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what to do when your solar PV installer goes out of business?

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  • what to do when your solar PV installer goes out of business?

    Hello. I had a 5kW system (Conergy panels, Enphase M215 microinverters) installed back in 2012 by Standard Renewable Energy (SRE3). I had a fuse blow out in 2013 and it took a month for SRE3 to send someone out to fix the system. Last Fall I noticed (using Enphase website info) that one of my panels was not achieving full power so I called SRE3 for service. Only got an answering machine, but a few days later a local installer called me to get more information. They had gotten my number from the person who answers the SRE3 voicemail. I thought at first that SRE3 was still in business and was going to cover the service call. I gave Enphase access to the local company (512Solar) and they filed an RMA request with Enphase. Enphase rejected it because they thought it was a DC voltage issue. So 512Solar at that time said they needed to go on-site to diagnose the cause of the low power and gave me their labor rates ($150/hr).

    Now I realized I would only get reimbursed via the vendor warranties. I tried to get a hold of SRE3 but that was a dead-end, only got one email back from a person at SRE3 who explained that they refer all service calls to 512Solar. But web searches show no active contacts for SRE3 and further calls/emails were not returned. I can't find my original warranty to see if it was insurance-backed or not.

    So now I figure I'm responsible for paying for any repairs less vendor reimbursements. Enphase will pay $125 for a trip and one-inverter swap, and an extra $25/inverter swap on the same trip. I've been calling around getting labor rates and they vary from $75/hr to $150/hr, some companies charge a trip charge on top of that.

    Any recommendations on what else I should be doing? I'm currently generating more credits from my panels than what I pay (local energy company is not net-metering, they charge you like anybody else for your usage, then pay you back a flat rate for your generation, this year payback is 10.3 cents/kwhr) and have a negative balance so it's not super-critical to get it fixed quickly.

    Thanks,
    -Jason

  • #2
    Forgot to say that in addition to the one panel with lower power I have another panel that is producing no power at all. This seems more likely to be a total microinverter fail so I may just call 512Solar to fix that one since the repair may be fully covered by the Enphase reimbursement (if they approve RMA beforehand).

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    • #3
      The solar bubble has popped. Lots of installers got rich and disappeared. That is what happens when there is free money.
      MSEE, PE

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by jclimber99 View Post
        Forgot to say that in addition to the one panel with lower power I have another panel that is producing no power at all. This seems more likely to be a total microinverter fail so I may just call 512Solar to fix that one since the repair may be fully covered by the Enphase reimbursement (if they approve RMA beforehand).
        Howdy jclimber99 and welcome to Solar Panel Talk. Its a pain when your installer goes out of business. Enphase will do what they have to, warranty wise but probably no more than that. You really do need to adopt a new installer so to speak to sort out the issues with your system. Chances are you would have had to pay your old installer a call out fee as well. I assume that you are in Arizona so you might want to check out www.dsire.org and enter your zip code to see what solar incentives are available to you, but it seems like you are doing really all that can be done at the moment.

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        • #5
          Yep, been saying it for years. Microinverters are a big reliability risk and servicing them is a big pain for the installers as they fail one by one entailing service trips over and over. Hasn't really been a big problem yet, but I predict a lot of dealer/installers that put these things in will be going belly up over the next few years as they get hit with an increasing level of these microinverter warranty service calls. There is a 25 year warranty on them - but they ain't gonna last no 25 years......
          BSEE, R11, NABCEP, Chevy BoltEV, >2500kW installed

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          • #6
            Originally posted by solarix View Post
            Yep, been saying it for years. Microinverters are a big reliability risk and servicing them is a big pain for the installers as they fail one by one entailing service trips over and over. Hasn't really been a big problem yet, but I predict a lot of dealer/installers that put these things in will be going belly up over the next few years as they get hit with an increasing level of these microinverter warranty service calls. There is a 25 year warranty on them - but they ain't gonna last no 25 years......
            Solarix I really wish you'd make a trip down to North Scottsdale to do my install!!!

            I totally agree with the above post, and find it surprising that here in the 'Valley of the Sun' there are several 'microinverter-only' companies. I wonder if they enjoy making service calls, or possibly use it as a mechanism to upsell; 'well your blinker fluid is low, we'll have to replace your entire electrical system'

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            • #7
              In my case I have some bad shading from a chimney and late in the day from a tall tree. So microinverters were the best choice to maximize power for the whole system. At the time SolarBridge (which I think now has been sucked up by a panel company) wasn't quite ready so I went with Enphase.

              [USER="20534"]solar pete[/USER] - I'm in Austin,TX area.
              Last edited by jclimber99; 02-01-2017, 01:18 PM.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by jclimber99 View Post
                In my case I have some bad shading from a chimney and late in the day from a tall tree. So microinverters were the best choice to maximize power for the whole system. At the time SolarBridge (which I think now has been sucked up by a panel company) wasn't quite ready so I went with Enphase.

                [USER="20534"]solar pete[/USER] - I'm in Austin,TX area.
                Sorry jclimber, I wasn't disparaging the technology itself, but rather the mindless dogmatic insistence of some installers to use it regardless of circumstance. I wholeheartedly agree it has its applications, but when you have a flat roof with zero shade that reaches temps in excess of 130F for weeks at a time, I believe you're asking for trouble with multiple points of failure up there.
                Last edited by Spektre; 02-01-2017, 03:50 PM.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Spektre View Post

                  Sorry jclimber, I wasn't disparaging the technology itself, but rather the mindless dogmatic insistence of some installers to use it regardless of circumstance. I wholeheartedly agree it has its applications, but when you have a flat roof with zero shade that reaches temps in excess of 130F for weeks at a time, I believe you're asking for trouble with multiple points of failure up there.
                  Actually, multiple points of failure are a great feature compared with a single point of failure. A single point of failure takes down the whole system. Multiple only takes out a small part of the system, which is a benefit to microinvertors.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by mjlef View Post

                    Actually, multiple points of failure are a great feature compared with a single point of failure. A single point of failure takes down the whole system. Multiple only takes out a small part of the system, which is a benefit to microinvertors.
                    Well that is true up to a point. In the case of a flat roof with no shade that regularly gets to 130F, the multiple electrolytic capacitors in each microinverter are going to get more stressed that the capacitors in a central inverter. That assumes the central inverter has adequate ventilation. Swapping out an single Inverter mounted on a wall can be a whole lot simpler than swapping out a couple of microinverters in the middle of a string on a roof.
                    I have both systems and have been fortunate to only have to swap out a couple of central inverters over the past 8 years.
                    9 kW solar. Driving EVs since 2012

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Ampster View Post
                      Well that is true up to a point. In the case of a flat roof with no shade that regularly gets to 130F, the multiple electrolytic capacitors in each microinverter are going to get more stressed that the capacitors in a central inverter. That assumes the central inverter has adequate ventilation. Swapping out an single Inverter mounted on a wall can be a whole lot simpler than swapping out a couple of microinverters in the middle of a string on a roof.
                      I have both systems and have been fortunate to only have to swap out a couple of central inverters over the past 8 years.
                      Assuming we belive the makers, the Mean Time Between Failure of microinvertors is massively longer than the roughly 10 year life of a string inverter. Most past string invertors require replacement a couple of times during the life of the solar panels, and when they fail, the whole string.system is down.In a system with n microinvertors, a failure in one takes down 1/n of the system. Even if you never replace it it is not a big deal, but replacing them is quite easy since everything is modular. Combined with greater safety due to the lower voltages, and the ability to easily expand the system a panel at a time, and I think they are a great choice.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by mjlef View Post
                        Assuming we belive the makers, the Mean Time Between Failure of microinvertors is massively longer than the roughly 10 year life of a string inverter. Most past string invertors require replacement a couple of times during the life of the solar panels, and when they fail, the whole string.system is down.In a system with n microinvertors, a failure in one takes down 1/n of the system. Even if you never replace it it is not a big deal, but replacing them is quite easy since everything is modular. Combined with greater safety due to the lower voltages, and the ability to easily expand the system a panel at a time, and I think they are a great choice.
                        I do not agree with any of that, I think the real reason they are popular is because the design
                        is a no brainer. I hate to think of all the copper to be required and the voltage drop problems
                        I would have if micros had to send 240VAC up to 700 feet to my meter. Bruce Roe

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by mjlef View Post

                          Assuming we belive the makers, the Mean Time Between Failure of microinvertors is massively longer than the roughly 10 year life of a string inverter. Most past string invertors require replacement a couple of times during the life of the solar panels, and when they fail, the whole string.system is down.In a system with n microinvertors, a failure in one takes down 1/n of the system. Even if you never replace it it is not a big deal, but replacing them is quite easy since everything is modular. Combined with greater safety due to the lower voltages, and the ability to easily expand the system a panel at a time, and I think they are a great choice.
                          And when an micro fails, you have to take part of the array off to get to the offending inverter. And the hardware has been out in the weather for a couple years, and not likely to easily come apart. Assuming you notice when a micro fails. Unless you monitor daily, one or two could be down for weeks and not have much of an impact on your bill, string inverter is much more obvious when it fails.

                          Powerfab top of pole PV mount (2) | Listeroid 6/1 w/st5 gen head | XW6048 inverter/chgr | Iota 48V/15A charger | Morningstar 60A MPPT | 48V, 800A NiFe Battery (in series)| 15, Evergreen 205w "12V" PV array on pole | Midnight ePanel | Grundfos 10 SO5-9 with 3 wire Franklin Electric motor (1/2hp 240V 1ph ) on a timer for 3 hr noontime run - Runs off PV ||
                          || Midnight Classic 200 | 10, Evergreen 200w in a 160VOC array ||
                          || VEC1093 12V Charger | Maha C401 aa/aaa Charger | SureSine | Sunsaver MPPT 15A

                          solar: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Solar
                          gen: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Lister

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                          • #14
                            For my system in the desert heat heat, I figured one inverter failure in 10 years versus 26 micros potentially signing off in that same time is a far better gamble. If I have to go 30 days without any PV it won't ruin my retirement. What is my time worth not to have to fight the warranty issues again and again or to be at home each time a crew comes to fix a micro when it drops out? How much is a trip charge each time they visit? It was a no-brainer for me to choose a single inverter placed in the garage.
                            Dave W. Gilbert AZ
                            6.63kW grid-tie owner

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Mike90250 View Post

                              And when an micro fails, you have to take part of the array off to get to the offending inverter. And the hardware has been out in the weather for a couple years, and not likely to easily come apart. Assuming you notice when a micro fails. Unless you monitor daily, one or two could be down for weeks and not have much of an impact on your bill, string inverter is much more obvious when it fails.
                              The Enphase system alerts you when a module or panel fails, production drops, or anything stops reporting. So it is always being monitored. Removing a panel is easy, just loosen the retaining bolts and slide them down the rail a bit and lift of the panel. This is all very simple and fast. No need to remove anything except lifting one panel and swapping out an inverter, which I will probably never need to do anyway. As for a 700 foot line, voltage drop exists in AC or DC lines. No difference. In my case all lines are very short. The microinverters give us MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) for each PV panel, increasing yield by typically 5-20% over simpler string inverters. String systems have had fires since panel voltages are summed and can be very high, causing arcing.

                              "Design is a no brainer" is a great feature, allowing easy system expansion, and module level monitoring. It is a little more work since you need to mount more inverters and wire them, but that happens very quickly. And I do not have to worry much about a neighbor's tree getting too tall and causing shading on a few panels or the effect one one panel going bad. Without power optimizers, a string inverter system has a huge output drop because of shading. Microinverter systems just generate more power than string inverters, even when power optimizers are used.

                              Buyers of systems should examine all these issuers before deciding on what to get, but I think the huge growth in home microinverter systems is not because they better fit the needs of the customers. I certainly studied both before deciding, but then again I am an engineer and always do my "due diligence" before buying anything expensive. It sounds like you like what you have and I certainly like what I have.

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