homes with LG’s solar products.”
Who Should You Speak to About Product Issues or Safety Risks?
If you have product issues or you see something you believe is a safety risk, contacting your installer is the first step. They are knowledgeable about the job they completed for you, and have all the information about the manufacturers of the products they installed, as well. Whether or not your panels or inverters are still under warranty, it is very important that you address safety risks and other problems promptly. With care and proper maintenance, your solar panels and inverters can provide good value and last a long time.
If you have any questions about solar system monitoring or would like to consult with an expert on monitoring for your setup, please get in touch with Generate Energy today.
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