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Thread: 2 systems - SolarWorld vs. SunPower, decisions decisions ...

  1. #1
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    Default 2 systems - SolarWorld vs. SunPower, decisions decisions ...

    We have a pretty aggressive state incentives on solar installs (which are being phased out/lowered over the next few years). I have been considering solar for quite some time and have the following two systems quoted to me. We also have one of the lowest rates for purchased kWh (about .10), but net billing, for now anyway, helps speed up the ROI. Both quoted cost almost exactly the same, $25K before incentives, $5K net out of pocket. Which deal is better?

    There are some definite intangibles, such as are micro inverters better/worse than string inverters, which is the better panel, USA made vs. USA assembled, brand names, aesthetics on what may be mounted by the meter (string inverter vs. nothing when using micro invertors), BS factor of sales person, possible inflated/padded numbers on quote, etc..

    Here are the basics (all their calculations/claims):

    System 1
    17 - 265 watt Solar World PV panels (15.8% efficiency?)
    17 - Enphase microinverters
    4.5 kw system
    496 kwh production/month
    No out of pocket ("free" bridge loan) - when asked to break out the loan - it results in an approximate net savings less than $300


    System 2
    18 - SunPower E19 320 watt PV panels (19% efficiency?)
    1 - SunPower 5000m inverter
    5.76 kw system
    717 kwh production/month
    50% due at contact signing ($12,500) and 50% due upon completion

    Due to the fact, that if looked at strictly in terms of net production for the $ outlay - I supposed System 2 is the clear winner. However, if that were the only consideration, there are cheaper panels and inverters (and companies that will quote labor lower) - so I am trying to look beyond that. I believe both quotes are on reputable product and from generally reputable local firms.

    The way I see it, there are at least 3 main levels or sets of decision points, and of course quite a few potential subsets, depending on individual circumstances and preferences.

    The first one is the stated specs of a given system, which should be relatively accurate for comparison purposes (controlled conditions testing). Assuming one is looking at a relatively known company that has track record of at least a few years. I believe the brands I have listed above fit this description - recognized as reputable and arguably in the Top 10 (or 15) or so in panels/inverters.

    The second level is based on the contractor/company doing the installation. Let's face it, this can be just as important, or more so, that the first level. If you have great product but a sketchy contractor, and there are problems, and they won't fix them - you still have a system that is not earning back your investment while you deal with that. So, top rated product, with a questionable install company can be a poor decision - compared to a slightly lower rated product with a solid installer behind it. Does the installer have the track record and means (and willingness) to fix problems quickly? Do they have a solid financial base to weather a manufacturer that has a bad batch of panels - that will force them to finance the corrections until they get reimbursed for warranty work? Will they be around in 10 years to support that 10 or 25 year warranty that makes us feel good at the contract signing? Is the salesman credible? Do they present distorted/inflated or wishful thinking numbers to get you closer to signing? While they may not be lying, and even though you only probably only have to deal with the salesman now - it is probably indicative of how the company as a whole operates - they hire and train the guy - so they are supporting what he says/does/promises.

    The third level, is based on personal preferences and financial needs. Is made in the USA worth anything to you? Do you need/want financing for the system? Do aesthetics affect your decision (look of the panels, inverter on outside wall), etc....

    The main reason I suppose I am posting this (other than for some great incite from a vast amount of knowledge/opinions of the product brands and types out there to supplement my limited solar knowledge) is to force me to walk through all these factors and come closer to a decision.

    Bottom line, System 1 seems to produce 29% less electricity, but I lean toward it for 100% USA made panels, micro inverters preferred, numbers presented are much more realistic/conservative (i.e. trustworthy sales pitch - personal pet peeve when someone exaggerates excessively). However, System 2, compared to System 1, will get a faster payback - no matter how you slice it, right?

    SunPower seems to be acknowledged to be toward the top of the panel producers, no? Of course Solar World seems to be recognized as high quality as well.

    Let me know what you guys think about the brands and/or whether the numbers seem reasonable - and any other things I have missed.

    thanks

  2. #2
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    That seems an exorbitant price for the SolarWorld system. No way would I pay $1.20/watt extra pre-incentives for it over the Sunpower one. That said, the microinverters would be the way to go if you have significant shading issues. If shading is an issue for you then I'd get some other quotes.

    BTW, I think SolarWorld is a German company that makes panels in Oregon. Sunpower is an American company with significant Total Petroleum ownership that makes panels in Asia. Solarworld is really struggling and is now a penny stock. In contrast, Sunpower has gone from about $4 per share to over $20 in the last year.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ian S View Post
    That seems an exorbitant price for the SolarWorld system. No way would I pay $1.20/watt extra pre-incentives for it over the Sunpower one. That said, the microinverters would be the way to go if you have significant shading issues. If shading is an issue for you then I'd get some other quotes.

    BTW, I think SolarWorld is a German company that makes panels in Oregon. Sunpower is an American company with significant Total Petroleum ownership that makes panels in Asia. Solarworld is really struggling and is now a penny stock. In contrast, Sunpower has gone from about $4 per share to over $20 in the last year.
    Shading is not an issue - however, I would like to not have anything additional mounted next to my meter/service panel. I also like the idea that the micro inverters are silent, shaded and if one should fail, the rest of the system fully produces while I get someone to come out and replace (25 yr warranty on the Enphase micro inverters). Also, the only logical place to place the string inverter is on the south side of house and it will see pretty significant sun/heat.

    The Sunpower guy told me that you CAN'T use micro inverters with Sunpower panels. I have not been able to confirm this yet. I know he would prefer to sell me SP panels and string inverter - and I'm sure that if I don't buy the combo the warranty will probably be reduced. I will ask him to quote with micro inverters.

    Thanks for the heads up on the stock - definitely a huge consideration, warranty on equipment is useless if the manufacturer goes out of business! Solar World is definitely on the ropes, while SunPower is riding a wave right now. Doesn't guaranty anything - but I know where I would put my money if I were a betting man.

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    Those sunpower modules can't be used with micros. Not even the 300W powerone micro inverters due to Vmax. Why not go with a string inverter and buy an extended 20year warranty? Can you mount the inverter indoors?
    PowerOne 3.6 x 2, 32 SolarWorld 255W mono

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    I don't have any experience with Solar world. The Sunpower panels come with a 25 year warranty and guarantee the amount of kWh output for 25 years as well. They are also the most efficient.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chivy6 View Post
    Shading is not an issue - however, I would like to not have anything additional mounted next to my meter/service panel. I also like the idea that the micro inverters are silent, shaded and if one should fail, the rest of the system fully produces while I get someone to come out and replace (25 yr warranty on the Enphase micro inverters). Also, the only logical place to place the string inverter is on the south side of house and it will see pretty significant sun/heat.

    The Sunpower guy told me that you CAN'T use micro inverters with Sunpower panels. I have not been able to confirm this yet. I know he would prefer to sell me SP panels and string inverter - and I'm sure that if I don't buy the combo the warranty will probably be reduced. I will ask him to quote with micro inverters.

    Thanks for the heads up on the stock - definitely a huge consideration, warranty on equipment is useless if the manufacturer goes out of business! Solar World is definitely on the ropes, while SunPower is riding a wave right now. Doesn't guaranty anything - but I know where I would put my money if I were a betting man.
    If you are sold on the microinverters, then my suggestion would be to get another quote. The high wattage Sunpower panels can't use the current micros so find another good panel that can. That Solarworld quote is far too high IMHO. LG have a good rep and Suniva is made in the USA.

  7. #7
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    You are doing the right thing by asking the experts on here (not me). I did the same, but you also have to do your homework as well. It strikes me as odd that in solar almost all the companies have 20 year warranty. There aren't a whole lot of them that have been around for 20 years. A 25 year warranty with a belly up company is useless. It is difficult to stay in business when you are always losing money every quarter. In the end, it is your cash that is being spent at the end of the day. Good luck on whatever you chose .

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    Quote Originally Posted by joegovette View Post
    You are doing the right thing by asking the experts on here (not me). I did the same, but you also have to do your homework as well. It strikes me as odd that in solar almost all the companies have 20 year warranty. There aren't a whole lot of them that have been around for 20 years. A 25 year warranty with a belly up company is useless. It is difficult to stay in business when you are always losing money every quarter. In the end, it is your cash that is being spent at the end of the day. Good luck on whatever you chose .
    Believe the warranty lengths are requirements to qualify for the Federal Tax Credit as well as state incentives like the CA Solar Initiative. Given CA is the biggest solar market for the US, almost all manufacturers had to follow CA requirements in order to make sure their equipment was eligible including the minimum warranty periods for the panels.

    But yes you do want a company that can stand behind their warranty.

    Good luck!

  9. #9
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    See the movie Tommy Boy for a good explanation of what a "guarantee" is.
    PowerOne 3.6 x 2, 32 SolarWorld 255W mono

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by chivy6 View Post
    We have a pretty aggressive state incentives on solar installs (which are being phased out/lowered over the next few years). I have been considering solar for quite some time and have the following two systems quoted to me. We also have one of the lowest rates for purchased kWh (about .10), but net billing, for now anyway, helps speed up the ROI. Both quoted cost almost exactly the same, $25K before incentives, $5K net out of pocket. Which deal is better?

    There are some definite intangibles, such as are micro inverters better/worse than string inverters, which is the better panel, USA made vs. USA assembled, brand names, aesthetics on what may be mounted by the meter (string inverter vs. nothing when using micro invertors), BS factor of sales person, possible inflated/padded numbers on quote, etc..

    Here are the basics (all their calculations/claims):

    System 1
    17 - 265 watt Solar World PV panels (15.8% efficiency?)
    17 - Enphase microinverters
    4.5 kw system
    496 kwh production/month
    No out of pocket ("free" bridge loan) - when asked to break out the loan - it results in an approximate net savings less than $300


    System 2
    18 - SunPower E19 320 watt PV panels (19% efficiency?)
    1 - SunPower 5000m inverter
    5.76 kw system
    717 kwh production/month
    50% due at contact signing ($12,500) and 50% due upon completion

    Due to the fact, that if looked at strictly in terms of net production for the $ outlay - I supposed System 2 is the clear winner. However, if that were the only consideration, there are cheaper panels and inverters (and companies that will quote labor lower) - so I am trying to look beyond that. I believe both quotes are on reputable product and from generally reputable local firms.

    The way I see it, there are at least 3 main levels or sets of decision points, and of course quite a few potential subsets, depending on individual circumstances and preferences.

    The first one is the stated specs of a given system, which should be relatively accurate for comparison purposes (controlled conditions testing). Assuming one is looking at a relatively known company that has track record of at least a few years. I believe the brands I have listed above fit this description - recognized as reputable and arguably in the Top 10 (or 15) or so in panels/inverters.

    The second level is based on the contractor/company doing the installation. Let's face it, this can be just as important, or more so, that the first level. If you have great product but a sketchy contractor, and there are problems, and they won't fix them - you still have a system that is not earning back your investment while you deal with that. So, top rated product, with a questionable install company can be a poor decision - compared to a slightly lower rated product with a solid installer behind it. Does the installer have the track record and means (and willingness) to fix problems quickly? Do they have a solid financial base to weather a manufacturer that has a bad batch of panels - that will force them to finance the corrections until they get reimbursed for warranty work? Will they be around in 10 years to support that 10 or 25 year warranty that makes us feel good at the contract signing? Is the salesman credible? Do they present distorted/inflated or wishful thinking numbers to get you closer to signing? While they may not be lying, and even though you only probably only have to deal with the salesman now - it is probably indicative of how the company as a whole operates - they hire and train the guy - so they are supporting what he says/does/promises.

    The third level, is based on personal preferences and financial needs. Is made in the USA worth anything to you? Do you need/want financing for the system? Do aesthetics affect your decision (look of the panels, inverter on outside wall), etc....

    The main reason I suppose I am posting this (other than for some great incite from a vast amount of knowledge/opinions of the product brands and types out there to supplement my limited solar knowledge) is to force me to walk through all these factors and come closer to a decision.

    Bottom line, System 1 seems to produce 29% less electricity, but I lean toward it for 100% USA made panels, micro inverters preferred, numbers presented are much more realistic/conservative (i.e. trustworthy sales pitch - personal pet peeve when someone exaggerates excessively). However, System 2, compared to System 1, will get a faster payback - no matter how you slice it, right?

    SunPower seems to be acknowledged to be toward the top of the panel producers, no? Of course Solar World seems to be recognized as high quality as well.

    Let me know what you guys think about the brands and/or whether the numbers seem reasonable - and any other things I have missed.

    thanks

    So wait, you have SunPower and Solarworld panels priced the same and youre divided? That is an easy win for SunPower. Youre talking about high end, high efficiency modules from a company with almost 30 years in manufacturing panels to one that makes good quality panels but is slowly circling the toilet drain.


    The whole "made in USA" thing is overblown, guess where most of that money is going? Straight to Germany. People obsess over where stuff gets made but not ultimately where the money goes. As far as supporting American goes, based on their offices all over the U.S, as well as large facilities in Richmond, Santa Clara and Austin, Texas, im willing to bet Sunpower employs considerably more Americans.

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