17 min read
The STC In-Depth Guide to Solar Power Warranties
Solar Trust Centre Team : May 27, 2022 9:00:00 AM
Buying solar power products is always going to be an exciting event. This is the case whether it’s the first time, or one of many times. When all goes well following purchase and installation, it’s happy days for everyone involved in the process. But unfortunately, when things go wrong the outcomes can be very different. The unfortunate reality is there are some solar power systems sitting on rooftops across Australia today with warranties that by many measures would not be worth the paper they’re written on. This is because while the Australian solar sector is amazing overall and holds many quality solar businesses, there are a few bad apples in the bunch who pursue some very questionable business practices indeed.
Just as it’s really important to us at the Solar Trust Centre that we showcase to our valued readers the good news in the solar sector regularly - of which there is indeed so much - it’s also necessary to recognise issues that exist, take a clear-eyed examination of them, and detail pathways which are available for overcoming them. When it comes to solar warranties, our ideal is an Australian solar sector where consumers can recognise a quality warranty from a questionable one, and accordingly in opting for the former whenever they look to obtain solar products, avoid the anguish that can come with the latter. So let’s look now at solar power warranties in-depth.
The Clean Energy Council on Quality Solar
As discussed throughout this guide, there are a number of factors that go into getting a quality solar system, and one that’s installed by a quality business. It’s essential these two criteria are present, as ultimately it’s hypothetically possible to obtain a quality solar system - though more unlikely, given questionable businesses usually like to use questionable solar products - but see it installed incorrectly by a questionable solar business. Just as the latter sections will discuss some essential considerations when it comes to the specifics of solar warranties, a quick word on the Clean Energy Council (CEC) and its resources in this area is very worthwhile.
The CEC maintains a list of quality components across the solar range that they approve of. These products meet Australian standards, and the CEC is proactive in ensuring the ongoing quality of items on their list is maintained. Accordingly, this list is a useful starting point for consumers when it comes to commencing their search for a solar system. Solar businesses which provide products which the CEC features on their list provide an early indication they’re perhaps indeed a quality solar installer, and ultimately a consumer is best-served seeking to do business exclusively with a quality solar installer (something that shall be an ongoing theme throughout this guide).
Warranties Versus Consumer Guarantees
Before jumping into the particulars surrounding warranties, it’s necessary to address a key difference in this area that can often cause confusion in the Australian market. This difference is the distinction between warranties and consumer guarantees.
When it comes to the solar sector specifically, there are some particular details surrounding warranties which (as discussed further below) mean there can be some variance between what one solar business is prepared to offer as a warranty compared to another. This is because warranties are voluntary promises by a seller to a buyer, which can be additional to - but not excluding of - Australian Consumer Law (more on that shortly).
For example, one solar business may provide a performance warranty (AKA power output warranty) that says the system they install will continue to produce power that is at least 70% equivalent of what it produces in its first year of use, 25 years after. Another solar business may only warrant that the solar system it installs will produce power that is at least 70% of what it produces in its first year for 20 years after. Yes, it’s easy to recognise that - all other things being equal - a warranty for 25 years is certainly preferable to one of 20 years, but both warranties are totally valid as offerings to the market, and the decision on which one is better is ultimately up to a consumer, when deciding which solar business to go with.
So, just as consumers have a choice about which solar business to select, solar businesses have a choice surrounding which warranties they offer that accompany their products. Under Australian law there are certain guarantees that a solar business will mandatorily have to have accompany any new products it sells. Namely that - provided it also meets some specific criteria such as being under $40,000, or over $40,000 but usually used for personal/domestic reasons - is it ‘fit for purpose’ as offered, and that if a product doesn’t do what it should, a consumer has a right to ask for and receive either a repair, replacement, or refund. Yet the warranties that businesses offer typically seek to go beyond these terms.
Quality solar businesses will do this because they have faith in their products and services, and will back them - and OK, there’s of course some stylish marketing in it too! But if the need arises for a consumer to call upon a warranty, a quality business will go beyond style and bring all their substance to the fore in looking to deliver a strong remedy.
By contrast, questionable solar businesses may just be interested in the marketing side and making a sale exclusively, and when it comes time for a consumer to call upon a warranty, they may find they get absolutely nowhere in terms of receiving help.
As aforementioned, while businesses in the solar sector have some flexibility surrounding what warranties they wish to offer on new products, as it concerns consumer guarantees found in Australian Consumer Law (ACL) there is essentially no flexibility. This is because there are laws in place - namely, the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 - which mandate Australian businesses have to follow certain rules surrounding the sale and provision of their products. Put very simply, while solar businesses can offer different warranties as they please, they must follow the ACL whether they please or not!
The ACL: Quality Vs. Questionable Solar Businesses
Quality solar businesses will not only offer good warranties on their products, but will also - and really, only too happily! - look to be faithful to the ACL. After all, while the ACL is designed to protect consumers, a quality business knows that being proactive about protecting their customers from unhappy outcomes - by doing all they can to keep them happy with their products and services - is not only first and foremost the right thing to do, but it also helps protect the business from acquiring a bad reputation, and ultimately it sows the seeds each day with every happy customer for the growth of a brilliant reputation over time. One where their customer base and profits can continue to increase year by year due to their great work.
This said, it’s a reality that essentially every sector in the economy has a few bad apples, and unfortunately the solar sector is no exception. That’s why understanding the difference in how quality versus questionable solar businesses can go about approaching the relationship between warranties and the ACL is important. In particular, the danger surrounding how dealing with a questionable solar business can see a consumer risk ‘falling through the cracks’ when it comes to seeking a resolution when something goes wrong with their solar system.
The ACL and Overseas Parties
When it comes to solar components produced overseas it could be hard for someone in Australia to pursue a remedy if an issue arises with them. Fortunately, the ACL takes care of this issue. The ACL provides that it is not the manufacturer of overseas-made solar components that guarantees they are fit for purpose in Australia, but instead the installer. What this means is if an Australian business seeks to suggest once the installation job is done that they’ve no responsibility whatsoever for the system immediately after given it was made overseas, that is wrong. Ultimately, there’s a lot of nuance when it comes to the ACL, but a key theme runs throughout: sellers cannot seek to absolve themselves of responsibility to the buyer under the ACL where they decide - where the ACL applies following it isn’t optional; but instead mandatory.
This said, care should still be taken by a consumer when it comes to choosing a solar installer, even with this ACL protection in mind. This is because even though the ACL seeks to provide strong cover for consumers against unfair business practices, if a business ceases operations - and with questionable solar business this can indeed happen - it can be very hard for a consumer to obtain a remedy from the business. Yes, the ACL does seek to offer protection against bad business practice, but if a business has gone out of existence - especially in murky circumstances - then it can be a very long and drawn out process for a consumer to even attempt to obtain a remedy, let alone get one. There are channels that a consumer can go through to make complaints and seek to draw attention to their problem, but once again this process is unlikely to be speedy, and so the old adage ‘prevention is better than the cure’ really rings true here, when it comes to avoiding dealing with a questionable solar business.
Of course it’s a reality - especially given the economic turbulence seen in recent years due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic - that some good solar businesses may legitimately (and sadly) have to close. This said, even if this is the case, a good business will look to do all they reasonably can to avoid leaving their customers high and dry. It’s the ones that can appear to suddenly disappear off the face of the Earth, and don’t answer phone calls or emails at all, that are particularly concerning. These types of operations usually have a number of warning signs around them even when they’re still in business. Accordingly, a would-be solar owner can keep an eye out for these indicators in their efforts to avoid the bad apples, and find a quality solar installer.
Warranties and the ACL in Context
There is no doubt a consumer will be well-served by not only coming up to speed on the ACL, but also looking to do business exclusively with a quality solar business that offers good warranties. In this regard it can be said the consumer will have ‘the best of both worlds
The Differences Between the 5 Types of Solar Warranties
When it comes to solar products, there are 5 common warranties in the market. Let’s go through them now one by one.
This warranty will guarantee the solar system will operate at a certain performance level for a period of time relative to its performance on its first day of operation. For example, that a solar system will still provide 90% of its performance in its first year, 15 years after installation, and at 85% of its performance in the first year, 20 years after its installation. Commonly, performance warranties will be offered for 25 to 30 years. While a warranty like this offered from a quality solar business should certainly be considered with a different calculus, it’s essential to note many questionable solar businesses will often lean heavily on this warranty as a selling point - e.g. ‘of course our offering is fabulous, it’s guaranteed for 30 years!’ - but this certainly won’t count for much if their business is out of business by then!
Accordingly, while there are most certainly great businesses offering this warranty, overall, from a consumer’s perspective they’re best offered alongside other warranties on this list. To reaffirm, a quality solar business will look to see a consumer has a strong warranty accompany any new solar product they sell, and a consumer would be well-served by ensuring any solar system they acquire indeed comes with a strong performance warranty, with it accompanied by other warranties on this list.
This is the warranty that will apply to the proper operation of the solar panels, provided it’s not an issue with performance, the inverter, or the installation. Commonly a 10 year warranty will accompany the sale of solar panels when it comes to its manufacturing component exclusively (and remember this is distinct from a performance warranty which will promise a certain level of performance for a certain period of years, but not necessarily that the panels will be free of manufacturing issues for the same length). It’s important to keep in mind that if the manufacturer is a business operating overseas - and this is likely in Australia given Australia’s solar power manufacturing sector is currently small (though growing) - then (as discussed in The ACL and Overseas Parties section above) it will be the local solar business that a buyer obtain the panels from who under the ACL takes on the responsibility for the manufacturer’s warranty in Australia.
An inverter warranty will commonly be offered for 5 to 10 years, though some solar businesses can offer one for longer. Although inverter warranties may regularly be offered for a shorter period of time than other warranties, it’s critical to note - as can be regarded as usually the case with all warranties on quality solar products - this certainly doesn’t mean a solar inverter will stop working fine once its warranty expires. This said, it’s also important to know that a good inverter warranty will promise the inverter will continue to maintain proper operation during its term, and additionally outline a clear and detailed path for how a remedy will be provided by the solar business in the event of an issue arising. Typically, a strong warranty would offer - alongside the inclusion of other aspects - to cover not only the cost of parts and labour, but also a full replacement of the inverter if need be.
This notwithstanding, it’s necessary to note the differences between inverters that exist out there in the market, and that accordingly it should not be presumed all inverter warranties are more or less the same from one different type of inverter to another. With different products can come the need for different warranties, but overall, the theme of providing quality support and remedies for any issues that arise, which require little or no effort from the consumer - seeing instead the business take on the onus of providing a solution exclusively - is a constant theme across strong inverter warranties (and indeed, solar warranties generally).
This warranty covers any issues that may arise with the solar system owing to any missteps made on the installer’s part while installing the system. A good warranty in this category will mean if anything goes wrong within its period, then the installer will look to step in and rectify it swiftly, and this work won’t come with lots of irritating extra costs. A bad warranty could see a solar system owner on the hook for things like a callout fee - and this can get very expensive, very fast - especially if the problem is ongoing, and not fixed the first time.
There’s no doubt using a quality solar installer who is installing a quality system will likely mean there’s never a need to ever use this warranty. This said, installing solar systems can be very complex, and as a result - like with essentially any job - even skilled professionals taking on the task with their best efforts can still sometimes make a mistake now and then. But with a good installation warranty, in the event an issue has arisen that is linked back to installation error, there’s a chance to utilise it to correct the issue without any headaches for the owner.
Battery warranties are commonly offered for around 5 to 10 years. A quality battery should not only have a warranty covering its performance, but also its parts, and installation. If the battery is installed at the same time, by the same team, as all parts of the solar system, the installation warranty provided for it can be expected to be from the same provider as the installer of the remainder of the solar system. But if the battery is installed at a later date, it’s essential to understand two separate installation warranties could result, and to factor that in. A subset of this warranty is the potential need for a hybrid inverter, or a battery charge controller. If this need does indeed arise, then it’ll also be necessary for a good warranty to be obtained on this additional component too.
Can Solar Warranties Transfer When a Home is Sold?
According to the 2021 census, 20% of the Australian public had moved home during the past 12 months before the survey. While one may initially think the relocation of one in five people would be heavily informed by the pandemic - and there’s no doubt that events like the closure of borders leading people to return to their state of origin was indeed a factor - in reality this figure was only slightly higher than the 2016 census. Although renters have a higher rate of moving in comparison to those who own their home, overall these stats illustrate that Australians are on the move regularly from one year to the next across the nation.
This has some significant implications for vendors and buyers of property when it surrounds warranties on solar systems (renters by contrast would not need to worry about being a party to a solar panel warranty as the property provider (AKA landlord) would be responsible for it). This is because when a home is sold and purchased, it’s not only the home - and land - that will transfer from the buyer to the seller, but other elements too, such as the responsibility to pay rates to the local council. Yet when it comes to a solar system specifically, there can indeed be some variables from one home sale to the next.
The Difference from One Business to the Next
For anyone wondering whether solar warranties are transferable between a former and new owner of a property, the good news is recent years have seen numerous solar businesses operate with procedures that allow for this process to occur. For instance, when it comes to solar inverters, businesses like Fronius and SolarEdge have indicated that (subject to certain conditions) the warranty can be transferred, and utilised by a new owner.
Making the Distinction Between Lease and Warranty
It’s also essential to note that a warranty is not the same as a lease on a solar system (even though they may be bundled together in a shared compilation of documents by the business leasing the system to the user). So regardless of what may or may not be possible surrounding the transfer of a warranty of a rooftop solar system when a home is sold, certainly there is the usually the prospect for a lease to be transferred from one owner to the next, or for the former owner to look to end the lease and pay it off right away so the new owner does not have to enter into it.
Every circumstance is different, but common sense tells us that a careful reading of the fine print is essential for any new home owner getting set to encounter this dynamic. If a solar system is owned outright, it could be a far more straightforward process for a new property owner, as there would not be a need to enter into a new agreement regarding the lease of a solar system, but instead just to obtain the details surrounding the warranty of the system, and seek to transfer it (where possible).
The Importance of Documentation
As with so many things in life, the importance of documentation can be expected to loom as a key factor in this area. Any new home owner that is eligible - and has had - the warranty of a solar product transfer to them will nonetheless be expected to have suitable documentation which establishes this, upon such time as they need to make a claim. For instance, having the original proof of purchase, and additionally, a proof of a transfer of ownership from the former owner to the current one can be anticipated to be necessary (though individual solar businesses may have their own specific set of requirements depending on their particular processes).
Remember Upgrades Don’t = An Issue
The discussion of solar warranties has been important here, in case a disruption is encountered in the enjoyment of using a solar system. This said, it’s also essential to reaffirm that quality solar systems are overall very reliable, and while many people may end up not using their current system for 25 years or more, this isn’t for a bad reason, but instead a good one. Just as many Australians look to make the move throughout their lives from one property to the next as they ‘upgrade’ to better meet their needs, so too do many solar system owners experience a similar journey. As the years pass, energy needs can grow - at the same time as solar technology’s already impressive offerings continue to increase further - so it’s common to see perfectly good systems retired to make way for a newer system that the owner thinks is truly great.
Yes, it should be noted that the retirement of solar panel systems in Australia can pose some challenges at present in terms of recycling - so any solar owner currently planning to retire their solar system soon for another one would do well to come up to speed on the state of solar recycling, and do what they can to see their old system ends up being recycled - but it’s also critical to understand that odds are very strong indeed most solar owners who acquire a quality solar system from a quality solar installer can expect to not ever have the need to call upon a warranty they hold. Instead, it’s very likely the only major work many Aussie households will see done on their rooftop solar system will be when they’re seeking to upgrade to a brand new system altogether!
Prolonging the (Already Long) Life of a Solar System
As we’ve shown here strong warranties can be very worthwhile to possess, and to hold a solid understanding of. This said, it’s of course the case that there are indeed steps a solar system owner can take to help keep their solar components in good working order. These steps are simple but effective, so let’s look at them now one by one:
1) When Possible Look at Your System With the Naked Eye to Assess for Damage
In certain instances - such as a rooftop solar system on a home that is two or three storeys - it may not be possible to actually see the solar panels in operation day by day. But for many homes with a single storey, it’ll be possible to view the solar panels from a vantage point on the property, or from the street. Doing this now and then to try and see if there’s any visible damage to the solar panels can be worthwhile, in addition to trying to see if there’s anything else that may be interfering with them. An example of this could be following a storm, where tree branches and other matter may find their way onto the panels. If you notice anything of concern, it’s very important to not attempt to address it yourself, but instead to contact a trusted solar installer immediately who will be able to arrange a professional assessment of the issue.
2) Arrange for a Regular Cleaning
Solar panels are subject to the elements outdoors 24/7. While quality solar panels are certainly built tough, just as a ute can indeed be strong but still benefit from a polish now and then, the same applies to solar panels and cleaning. A regular clean (typically at least once every 6 months) by professionals can help keep solar panels looking their best, and also remove any dirt, debris, and other matter which can dirty up the solar system.
3) Get Inspections Done
In addition to arranging for a regular clean, an annual inspection by a solar specialist is also important. In certain instances it may be possible to combine a routine clean with an inspection via the same team.
4) Consider Changes in the Surrounding Environment if Performance Drops
When a household first installed their solar system the panels may have had a perfectly clear view of their surrounds. If since then the surrounding environment has changed, this could diminish performance. In certain cases, the element that is now interfering with the panels could be obvious. For instance, if a household decided to plant a number of trees years ago which are now shading the solar system, that would likely be impacting it. By contrast, if a sandpit was made for the kids in the backyard that is now regularly blowing sand onto the panels, that may not be as apparent (at least until a professional cleaner shows up and mentions it). Most of the time a casual look around the surrounds of the solar system won’t find anything surprising that could be interfering with it, but being proactive in this process and doing a quick check of the surrounds regularly will mean if an issue does arise, the odds are good it’ll be noticed fast, and it’ll be possible to pursue a remedy to it pronto.
5) Read Your Solar Inverter to Ensure the System Is Performing as It Should
This step is one that can easily be done regularly, and could even be done each day. This is because it’s often very simple to establish fast if an inverter is not working properly. While there are a range of solar inverters out here - and some may differ from others in terms of the info they provide, and in what way - commonly an inverter will display a green light to show it’s working properly. By contrast, if there is a red or orange light, it’s often a sign something is amiss on many inverters. In certain instances, the reason the inverter isn’t working properly may be due to something such as a grid fault, and as such the problem is not localised to one home particularly. This said, if a green light isn’t displayed and it should be, it’s best to contact a professional ASAP to get an insight into what could be going wrong, and to hear from them what options are available to fix it.
As we’ve discussed here, the nature of solar panel warranties - and the consumer guarantees that also operate in a similar space - are very important for solar buyers to understand, yet they can also be complex. That’s why taking the time to read through the ins and outs of them as we’ve explained here a couple of times is very worthwhile. Ultimately, there’s of course the aspiration of every solar buyer to avoid ever having to make use of a warranty, but it’s a fact that if a situation does emerge where it’ll be called upon, the outcomes can be profoundly different depending on whether a warranty was obtained with a quality solar business versus a questionable one. The ACL also exists to provide some protection in this space, but the reality is questionable solar businesses can often seek to evade their responsibilities under it, just as quality solar businesses will usually happily offer strong warranties which not only match the ACL’s terms, but also exceed them.
Ultimately, there are 5 warranties that a would-be solar system owner can be expected to encounter: performance warranty, manufacturer warranty, inverter warranty, installation warranty, and battery warranty. It’s vital that the usual difference among these warranties in terms of years is kept in mind. For instance, while a panel performance warranty is commonly available for a period of 25 years, an inverter warranty is commonly offered for 5 to 10 years. This certainly doesn’t mean an inverter will automatically stop working effectively after 10 years and 1 day, but keeping these different periods in mind is prudent, and some solar businesses may offer extra cover. For example, inverter warranties can be found which run beyond a decade, instead of between the standard 5 to 10 year period.
As noted earlier, a solar owner who is proactive in seeking to maintain their system can find they extend the life and performance of it. Ensuring regular cleaning and checks of the system by professionals occur, and consistently looking to see the inverter is operating as it should, are easy and effective ways to help optimise the life and output of a solar system.
Finally, it’s also worth remembering the role that the ACL plays in this area. Sadly, as discussed earlier in this piece, the nature of some questionable solar businesses means even though the ACL is strong, the capacity of some businesses to wiggle out of their responsibility is also strong. But quality solar businesses will happily follow the ACL, and look to do all they can no matter what to help their customers, always. So it never hurts when in the browsing stage to discuss with a prospective solar seller in what ways their warranties exceed the ACL’s standard guarantees.
A quality solar business will always be pleased to discuss their warranties, be transparent about what they offer, and detail why they’re exceptional. Taking some extra time to have this discussion at the start can make the process much easier in seeking to identify a quality business which will deliver a fantastic outcome, and to obtain a strong set of warranties that - though they likely won’t ever be needed! - if in the unlikely event that the unexpected does occur, shall be there to rely upon to get a solid remedy speedily.