Tier 1 Solar Panels
My 'inspiration' for writing this particular page came from looking at the stacks of used, second-hand, pre-loved solar panels in our warehouse. We had taken them down from people's rooftops not because they were faulty, but because people wanted to get a new larger system, and our superb Government discount scheme (STCs) meant they were better off getting brand new panels and a new inverter than upgrading their existing installation. In fact, before I go on, it is remarkable how few of these panels had any defects. Some had 'snail trails' which look a bit weird but don't seem to reduce output, but the vast majority, 99%, were a bit dirty after ten years or so on a roof, but faultless.
When I looked at the panel labels there were many brand names that I had never heard of, in fact, almost ALL of them were brands no longer in existence. Clearly there was nothing wrong with the panels themselves as after ten or more years they continue to work just fine, and we are happy to send them on their way to Africa to have a second useful life.
So why are none of these manufacturers still around?
Money. Or rather lack of money.
Giant manufacturers like Jinko, Canadian Solar, Trina and others grew and grew in a very short time, many backed heavily by the Chinese Government's deep pockets, but it wasn't exclusively the Chinese. Q.Cells, a German company facing ruin were snapped up by South Korean Hanwha and became one of the largest in the World by virtue of Hanwha's very deep pockets.
These corporations had money and either snapped up and absorbed their competition or else outbid them on every contract until the smaller fry were forced out of business.
Most people think of solar in residential terms. Two million Australian homes already have solar, most getting 20 or so panels, but the real volume end of the markets is commercial and industrial. Solar farms with tens of thousands of solar panels. This area of the market dwarfs residential solar, and this is why the Chinese dominate the solar industry.
The panels you are putting on your roof are the exact same panels that are being installed in huge solar farms. Exactly the same.
So put yourself in the shoes of an investor in a huge solar farm. You've done your sums and worked out that the first five, even ten years of operation will be recovering your investment costs. The land you bought, the inverters and sometimes batteries, the installation, and of course the panels. You would be ruined if the panels failed after ten years just when you were starting to realise a delicious profit.
Along comes Michael Bloomberg, previously major of New York, net worth $50 billion and his 'Bloomberg New Energy Finance' company to advise you on which solar panels to buy for your multi million dollar solar farm.
Is Michael Bloomberg a solar panel expert?
Can he answer the eternal question, "Are Jinko panels better than Trina?"
Well, he may be in his spare time, but he made a lot of his money as a financier. He is providing you with a list of solar panel manufacturers that have a long and proven track record in supplying solar farms and who have a good looking balance sheet and a manufacturing capacity to meet demand.
And that, dear reader, is all that 'Tier 1' means. Michael's bunch of financial researchers say that those who tick the boxes as described above, get to be ranked as 'Tier 1'.
It should therefore surprise absolutely no-one that the Chinese giants dominate the Tier 1 list, because China themselves installs about twice as much solar each year as the rest of the World put together and almost all of that Chinese solar goes to solar farms, not rooftops.
Some of the big names on the Tier 1 list don't make their way to Australia but brands like Longi, JinKo, Canadian, Trina, JA, Q.Cells, REC, ET, Astroenergy, LG, Risen, GCL, Talesun, Suntech, Seraphim certainly do.
Is a Tier 1 panel 'better' ?
Probably not. In fact, definitely not. The best technology and most expensive panels you can buy, from SunPower, aren't Tier 1 because their balance sheet doesn't look that great and few people, would have the money to install SunPower across a solar farm. Winaico, Hyundai, TW, SolarWatt, Aleo, Leapton...all very good products but not Tier 1.