Solar Panel Warranty Fine Print

Solar Panel Warranties: Why They Might Not Be as Useful as You Think

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In the world of solar energy, warranties are often touted as a mark of quality and reliability. After all, who wouldn’t want the assurance that their investment in solar panels is protected against defects and performance issues? Manufacturers put out fancy marketing brochures and nebulous certification programs to demonstrate confidence in their products. However, as a seasoned solar veteran, I’ve seen firsthand that solar panel warranties may not always live up to their promises.

But don’t worry too much – read to the end to reestablish your confidence in solar panel quality and longevity.

The Fine Print Conundrum

At first glance, solar panel warranties may seem like a straightforward guarantee of product quality and performance. However, delving into the fine print reveals a different story. Many solar panel warranties come with a laundry list of exclusions, limitations, and caveats that can leave homeowners feeling more confused than reassured. Consumers rarely read this fine print, but this is where they get into trouble, thinking warranties are all-encompassing.

I’ll give you an example of a recent issue. A client discovered that a panel was underproducing energy. I was able to clearly establish through the monitoring data that the panel has a bad diode, reducing panel performance by 1/3. I won’t mention the manufacturer’s name here, but much like all solar panel makers, they have certain remedies that aren’t what you would expect. You might expect that they would give you a replacement panel of the same make and model or an equivalent or better model.

The problem is that technology changes and models go out of production, so they often can’t supply a panel of the same size, color, wattage, look, thickness, electrical characteristics or other factors that make it compatible with your existing system. So in this particular case, the warranty gives them the option to provide a similar option (which would look wildly out of place), provide extra panels to make up for the lost energy (which is not really an option here), or compensate the owner based on the current cost of a panel, prorated for the lost energy.

In this case, the third option is probably the best one for the manufacturer, and they are likely to choose that. But that will only provide about $100 in compensation, enough to cover the cost of the panel (prorated) but not enough to cover the lost energy value over the remaining 22-year lifespan. The warranty also does not cover diagnostic or replacement costs, which would easily exceed $100, although I am generously donating my time to resolve this rare issue for the homeowner.

Learn more about relatively rare diode failures here:

Performance Guarantees: Too Good to Be True?

One of the primary selling points of solar panel warranties is the performance guarantee, which typically promises a certain level of energy production over the lifespan of the panels. While this may sound reassuring, the reality is that performance guarantees often come with stringent conditions that must be met to qualify for compensation. Factors such as installation location, shading, and maintenance can all impact the performance of solar panels, making it difficult to claim warranty coverage in the event of underperformance.

Again, the cost of hiring a solar contractor to diagnose, measure, and haggle with the manufacturer over a single panel deficiency would be high. Now if you had a system-wide deficiency caused by a widespread manufacturing defect by the panel maker, you might have a reason to pursue it.

Quality Control and Longevity

Quality control is high with solar panels, and the manufacturing process is now largely robotic. Solar panel longevity is widely proven. However, while manufacturers may offer lengthy warranties on their products, there is no guarantee that they will be around to honor those warranties if issues arise down the line. As we’ve seen in the industry, companies can go out of business or be acquired by larger corporations, leaving homeowners stranded without recourse for warranty claims.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Installer

In light of these challenges, we believe that the key to ensuring the longevity and performance of your solar energy system lies not in the warranty itself, but in choosing the right installer. A reputable and experienced solar contractor will not only help you select high-quality solar panels but will also ensure proper installation, maintenance, and ongoing support to maximize the lifespan and efficiency of your system. The selection importance of solar panels is often greatly overblown, and easily overshadowed by the importance of selecting the right contractor.

The Good News

I mentioned at the start that there is reason to be confident despite the low probability of ever effecting a warranty claim. Solar panels don’t cost much. Solar energy systems are costly, but the solar panels themselves only comprise 15-25% of the system cost these days. If you have a panel that goes bad sometime down the line, your best option may actually be to just purchase a new one and have an installer swap it out. With modern microinverter systems, electrical compatibility has become much easier to deal with, and you are likely to find a panel of similar size. It may even be cheaper than hiring a solar contractor to go to battle for you against a manufacturer.

Solar panels are a commodity, and just one small part of the system. And the trend will continue where you will be able to get more power at a lower cost, meaning that you can likely replace a panel in the future at a lower cost. For example, when I purchased my 250 watt solar panels 10 years ago, they were almost $2/watt. Today I can replace one with a 360 watt panel for about $0.35/watt.

Conclusion: A Shift in Perspective

While solar panel warranties may offer some level of reassurance, it’s essential to approach them with a critical eye and a healthy dose of skepticism. Instead of relying solely on warranty guarantees, focus on selecting a trusted solar contractor who prioritizes quality, reliability, and customer satisfaction.

Your focus should move away from solar panel warranties and toward the inverter warranty, which is a far more likely component that could fail. Using microinverters mitigates that risk in many ways, and keeps your system functional if one of many microinverters fails or underperforms. And the ease of replacement is fantastic. With 25 year product warranties on microinverters and string manufacturer backing, this is where consumers should be most interested in the warranty.

At Florida Solar Design Group, we’re committed to providing our clients with the highest level of service and support, so you can enjoy the benefits of solar energy with confidence and peace of mind.

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