Solar Panel Warranties
Have you wondered who covers the warranty for the equipment that you are installing? This thumbnail sketch outlines some of the issues for us as installers.
The most important thing to consider is to use quality equipment from a well-known supplier
But as it’s been shown in the last eight years, even reputable suppliers have closed their doors, leaving installers to cover the cost of recalled or faulty equipment. If you have to replace 1000 isolators at your expense because the other suppliers/importers have disappeared, the likelihood is that your business is going to suffer.
THE SUPPLY ‘FOOD CHAIN’
1. Equipment manufacturer, or EOM. They manufacture and possibly import products into Australia
2. Importer – they may be the OEM but could also be buying product from overseas and bringing it into the country.
3. Wholesaler – these could be the traditional electrical wholesaler or a solar-specific wholesaler
4. Solar retailer – these are often businesses aggregating work and passing it on to electrical contractors. They are usually not electrical contractors themselves
5. Electrical contractors/accredited designers and installers
PRODUCT AND PERFORMANCE WARRANTIES
Installers often think that the panels they are installing have a 25-year warranty. This may not be the case – they have a 25-year (or possibly longer) performance warranty. This means that the panel will reduce in a tiered manner over the 25-years (e.g. by the 25th year the panel might be producing 80% of its original stated output).
The other warranty provided is a product warranty. This is usually 10-15 years and covers faulty materials and workmanship on the part of the manufacturer.
There seems to be some tension between these two warranties; if a panel fails at 16 years it isn’t meeting its performance expectations. Australian consumer laws support the notion that these panels are probably rated at 25-years, despite what manufacturers might want you to think about their 10-15 year product warranty. These fall under the term ‘express warranties’.
While the product that you are installing might have stated warranties, your own work also implies some warranty as to quality, longevity and workmanship. State and territories may have statutory warranty periods despite what you might tell the customer.
EXCLUSIONS TO WARRANTIES
Generally, the following applies;
• Non-compliant installation practices – placing the panels upside down (unless the manufacturer states you can) or perhaps walking on the panels
• Handling during transport – you throw the panels on top of each other in the back of your ute.
• Negligence during storage – the panels fall over in your workshop
• Removal from original installation – there is no warranty for a second re-location
• Weather – for example, the panels being installed on the roof blow off in a storm (force majeure). Other examples are vandalism, accidental breakage or lightning
There is a misconception about what public/product liability insurance covers – it is meant to protect in the event of claims for bodily injury (to others, not our workers or you!) and property damage. Whilst the CEC only requires a $5 million cover for Accreditation it would be advisable to look at $10-$20 million.
Professional indemnity insurance is essential for all installers; it protects you in the event of economic loss suffered by your customers due to incorrect advice, negligence, poor workmanship or errors made in the design and installation of solar systems. For example, you advise the customer that this battery system will support 10Kwh of load per night and it doesn’t. Or you suggest that they will save $2000 on their electricity bill and this doesn’t occur either (assume you were defective with your designs).
Goods in care/custody insurance – picking up gear from a solar retailer and installing on a sub-contract basis? You are probably liable for the equipment in your care and in the event they are damaged you might foot the bill for replacement. E.g. a traffic accident and all the panels are damaged.
Read the small print! Will your inverter suppliers pay you to replace a faulty inverter or will it be at your expense? If the isolator wholesaler goes into voluntary liquidation “am I now liable for the replacement of all those isolators installed?” (probably!). If you import the product you will likely hold the warranty. As a rule of thumb, work up the supply chain for compensation/replacement, with the solar retailer having to organise this. If the retailer has gone into liquidation, then the importer/manufacturer is the next entity to contact. If they have ‘disappeared’ it is possible you will be left with the liability. So, in a nutshell:
• Buy quality gear
• From a very reputable wholesaler (and keep your ear to the ground about problems that you hear about with replacements)
• If you hear alarm bells ringing you better listen to them
• Only do best practice installs – no cutting corners or using cheap equipment
• Keep up to date with relevant standards, products, guidelines
• See who is on the following approved retailer list and always check that the products that you are using are on the CEC Approved List