Here's some pictures of what can happen to a solar panel when it is poorly manufactured or inferior materials are used.
 

These panels probably looked just like any other solar panel when they we're first purchased, but looks can be deceiving. When burns and contamination like this occur it turns solar panels into worthless glass and aluminum.
 

Although extremely unlikely, if this we're to occur with a major name brand solar panel, the manufacturer would simply replace it. If this were to occur with a small, non name brand manufacturer who has shut down due to the current financial crisis, your chance of having it replaced under warranty is pretty much zero.
 

For obvious reasons, we cannot disclose who manufactured the solar panels that are pictured below, but we can assure you that these manufacturer's solar panels are not used in our grid tie solar systems.
 

By no means are we saying that you have to pay more for a solar system that includes name brand product. In light of the current economic crisis it simply doesn't make sense to be buying cheap, no name solar panels when there are so many great deals available from major manufacturers like Mitsubishi, Suntech, Trina, Sanyo Kyocera and Sharp. 

 

    

Even to someone who is experienced in the industry, a non name brand solar panel looks pretty much the same as a major name brand solar panel. But given time, a cheap non name brand solar panel will always rear its ugly head. Burns like these may appear to be minor, but this solar panel is effectively ruined.

 

Here's a picture of the back side of a solar panel where a burn has penetrated the protective TedlarŽ backing of this solar panel, rendering the solar panel useless.

 

 

 

Defective solar panel with burned junction box

Here's a picture a solar panel's junction box where a loose connection started an arc which melted the solar panel's terminal strip and associated wiring. This manufacturer has shut down its U.S. office which requires that warranty claims now be shipped overseas.

Defective panel with cell contamination

Here's a photo of a relatively new solar panel that displays some sort of contamination on the surface of multiple cells. Mind you now this is under the glass surface and cannot be repaired.

 

 

Are the solar panels that the other dealer is offering you being manufactured in a ISO 9001 certified facility by a large publicly traded, or U.S. based, tier one manufacturer ?

When you consider the amount of money that you're about to invest, you had better ask because it can make all the difference in the world when it comes time to honoring your warranty.

Have you ever bought a non name brand product made by a tiny overseas manufacturer in an attempt to save some money only to have the product fail after a few months of use ? Now imagine your frustration after having spent ten, twenty or even thirty thousand dollars on a solar system and then finding out that you don't have a warranty because the tiny overseas manufacturer that built your solar panels is no longer in business.

Over the next few months during the Summer of 2009, tens of thousands of consumers throughout the U.S. will make one of the biggest investments in their lifetime. Unfortunately many of those consumers will allow their sales person to talk them into saving a few cents per watt by purchasing one of the thousands of non-name brand solar panels that have started to flood the U.S. market.

Hundreds of shipping containers from all over the world that are loaded with cheap, non name brand solar panels enter our ports every day. With the U.S. economy in the worst shape that its been in since the Great Depression many of the hundreds of new solar dealers that have cropped up in the last couple of years will begin to offer these lower cost products in an attempt to bolster their profits.

During the peak of the financial incentives that were being offered in 2007 and 2008 for solar installations in Germany, Spain and Italy, it was difficult to find solar panels anywhere at any price. This enormous demand fed the creation of solar panel manufacturing startups all over the world. Small overseas companies that were makings toys and lawn furniture one day transitioned into solar manufacturing the next.
 

With the advent of all the do it yourself videos that are floating around that demonstrate how to make your own home made solar panels, it became more than just enticing for these small inexperienced companies to jump on the solar manufacturing bandwagon. Unfortunately for these manufacturers and their customers, designing and building a solar panel that can produce reliable power while being exposed to the Sun, Wind, Rain and Snow for the next 30 to 40 years let alone survive during the 25 year warranty period is entirely another story.
 

We operate an in-house factory authorized center center and we are already averaging about 6 to 8 calls a month from people who bought an off brand solar panel and are seeking repairs because their solar panels no longer work they can no longer reach the solar panel's manufacturer.
 

What most people don't realize is the vast majority of solar panel failures cannot be repaired. Solar cells are permanently laminated to the panels glass surface and it is virtually impossible to remove a solar panel's Tedlar backing without damaging the solar cells. So without a warranty, these people are simply left with nothing but a bunch of worthless glass and aluminum.
 

After more than eleven years of watching solar manufacturers come and go leaving customers without warranties, it is our conclusion that even saving 10% to 20%  when comparing a name brand solar system to a non-name brand solar system is simply not worth the risk.

 

Here's The Tale Of Mr. Frugal And The Great Deal He Got On Solar Panels.
 

Here's a fictitious example that is based on a compilation of actual events that we have witnessed over the past 11 years. Obviously the names and the events depicted here differ from the original occurrences, but are representative of actual past situations.

Mr. Frugal buys his solar system from a local solar dealer that just opened up in town. Due to inexperience and maybe a little bit of greed, this dealer convinces Mr. Frugal that he can save $2,500.00 by purchasing non-name brand solar panels instead of name brand product that has been manufactured by a large publicly traded company. The dealer installs the system and the system begins spinning the customer's meter backwards.

Three years later Mr. Frugal notices that his electric bills have risen. There have been no dramatic electric fee increases so he calls his solar dealer and finds that the dealer is no longer working in the solar industry and has gone back to his previous profession of installing windows.

Mr. Frugal needs answers so he picks up the yellow pages and finds another local solar dealer. The new solar dealer arrives at Mr. Frugal's home and inspects Mr. Frugal's solar panels. What he discovers is that nearly half of the solar panels have suffered from high voltage arcing which caused an open circuit between several cells due to cold solder joints during the manufacturing process.

Mr. Frugal calls the initial solar dealer who is now in the window business and asks him for the solar panel manufacturer's phone number. The ex-solar dealer now window dealer provides Mr. Frugal with the only phone number that he has for the manufacturer but unfortunately the number has been disconnected. After weeks of research Mr. Frugal determines that the manufacturer has gone out of business and that his solar panels no longer possess a warranty.


Mr. Frugal decides to pay the dealer that he found in the yellow pages to remove the defective solar panels and replace them with new solar panels only this time he decides to buy name brand solar panels that are from a large, publicly traded company but there's a problem, no other solar panels on the market will fit on the solar panel mounts that are bolted to Mr. Frugal's roof so the solar installer informs Mr. Frugal that his solar panel mounts will have to be re-arranged or replaced.

The cost to remove the defective solar panel and purchase new solar panels and have them installed: $16,000.00. The cost to re-arrange the solar panel mounts and purchase extra rails and mounting clips: $1,400.00. Grand total $17,400.00.

After completing the lengthy removal and re-installation process the installer turns on the system and to Mr. Frugal's dismay, nothing happens. As it turns out the excessive arcing caused by the solar panels damaged Mr. Frugal's inverter to the point that it was more cost effective to purchase a new inverter rather that have it repaired so Mr. Frugal was out an additional $2,400.00 plus an additional $250.00 removal and installation fee from the installer. New grand total  $20,050.00 !

Mr. Frugal saved $2,500.00 up front by purchasing non-name brand solar panels but it cost him $20,050.00 to correct the resulting problems which resulted from his decision to save money by buying non-name brand solar panels.

It's been two years and Mr. Frugal has all but forgotten his solar nightmare when one day he notices that his electric bill has once again shot skyward. It appears that the remainder of the non-name brand solar panels that he did not replace have also failed. What of the name brand solar panels that Mr. Frugal added to his system ? They're doing just fine......


SOLAR PANEL MYTHS AND REALITIES

Q. If the non-name brand solar panels that I bought fail and the manufacturer has gone out of business but the dealer that I bought them from is still in business, isn't the dealer then responsible for the warranty ?

A. No, all product warranties are provided by their respective manufacturers. It is no different than buying a refrigerator from a home improvement center. If the refrigerator fails it would have to be repaired or replaced by the manufacturer under the terms of their warranty not the home improvement center.


Q. My dealers tells me that his "Ying Yang brand" solar panels are U.L. approved. Doesn't this mean that they are high quality products ?

A. No. A U.L. listing only signifies that the solar panel meets U.S. electrical safety standards and is not an indication of performance, reliability or quality.


Q.  My dealer tells me that his brand "Bimbo Solar" is really popular in Europe. Doesn't that mean that they're a name brand.

A.  Not necessarily, remember that you're talking to a salesman. If the dealer claims that his solar panels are popular overseas, ask him to prove it. Ask him to show you evidence that proves how many of his solar panels were manufactured last year and what country they were shipped to. There is a big difference between solar panels that are popular in Germany and solar panels that are popular for humanitarian purposes in Africa.


A. The dealer that I spoke to told me that his "Dimwatts" solar panels use solar cells that are manufactured in the U.S. Doesn't that prove that they are higher quality product ?

A. Absolutely not. A solar panel's reliability does have a little to do with the quality of the cells that are used in its construction but the majority of a solar panel's reliability has more to do with how that panel was constructed and what other materials were used to build the solar panel.

Among these considerations are the quality of the glass and how well the glass is prepped before lamination. Are the cell interconnections manually soldered or mechanically soldered ? The type of inspection processes that are used during each phase of the solar panel's assembly. Is the laminated backing of high quality or is it one of the inexpensive brands that will not stand up to decades of exposure ? Is the solder a generic type that is full of impurities that will lead to cold solder joints or is it a high quality name brand product. How about the module gaskets will they weather and crack after just a few years worth of use or will they last 30 to 40 years.

Paying a few cents more per watt for high quality U.S. made cells and then skimping on the remainder of the solar panel's construction in some foreign country is a common way for small manufacturers to create a false sense of quality in the consumer.

It's important to note here that not all non-publicly traded solar manufacturers are necessarily in financial trouble or won't be around to honor their warranties. But when you consider that for a few cents more per Watt you can purchase name brand solar panels from large, well vested, publicly traded or U.S. based manufacturers, does it really make sense to do anything else. ?

 

IMPORTANT !


If you have any doubts about the shear number of overseas solar manufacturers that are currently vying for the U.S. market, then take a moment and visit alibaba.com and type in the words solar modules in the the search box and take a look a just a small sampling of the number of small overseas manufacturers that are out there.

Then ask yourself which brand is that other solar dealer is really trying to sell you. Is it really a high quality brand like they claim or are you simply handing your money over to a small importer who has contracted with a tiny overseas manufacturer to private label low cost solar panels with an American sounding name.

A simple rule to remember is this: When it comes to buying a high quality, high performance high reliability solar panel, there is no middle road. No matter what a salesman tells you, the solar panels that you're about to invest tens of thousands of dollars into is either big name brand product or its not. When you consider that solar panels typically makes up almost 90% of a system's cost and performance, it's really not an area that you want to skimp on.

 

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