Warning - cloned modules and transformerless inverters - Amended

The feed-in tariff is attracting all types of new entrants to the UK solar industry and not all of them are reputable. The UK market is developing rapidly from 10MW installed in 2009 (total in the UK according to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association) to a projected 60MW installed by the end of the year and a further 250MW projected for 2011. This growth has some international solar companies falling over themselves to secure marketshare. However are all of these companies reputable and do they truly understand our market conditions?

There is a chronic shortage of modules and inverters available by reputable brands to service the UK market. Recently, a problem has begun to arise where inferior modules are being produced in South East Asia (amended) and being marketed and sold under the names and brands of reputable companies. Some distributors in the UK have been promised top branded products at knockdown prices (i.e. below the price that an authorised reseller or even the manufacturer themselves would be able to provide). They are told that these prices are possible by bulk buying or eliminating the middle distributors. Of course these are dodgy products that under closer inspection will not be covered under the branded manufacturers 25-year warranty and will likewise not be part of the MCS.

"If it sounds too good to be true it almost always is."

How as a consumer or distributor can you tell if you have cloned or counterfeit product?

Every module produced in the factory of a reputable solar manufacturer like Trina Solar, Suntech or Sharp, will be produced with a unique serial number. Therefore before placing any orders with a third party seller of solar modules, be sure to ask for the range of serial numbers that you are being offered, then call the manufacturer directly and make sure that those serial numbers exist and that the person you are buying from is an offically licensed reseller. If not than you aren't getting what you pay for and more importantly will have no claims on the 25-year warranty or MCS accreditaion that makes solar such a sound business in the UK right now.

The best way to avoid this is to only deal with authorised distributors of reputable manufacturers. If you need help finding a reputable manufacturer of solar modules contact us and we can help. Obviously MCS is a good place to start but there are plenty of other manufacturers out there who would only be too happy to undergo MCS in order to supply your project.

Another pitfall that anyone conducting a solar project at the moment should be aware of is the inherent risks associated with "transformerless inverters". In the UK most models of transformerless inverters require seperate earthing to the existing structure's earthing point. Many installers have been caught out using certain transformerless inverters because they were the only ones available on the market, then realising that they needed to install secondary earthing which added cost above and beyond the initial quotes.

There are some transformerless inverters, SMA, for example, which do not require the seperate earthing. It varies completely from brand to brand and from model to model.

Yes the UK industry is a tremendous opportunity, but as with any rapidly growing market rogue elements and misinformation can cause massive problems for installers and project owners in solar. Be careful going forward, you have been warned.

If anyone has already been affected by these issues please contact us and let us know your story.