Solar power is one of the most reliable and well-known forms of energy production in existence today. To put this observation into perspective, experts estimate that more than 633.7 gigawatts of electricity is already being produced on a global basis and naturally, this figure is anticipated to increase in the coming years. Some of the top producers include China, the United States, Germany, and Australia. However, it is also important to keep in mind that the vast majority of developed nations are equally keen to adopt this environmentally friendly solution.
Current figures indicate that solar power represents just over 2.7 per cent of global energy production. While this may not seem like a great deal, it is important to mention that such a figure equates to nearly 505 gigawatts. This has likewise created countless thousands of jobs while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions on a truly massive scale.
When we also consider the fact that many regions of the world receive ample amounts of sunlight throughout the year, it becomes clear why photovoltaics represent an emerging source of energy. It therefore stands to reason that professional installation services will always need to find the most reliable equipment suppliers to meet the demands of an increasingly educated customer base. What metrics should be considered? Are there any tell-tale signs of a worthwhile equipment supplier? Let us examine these and similarly relevant questions.
The Type of Equipment that is Provided
Some of the most trusted suppliers are known for numerous options in terms of the equipment that can be chosen. Typical solar power accessories can be broken down into several general categories:
- Charge controllers
- Mounting systems
This naturally arises from the fact that customers will have unique needs depending upon where they are located, the amount of power they require and the type of structure. For instance, ballasted mounting systems may be ideal for one location while another could be better served with a roof-mounted configuration. Certain projects may require the presence of battery enclosures due to inclement weather conditions or long stretches of cable to support a detached array of panels. The main takeaway point here is that the best suppliers will offer installers a host of unique options to choose from so that the task at hand can be completed reliably and efficiently.
Equipment Wattage and Efficiency
One of the main advantages of solar power is that it offers a clean and efficient means of producing electricity. However, some configurations are more effective than others. Therefore, selecting the right equipment supplier should also involve what is known as “rated wattage”. Rated wattage is defined as how much power the modules themselves are capable of producing at any given time. Panels rated at under 250 watts are generally used for smaller applications such as when powering traffic signals or public telephones. Normally, these are not suited for domestic and/or uses. High-wattage alternatives are much more applicable for such requirements, as they will provide a greater output at a lower cost.
In terms of efficiency, any equipment array needs to offer a high return-on-investment (ROI). Solar panel efficiency is based off of two parameters:
- The power output of each photovoltaic cell.
- The configuration of these cells and the size of the panel.
While past panels were associated with efficiency levels of 15 per cent, this figure has now risen well above 20 per cent thanks to technological advancements. Therefore, selecting an equipment supplier that offers the latest in solar panel technology is crucial. Some of the most energy-efficient panels currently on the market contain N-type IBC cells (efficiencies of up to 23 per cent) and half-cut MBB heterojunction cells (efficiency levels of between 20 and 22 per cent). Be sure to speak with the equipment supplier in question to better appreciate the wattages and efficiency ratings that you can expect to obtain.
This next metric should be obvious and yet, it needs to be highlighted. Experts estimate that the current price of a system which provides 100 kilowatts of electricity is roughly $100,000 dollars (or the mean equivalent in another currency). Of course, this is referring to the costs that individual customers can expect to pay without considering other benefits such as domestic tax incentives. Such figures therefore need to be taken into consideration when compared to the initial price of the equipment.
The primary factor which determines the price of solar equipment is the initial manufacturing cost. The only possible issue here is that selecting rock-bottom offers may result in the procurement of substandard accessories. It is therefore wise to compare the prices of at least three equipment suppliers. This will enable solar installation firms to better appreciate what they should realistically expect to pay without sacrificing quality in the interim.
The Reputation of the Equipment Supplier
One of the challenges associated with procuring a trustworthy solar equipment provider is that the industry itself is rather young when compared to other sectors. In fact, solar power was not considered to represent a viable domestic and commercial option until approximately 25 years ago. New companies will therefore emerge on a regular basis while others will fade from existence within a short period of time. This is a very crucial takeaway point.
The average warranty associated with a solar panel array (and the associated equipment) is 25 years. However, we are assuming that the supplier will still be in existence during this period. If the equipment provider is no longer in business, the chances are high that any type of warranty will become null and void. Installation companies that hope to experience higher levels of customer satisfaction over time should therefore choose to work with suppliers that can offer up a transparent track record as well as testimonials from previous customers.
It may also be wise to work with equipment suppliers that are already partnered with major distribution firms, as the chances are high that they will stand the test of time when compared to their smaller counterparts.
Logistics can also be challenging within the solar power industry. Many independent installation services may be located hundreds or even thousands of miles away from their equipment supplier. This may lead to problems in terms of timely deliveries and the associated transportation fees. High costs will inevitably eat into profit margins and as a result, installation prices can skyrocket. This is an obvious issue when we remember that the industry is now more competitive than ever before. If you happen to become partnered with a supplier known for high fees, end users may begin to look elsewhere for similar products and services.
It is therefore critical to select a service which offers clear delivery guarantees at highly competitive rates. Here ae some questions to ask in advance:
- What is the delivery radius of the supplier (in terms of miles)?
- Are there any rapid delivery options available?
- What guarantees do they provide regarding unintentional damages during shipment?
- Might it be possible to drop-ship the equipment at the location of the customer to further limit handling and transportation costs?
These questions are even more important if the installation service in question happens to be servicing customers in “green” cities such as Berlin, Madrid, Manchester, and Lisbon (demand for cost-effective installation services is likely to be higher in these locations).
How Often is Inventory Updated?
We have already seen that the photovoltaic industry is advancing at a breakneck pace. This is the very same reason why solar cell efficiency has increased from 15 to 23 per cent over the past two decades. With so many innovations occurring on a regular basis, it pays to partner with an equipment supplier that can realistically remain one step ahead of the curve. This will help to ensure that installers are provided with cutting-edge solutions to meet customer demands.
Choosing a supplier should therefore consider inventory updates. How frequently does the equipment provider offer new products and/or services? Are innovative solutions such as thin-film panels and solar trackers available as standard options? Make it a point to look at their current inventory to better appreciate if the products are suitable for your needs.
Customer Service Solutions
This next observation is just as relevant for installation services as it is for actual solar power customers. One of the best ways to gauge the efficacy of any equipment supplier is to assess their client support solutions. In the event of a question or issue, how may points of contact are available? The most reputable firms will offer a standard email address, a telephone number and even an online chat widget. You can therefore remain confident that small problems can be addressed in a timely fashion before they evolve into more profound concerns.
Equipment Lead Times
Lead times are associated with how long it will take after you place an order for the physical equipment to be delivered to your location. These are obviously crucial in terms of maintaining high levels of customer satisfaction. Furthermore, lengthy lead times can quickly confound an installation firm that is dealing with numerous projects. Does the equipment supplier in question guarantee its lead times and if so, how long will you have to wait?
Precision and expertise are critical when manufacturing any type of solar product. This is another metric which should be researched well in advance. We need to remember that equipment suppliers are not always directly involved with the production of the products that they subsequently distribute. In other words, the presence of a less-than-reputable “middleman” could jeopardise end-product quality. It is therefore wise to enquire how their materials are sourced as well as if any additional third-party firms have been involved. Not only will this offer a greater sense of transparency, but these very same levels of quality assurance can be passed on to your customers during the subsequent installation process.
Procuring Equipment from Domestic as Opposed to Overseas Suppliers
As highlighted previously, cost is a major factor when determining which equipment supplier to use. While overseas manufacturers may indeed offer more amenable wholesale prices, we need to remember that variables such as import tariffs, exchange rates and shipping fees can dramatically increase the price of such equipment. These could ultimately negate any perceived benefits.
Furthermore, lead times are much shorter when dealing with domestic suppliers. In the event of a problem during the physical installation, is also more likely that the supplier will be able to resolve the issue within a timely fashion. This helps to bolster end-user satisfaction and ultimately, to enhance the brand reputation of the installation firm itself. Once again, make it a point to measure to pros and cons of domestic versus overseas equipment suppliers.
Choosing the Right Solar Equipment Supplier: Research and Transparency
There are literally thousands of solar equipment suppliers to choose from. This why making an informed decision at an early stage is critical if you hope to leverage the benefits associated with such a burgeoning industry. When in doubt, there is nothing wrong with contacting the firm in question or performing additional online research. These are both powerful ways to get a better idea of what to expect.
The global solar power industry is expected to grow at a truly frenetic pace in the coming years. Making a sound decision at the present is therefore critical if your installation company hopes to enjoy future success. Please do not hesitate to bookmark or even print this page for future reference and inspiration if required.