Product Vs Performance – Which Warranty Should Matter Most?
The reliability and benefits of solar has made solar panels almost as commonplace as other regular household appliances. Consumers are accustomed to considering the warranties for refrigerators, dishwashers, and washing machines, but when it comes to solar panels, there are often more questions than clarity.
With solar, a panel’s lifetime is typically 20 years and there is not one, but two types of common warranties; product (or manufacturer) warranty, and performance warranty. So what do these warranties mean to the savvy buyer? Which matters more, product or performance, and how do Q CELLS warranties compare?
Performance warranties are a guarantee of the panel’s performance over its lifetime. Hence, ‘performance’ warranty. Every solar panel’s power output will slightly diminish over time. This is called “degradation”. When evaluating which solar panels to choose, you may have heard of the “degradation rate”. Degradation rate is the minimum amount of power you’ll be guaranteed for the first 5, 10 and 20 years of your panels’ life.
Where the performance warranty comes into play is if the power output dips below the rate stipulated on the warranty, then the manufacturer is responsible and will replace, repair, or reimburse the owner depending on the warranty terms.
Solar panel product warranties cover any defects in materials or workmanship. Meaning, if a panel suddenly stops working after a few months because a diode failure in the junction box, for example, the product warranty will cover it.
30% of the entire Australian solar market is comprised of tier 2 and OEM (meaning a company that produces parts and equipment that may be marketed by another manufacturer) module products. Because of the variation in parts from both reputable and less-reliable manufacturers, many of these Tier 2 panels suffer from early-lifetime failures.
Because most Tier 1 manufacturers have more stringent quality assurance programs than Tier 2 companies, they will offer a minimum 10-year product warranty. However, even amongst Tier 1 players, OEM is still utilised. 100% of the cells that Q CELLS produces are utilised in Q CELLS own panels which is a part of the reason Q CELLS can offer a product warranty that is 20% longer than most in the industry.
In a bid to win over consumers, manufacturers often debate about whose warranties, both product and performance, is best. Some offer 10 year product warranties, some offer 12, and some offer even longer. While a strong product warranty is important to consider when buying solar, what most consumers don’t understand is that a longer product warranty is not always better.
The lines between product and performance become blurred when you consider that there is probably very little could go wrong with the product, which would not affect performance and thus be covered by the performance warranty.
The Tale of the Orphaned Systems
As a somewhat nascent industry tied to government regulation and policy (electricity), the solar industry is notorious for boom and bust cycles. So much, in fact, that amongst solar veterans, the term “solar coaster” is often comically and tragically thrown around to describe the effect.
For every big name in solar that has gone under, there are countless once-significant small and medium businesses that have also fallen into bankruptcy or dissolution.
Australia has strong consumer protection laws that forces companies to comply with all manner of regulation, including warranty terms. However, they can’t guarantee that those companies will remain in business throughout the term of the mandate. What this has meant to countless consumers is they own orphaned solar systems. Meaning, the installer or manufacturer, or sometimes both, are no longer around to service the solar panels should an issue arise
No matter how long the product warranty is – it could be 12 years, 25 years, or a million years, when a manufacturer goes under, the system owner is left in the lurch. It is imperative that solar customers consider whether the warranty being offered is actually meaningful, not which is the longest.
The fact its, most manufacturers would be able to wriggle out of responsibility on either performance or product warranties, if they truly wanted to. This can earn a reputation in the market and customers are encouraged to ask around about manufacturer reputation. Q CELLS is proud to be trusted by Australian installers as evidenced by earning the EUPD Research Top Brand PV award three years in a row in Australia.
With so much potential grey area in warranties, the real peace of mind comes from the integrity of the manufacturer themselves, not which warranty is the longest.
*For Q.ANTUM modules only