Should I spend more on my inverter?
These days we very rarely sell a Fronius or SMA. There was a time however when that was all we sold... so what's changed?
Well, when many of us first started working together in solar, there were no Chinese inverters that worked (the failure rates were so high that whilst this is a generalization, it's also fair to say as it's very much a shared industry opinion). Grid voltage issues, rust, and even fires were common. Along with them, just simply burn out in a few weeks.
So many battled with so many customers who brought the cheap systems, trying to get them to just spend an extra $1000 or so, and get something that would actually work. Some of them listened, but many did not and ended up never making anything from their solar. Yes, this was also in some cases due to shocking tradies and their workmanship, but also bad gear. Keeping in mind that a 5kw system used to be around $25 to $30k, it was a lot of money to lose! Though it also must be said, there hadn't been enough case studies to know what was going to happen.
Back then, only the German SMA worked consistently, along with the Italian Aurora (this was before Fronius stepped up their game in around 2014 with its new range) along with one or two others. You had to spend more on the European gear, even the panels in most cases, or the system was often just an ornament.
But then something changed. A company called Samil hit the market. All of a sudden, a genuine rival to the European powerhouses arose (well, kind of), and for half the price. Lo and behold, the industry was upped on its head! However, within 18 to 24 months... the warranties started. At least they got some usage out of them, but before long Samil was gone.
Then, not long after, the Sungrows came out. More expensive than their Chinese rivals, it took a while and there were many allegations of stolen technology, but China had an inverter that rivaled the Europeans. Very quickly the European market share eroded.
There was another inverter company that during a similar time, totally reinvented themselves, known as Fronius. Fast and easy to install, high quality, and European made, aside from their sometimes loud humm, they replaced SMA as the electrical favourite and online forum darling. However, there was a catch to this. And this brings us to the point of the article.
Many solar experts recommend the more expensive gear (or at least always did). In fact, many said the Chinese equivalents were still terrible. Yes, they had had many bad experiences, but this wasn't the only factor.
At that time, so much cheap solar was being advertised, often by overseas call center entities, and many electricians felt they had no way of standing out against it. Also, many of them had the dreaded "tradie superiority complex", meaning that they wanted to brag to the other guys picking up at the warehouse how they only use the "good shit".
Now, to be fair here, for a very long time they had a point. Panels like LG and REC were on another level. They didn't necessarily give you more bang for your buck, but they did last. However, so did the premium Chinese ones. And that's how it all began to change...
These days, we rarely if ever see a REC quote, and they have also released a "cheaper " range to stay competitive. And LG, the company that had amazing panels and spruiked why they were the only option due to their backing, well, they have left the industry. Now we see the super giants which have access to huge silicone mines like Longi have taken their place. Though there are still some premium-only brand panel options out there if you look hard enough.
So, should you pay more for the most premium panel on the market? Well, it's not a bad idea, but you certainly don't have to in most people's circumstances. In fact, I really have to struggle to think of a situation other than telling your friends what brands you have in some cases ha-ha. History has shown us that as long as you do it properly and avoid the bottom of the market, you'll usually be okay. Well, in recent times anyways!
We hope this helps take some edge off the confusion as to how to choose your brands, it can be a minefield out there. This is just a personal opinion of events witnessed during the last 14 years or so in solar, so it's certainly not gospel lol. And, hopefully, isn't too long and confusing.
Have a great day everybody.