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Reliability of Photovoltaic Inverters

We had an Aurora Inverter installed (model PV!-3.0-OUTD-AU) with solar panels on the 07/04/2012. It failed on the 12/08/2014 and was replaced on the 30/08/2014. The second one has now failed on the 06/11/2017. The problem being this is just outside the five year warranty even though the first one was only just over two years old and its replacement is now just over three years. Has anyone had a similar experience and has choice ever carried out an inverter review or test?

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Hi @jcmackay, we ran a survey a couple of years ago that included some info about inverters that might be of some use. We’re currently looking into testing inverters as well.

In the meantime, you might also be able to get some feedback from our @Energy-Campaigner group.

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Are you able to see why it failed? Have you had the recommended Annual Routine Maintenance carried out? I just ask this as on reading their manual (http://sol-distribution.com.au/ABB/Installation%20Manual/abb-pvi-3-3.6-4.2kw-inverter-installation-manual.pdf) in Chapter 8 it states:

“Checking and maintenance operations must be carried out by specialized
staff assigned to carry out this work.”

&

“Routine maintenance
Scheduled maintenance operations are not mandatory, but are recommended to preserve the efficiency of the PV plant.
We recommend that maintenance operations be carried out by qualified personnel or by the personnel of ABB (as set forth in a maintenance contract).
The periodicity of the maintenance operations may vary in accordance with local environmental conditions and the installation”

Annual visual inspection
• Check that the inverter is operating correctly, and that no fault alarms are present
• Ensure all the labels and safety symbols are visible
• Test the integrity of the cables, connectors, and plugs external to the inverter
• Check that the environmental conditions have not changed drastically since
the installation of the system

Annual operations
• Check that cable glands and connection block screws are tight
• Check that the wiring box cover is properly closed
• If no monitoring system is present, check the history log of alarms and errors
using the instructions given in the manual in order to look for recent malfunction
warnings

Annual cleaning
• Clean the equipment; in particular the bottom grille of the wiring box and the
heat sink

& from page 82 to 88 it lists all the fault messages and led lamp states (if fitted)

Together that might help you identify why it has failed (if you wanted to know).

I have provided this just in case you weren’t aware of these things.

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I’d be writing them a formal letter and if they don’t come to some arrangement I’d be contacting fair trading.

A 5 year warranty suggests to me that the product should last 5 years. You’ve had two units fail at considerably less than the 5 year ‘expectation’. A quick search online seems to indicate these units have a non-trivial failure rate, but this is hard to determine - search results can be misleading and hard to compare with competing product. I’m sure I’ve read somewhere about warranty period being indicative of expected service life/etc.

If you get no joy from either of those - consider other brands for the replacement? :slight_smile:

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Thanks for the update. I’ll check this out now. I don’t feel inclined to spend more money on the same product brand for a similar result.
Regards

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I think you get a 10year warranty on Fronius and SMA inverters these days, and perhaps other brands too. I think it is worthwhile getting an inverter that is battery compatible when you get a new one, as battery prices are likely to fall more, and grid electricity is likely to become more expensive.

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That seems to be not fit for purpose given that it is all solid state components it should be very reliable.
For example our systems been in use for 9 years this year and has been faultless and it has no scheduled maintenance requirement in its manual other than occasional panel clean only if they drop in performance, no issues with any installed parts.

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Thank you for your response. I have just received an email from ABB informing me that “your warranty is provisionally approved (subject to unit inspection)”. As matter of interest none of the documentation I have on either hard copy or CD’s (05/2011) mention maintenance in any respect. The CD manual bears no relationship to the digital copy referred to in the attached link (10/2014). There have been no fault messages recorded on the unit since installation. It is difficult to determine the reason for the failure as the comments on web sites may well be from competitors. It appears to be a relay failure. ABB have stated any unit manufactured after June 2015 should no longer suffer from this fault.

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I assume the ABB email means your warranty claim is provisionally approved? If so, that’s good news. The other consideration is whether the inverter was installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and Australian Standards - for example, with minimum clearances to ensure adequate air flow for heat dissipation; by the installer using the screw holes already provided with the unit rather than drilling new holes in the inverter casing (which might allow ingress of moisture), etc. I assume an inverter installation requires an electrical inspection? If so, the inspector should be carefully checking that nothing has been done in the installation that would compromise the operation and longevity of the inverter.

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It’s my understanding that the majority of inverters do not need hard core maintenance … other than the very obvious keeping cooling fins / fan outlets clean and dust free. However they are exposed to the vagaries of the grid … and we probably all realise that this can fluctuate very widely, depending upon where you happen to exist within the grid. I strongly suspect that these vagaries have a large influence upon the durability of the product. As a result, this durability will be individualised and difficult to determine across the board.

We have 5 grid tied inverters in our application. 2 X SMA indoors that have had zero maintenance and have chugged happily along for 5 years; and 3 X Samil kept underneath a high set house with slatted wood surrounds. One Samil failed after 4 years - easily replaced under (5 year) warranty. Another failed after nearly 6 years, but we didn’t pursue any claim on the manufacturer as sources reveal that these inverters are not long-lived. It was replaced with SMA. We still have one of the 3 original Samil’s kicking on after nearly 7 years … and when it gives up it will be replaced with a battery compatible model - as noted by somebody else on this thread - sound advice!!

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I carry out repairs to inverters and 99% of the failures I see are relays failing.
The contacts burn out and /or the solder joints fail on the circuit boards.
The probable causes are that the relays are underrated for the current carrying capacity.
The solder used is unleaded and they haven’t got the specifications right for the electrical characteristics of the circuit.
Also you pay for what you get. cheap Chineses is just that.
I have had an SMA for 10 years and no problems.
Recently had more panel fitted with a Fronius inverter.

My 1500 watt EverSolar inverter has been replaced 4 times, under warranty. The company has been acquired by SMA, who make Sunnyboy inverters. Maximum life was 2 years.
I recently replaced my neighbours inverter, 7 years service, with a SMA SUNNYboy 1500 watt inverter, has WiFi connectivity and easy setup. Has an approx 2 year payback period. Had zero power bills for 7 years.
When my EverSolar packs up, a SMA Sunnyboy will be my choice.

My sunny boy was replaced in it’s fifth year under warranty and was given a further one year on the replacement. Spoke with the tech who said they do NOT need any maintenance but their life is about ten years realistically. He pointed out to me that your dishwasher never needs the electrics maintained so why would you pay for maintenance on the electrics of your solar system. If you are seaside or in an industrial area then the panels need annual cleaning but beyond that nothing needs maintained unless there is a problem.

My understanding is if a product fails within the warranty period and is replaced the new replacement has the same five year warranty. It is certainly the case in the building industry. My daughter had ceiling repairs done within the warranty period. Those repairs failed and the repairers had to come back and each new repair must carry the same original warranty. I have had a German made inverter and German solar panels for about eight years now, I have never had a problem with either; nor have they ever been serviced apart from me washing them with water and a broom. I have some neighbors who had Chinese systems fitted and they have had several failures. I guess it just comes down to quality build?.

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What brand do you have Gordon?

I’m off-grid, so my situation is different to most, who need a grid-connect inverter. I currently use a Latronics 7kW 48V unit, and have previously used smaller Latronics and Selectronics inverters, which have all been very reliable and performed well, apart from the very first Selectronics unit I had, back in the very early 1990s when the tech was still very much under development. There were a few teething problems back then with the design.

The tech is pretty much mature now, but a lot of the cheap Chinese units still have pretty major reliability problems.

Latronics and Selectronics are both Australian made.

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Thank you, Gordon. Australian made it will have to be for us.

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A few years ago I bought my solar system from Origin on an interest free deal. This year the inverter and panels both malfunctioned and were replaced under warranty with brand new units. I now have an excellent system, complete with a Zever inverter, which has the ability to communicate by wifi, so I can check its performance on my iPhone from anywhere. I cannot speak too highly of the great service I received from Origin.

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The original warranty only applies when something is replaced under warranty unless the manufacturer extends on the replacement. Consumer law only allows for adherence to the original purchase.

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I think you might be right @mael, but you need to check with each company individually as their warranties may differ in what they will or won’t allow. The Australian Consumer Law always applies, regardless of what is or isn’t included in the warranty so you can always use that to hold companies accountable.

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