B & B inverters have come onto the radar with some Brisbane sales companies pushing them as a premium inverter. They have been touted to be as good as an SMA, ABB or Fronius (the undisputed leaders for string inverters.) That’s a big for a Chinese Solar inverter claim! Let’s review them.
I first heard of B&B in August 2015 as I was researching hybrid inverter options. I contacted BandB in China to see it they had distributors in Australia. June replied to me and explained that they had no Australian distributors in and would be “happy to co-operate” with us. She sent me a quote. Being a learned man, I know too well that “if the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.” And somewhat unfairly I proceeded no further.
The inverter keeps on coming up in conversation when my sales staff are talking with potential customers, so I decided it was time to look deeper. Maybe it is the dark horse! A quick Google review didn’t really help me except for a little chuckle when I read a review on one Solar website. It appears someone with questionable English skills was not happy with this review, so they hacked into the website to do some subtle adjustments. Read the blue font.
The second step was to ask my peers. It’s great having a big circle of friends and acquaintances in the solar industry, I put the call out for advice from my fellow installers. I’ll admit that this isn’t the most scientific approach to reviewing a product, but a sparky worth his salt has an inbuilt cr@p detector. Here’s what I got back.
- “It’s a new Chinese inverter on the market, that’s about all that needs to be said.” replied one.
- “Are you serious? Why would you install that S#$%T?” said another less diplomatically.
- “I’ve installed heaps for (Company X) the paint job is cr@P and the MC4’s break off on install. But we haven’t had too many fail internally so far.”
- I’m forced to install this S#!T for (company X). They call it a premium inverter and charge a minimum of $8G for it”.
- But by far, the most common response was: “never heard of it”.
My third point of call was B&B’s website. Goodly Chinglish is not a great start, but as I am no wordsmith myself, I overlooked that and found their inverter specs. Looking at the SF5000 TL (5kw inverter), this is my take:
The nerd talk
- IP 65: you can install it outside.
- Start-up voltage of 100v, that’s nice for an early morning
- WiFi is optional, at least. We connect all our inverters with WiFi so we can easily monitor them. For inverters in 2016, I feel WIFI should be standard.
- The MPPT starts at 175v which is a bit high – that just means we want to put eight panels in a string, or there will be efficiency losses.
- Maximum open circuit voltage is 550 which is a limiting for string length. We can theoretically put a maximum of 13 panels in a string, but…
- The maximum power is 5200w. That’s ludicrous. We usually install 6000w or 6500w on inverters.
- The maximum current of 15amp per MPPT means we can only do one string in each tracker.
- In more simple terms, with the common 260W panels, we only have a few options to design a system. Strings of 8&12, 9&11 or 10&10.
All this means, if a salesman sells you a B&B inverter, and a sparkie turns up to install it, the installer will be limited to make your system work within the parameters of the inverter. If you don’t have a huge north, east and west roofline, there will be no load design considerations. It will be a matter of getting the panels on the roof by keeping as close as he can to the limitations of the inverter.
So let’s not be unreasonably hard on B&B. The inverter giants, ABB, SMA, and Fronius have some minor on paper design limitations too. Over the years, I have called the tech support of all three companies and explained my design problems. They have worked with me and have often given me a letter from their engineer to allow me to install outside of the design limitations put down on the spec sheet. A win for common sense: a win for the customer. So let’s give it a crack with B&B.
B & B inverters Tech support
What happens if I need a little tech support at B&B?
- I emailed June at B&B. Nada, nuthin, Crickets.
- I Googled B&B inverters Australia, and it seems I found a company that apparently supplies them: Equinox. Great! I called them. The number is disconnected. I Emailed them Nope. Crickets.
- Google tells me there is another company in Burleigh waters that handles the warranties for B&B: Watt Test. I Called the number on their web page. After several attempts they answered phone and had someone call back a few days later. They sell the inverters and hold the warranty BUT only on the handful of inverters they sell. They told me they don’t sell many at all, but have a several on hand. The price he offered to me says it all.
They are a cheap, cheap, Chinese inverter.
B & B inverters Warranty
B & B inverters don’t have an office in Australia. Not only that, but It seems B&B are more set up to sell directly from China directly to Australian solar companies looking for a bargain basement inverter. In this case, the solar company that you buy from is the last point of call should your el-cheapo inverter fail. A few very small solar companies may feel it is worth while going through a boutique “distributor” like “Watt Test”, but the size of watt test does not fill me with confidence that they will be around to back up the warranty.
B&B inverters are a risk not worth taking.