One of the most hotly debated topics in any industry is quality control with regards to a product’s origin. From the stereotypes surrounding Italian sports cars and Egyptian cotton, entire industries have been affected by the consensus on these assumptions. The solar industry is not above such generalisations here in the UK, with Chinese, German, Korean and even supposedly British products flooding our market. This report aims to investigate the truth and fiction behind the ‘Made in’ branding of solar panels and inverters, and conclude how much weight these factors should hold in our decisions.
The Definition of ‘Country of Origin’
One of the first points to raise concerning this topic is that there are strict legal parameters for any form of manufacturing regarding the ‘Made in’ tag and what it entails. For a product to claim a Country of Origin (COO), it must adhere to the specific Rules of Origin that exist in that country and these vary. The World Trade Organisation website has a detailed analysis of this, found here. In addition, the European Union has it’s own set of guidelines. After reviewing these there are a couple of guidelines we can point out to help with the distinction of a product’s COO, or where it was assembled or partially developed. COO requires that:
- The vast majority of the product has to have been assembled and manufactured in the COO;
- The overall product changed state in the COO, meaning that some of its components may have arrived externally, but they were commissioned to a completed state in the COO.
Specific Example: There are accounts in the industry of ‘British made’ panels being available. To our sources, these claims are entirely untrue. No panel or inverter can legally claim to be currently made in England, or anywhere in the UK for that matter. If anyone in the industry has said this to you or a friend/family member, ensure you ask them for the legal certifications of their statements. You will most likely find that whilst the panel/inverter may be partially assembled here, it is in fact made elsewhere and such proof cannot be provided.
International Organisation for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission
Once we establish the true Country of Origin of a product, we can begin delving into the standards of quality that exist around the world. Luckily for us, there are two international accreditation bodies that every single panel and inverter must pass in order to be legally made commercially available in the UK. The International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) is one such body, and it requires all solar components to pass set guidelines for safety in construction, durability and effectiveness in performance. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is responsible for the technical standards being adhered to, and work with the ISO to ensure a level playing field.
Now the issue then becomes, do panels from China possess less ISO or IEC accreditations than those from Germany or Japan? The answer is no. All panels and inverters from all countries MUST possess the relevant subgroup ISO and IEC specification to be legally sold and installed in the UK. These standards are listed here. There are no further awards that are awarded by these organisations and therefore no difference in the basic level of quality available. We can safely say that country of origin is having no impact upon international standard accreditation.
Points of Difference for Solar Component Origin
Inverter efficiency and what it entails is covered in detail in this article found here. The short answer is that whilst the German made SMA inverters hold 40% market share of global inverter sales and their popular ‘TL’ models boasting 97% rates, the various efficiencies for solar inverters are comparable with other leading brands. Power One for instance, a US brand, reports on their Aurora One and Aurora Trio models figures of over 97%. As a guide, the majority of inverters are operating at 96% peak inverter efficiency at this stage, and anything below that is seen as being behind in development. The actual difference in your average residential system for a 2% difference in peak efficiency is negligible; amounts like £50 or so a year. It’s simply not worth drawing a huge line from these distinctions. Ultimately we must again derive that inverter efficiency is not directly correlated to country of manufacture.
Solar System Reliability
Justification for Price Differences based on Country of Origin
China for instance has been the world’s most productive industry for solar panels for many years, and continues to have a majority stakehold in this industry through brands such as Suntech. Germany on the other hand dominates inverter manufacturing, with industry leading brands such as SMA producing more inverters than any other source.
There is very little evidence to support any claim that a solar components country of origin will affect it’s quality. Some specific examples of poorly and excellently performing brands do exist, but country of manufacture is not a common denominator. A Product and Price Comparison Summary from Solar Selections will reveal the different costs from installers in your region and the country of manufacture for their components. It is the closest the industry has to an independent summary of this correlation, and a very helpful guide to your options. Request one today and take your time with us to consider the best way forward for your project.
Written by Jarrah Harburn
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