After six years of installing solar on the roofs of Western Sydney, Jake Warner made a bold decision. He decided to no longer offer string inverters. Instead, his boutique company, Pentrith Solar, would only install solar systems with the less common and more expensive microinverters.
The switch garnered a number of unforeseen responses. Firstly, the company’s conversion rate – the amount of enquiries which turn to actual sales – increased. “We’re actually getting less price objections,” Warner told pv magazine Australia, “the opposite to what I expected.”
Trouble, it seems, has come from an entirely different source. “The biggest thing I’ve found difficult to handle is, we’re still servicing string inverters,” Warner explained. The issue is that when past customers discover the company has stopped offering string inverters, they’re left feeling lumped with a subpar product. “I didn’t really think about it, but I do have to think about how that makes people feel.”
Warner is quick to clarify that he isn’t trying to wage any wars on string inverters. “This is not about rubbishing string inverters. If that’s what you can afford at the time, that’s fine,” he said. “Coal is the opposition here, not other solar companies and not string inverters.”
Why Penrith Solar made the switch
Founded in 2017, Penrith Solar averages about six installs every day. The company doesn’t use subcontractors at all and provides customers follow-up support through its in-house service team. Stemming from that commitment, the company recently undertook an internal audit looking at how often its team was called to service solar systems with microinverters compared to those with string inverters. What he found was stark: his team was eight times less likely to be called to fix microinverters than they were string inverters.
“This is just our own study,” Warner qualified. “In our experience, we found [microinverters] to be eight times more reliable.”
Specifically, Penrith Solar has been using Enphase’s IQ range (including the IQ 7, IQ7+ and IQ7 A), and Warner noted that his findings are particular to those products. He found just four failures among the 13,000 microinverters Penrith Solar has installed, according to its internal audit. “We’ve had a tremendously low amount of failures.”
It wasn’t only that Warner has found microinverters to be substantially more reliable, he also thinks they are easier to manage from a warehouse perspective. Instead of having to stock a range of string inverters to fit different system sizes, Warner now just orders one microinverter for every panel coming into his stockroom.
The third factor that swayed Warner was safety. He says his in-house service team gets called out to DC isolator fires weekly. “It sucks, but we’re almost used to it,” Warner said. “It doesn’t even surprise us anymore.” Some clients don’t even realize there has been a fire, according to him, but when his team looks at the isolator, they’ve found it burned. “It’s pretty bad.”
While Penrith Solar has been installing microinverters on solar systems for a number of years, the decision to use them exclusively is relatively new. Which is to say, while the company’s conversion rate has increased in the last two months, it may be more symptomatic of Australians’ eagerness to install solar following the pandemic.