The murky side of Australian Solar Panels

The ACCC's recent action against Euro Solar and the Australian Solar Panel that isn't made in Australia, raises a broader threat from companies that cut corners.

The insulation industry learnt the hard way that a sector with several decades’ experience and longstanding responsible suppliers can be absolutely trashed by a few new entrants who choose to cut a few corners, or aren’t entirely honest with customers.

The solar PV sector, which involves a product that is less familiar to Australian consumers, is especially vulnerable to reputational damage. As they say, first impressions last, and consumers lack the experience to effectively evaluate and distinguish between suppliers and brands. 

For these reasons it was concerning to hear that the ACCC has issued proceedings against P&N Pty Ltd trading as Euro Solar over allegedly false or misleading claims about the country of origin of the solar panels they supply. The watchdog is also taking action against them for posting testimonials from customers that weren’t actually real customers.

Euro Solar is a very prominent advertiser of solar PV in the Queensland market, and according to its website is a leading player here, or in its words: “Australia’s one of the largest solar panel suppliers” (sic – one of the many typos seen in its marketing material). 

But if you think that with a name containing ‘Euro’ it was claiming the solar panels they sell are from Germany or any other European country, you’d be wrong. Yes I was confused too when I saw its ads on the internet a few months back and tried to work out how they could offer such cheap solar system prices.

Turns out it sells Australian Solar Panels. You haven’t heard of them? Neither had I. So what’s Australian about them? Well, in marketing material distributed by the supplier of Australian Solar Panels to some solar installers it states:

Welcome to Worldwide energy & Manufacturing Australia Pty Ltd. Worldwide energy is an Australia [sic] owned and run company that specializes in producing grid connect solar panels for homes, schools, businesses and community buildings. Our brand name is ASP.,Which stand for Australian Sola [sic] Panel.--Australian Made Solar Module

But the ACCC thinks they aren’t manufactured in Australia at all (in case you were wondering Tindo Solar is the only Australian manufacturer of solar panels). And if you search through the Australian Solar Panel website it actually admits the solar panel is manufactured in China. But it does claim its panels are “Designed in Australia by Australians in an Australian company.”

Which is kind of funny because Euro Solar claims on its website that Australian Solar Panels are, “Designed by German Engineers”. Yet Euro Solar and Australian Solar Panel until just recently shared a director – Nikunjkumar Patel – whom the ACCC are also taking action against – so you’d think they’d get the story straight between them.

After further digging on the Euro Solar website to see what other solar panels they offered I came across another nationality-linked brand: Ameri Solar made by Worldwide Energy and Manufacturing USA INC. Worldwide Energy and Manufacturing USA prominently claim on its website that it is a “worldwide leader in solar technology”. Strange that I’d also never heard of them, and they don’t show-up in any assessment of the major solar PV manufacturers globally.

Confused about whether its solar panels were Australian, German, Chinese, or maybe even American, I called up Euro Solar’s customer service. The customer service operator explained that the Australian Solar Panel and Ameri Solar were both manufactured in the same Chinese factory by Worldwide Energy and Manufacturing. Also he cleared-up that they were not designed by Australians but assured me they are tested in Australia.  

China is literally brimming with companies that contract manufacture solar panels for others rather than sell under their own brand. Typically these manufacturers lack the same levels of automation and supply chain quality control of the branded major Chinese solar companies such as Trina, Yingli, Suntech and Canadian Solar (another company with confused nationality branding).  

In addition a large proportion of these contract manufacturers are ripe for closure in a market with huge excess capacity. That doesn’t mean their panels don’t work, but one should be very careful.  The Australian Solar Panel may be a good quality product in spite of its highly confused origins. But it would be incredibly difficult for a layman to be able to tell.

What's more there are a small number of companies bordering on the criminal who have entered the solar industry that were directly involved in insulation installation scams. I have been told by a solar industry veteran of a company that sets up a website, installs a small handful of systems, and then takes deposits from a far larger number of customers before shutting the company down, taking the deposits with them. They then simply set-up another website with a different company name and do the same thing over again.

One hopes the ACCC is doing its job properly by keeping a close eye over the solar industry, because it would be a tragedy if it were to suffer the same fate as insulation.

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