Warwick Johnston offers a rare glimpse of the solar module market in Australia, including retailer preference, installed cost and breakdown by classification.

What’s the most popular solar panel brand in Australia? How much volume is each brand moving? These are burning questions for Australia’s solar industry. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Panel manufacturers need to keep an eye on their competitors – and understand which brands (if any) that they’re losing market share to.
  • Wholesalers want to know if they’re the top provider of a particular panel brand – or whether they should be offering other rising stars.
  • Solar retailers would love to know what panels are the most popular – so they can offer them to customers.

Even though this kind of solar market data is in high demand, it’s not easy to get, make sense of or put to good use.

SunWiz’s PVsell software has scaled up to the point that we can now use the data to reliably identify Australia’s leading panel manufacturers. 

While PVsell admittedly does not cover the entirety of the market, there are over 400 PV retailers who use it actively, pumping through over 160MW of solar proposals each month. 

We normalise the data to make it representative of the broader market by attaching greater weight to residential projects. This compensates for PVsell’s historical focus on commercial PV.

We’ve packaged that dataset into a service called MarketView. Here are some of the main takeaways from the most recent edition.

Panel market share by class

In July this year, 19% of panels sold in Australia were Super-Premium class. 

Beyond those panels, in the same month, 62% of panels were manufactured by tier 1 companies (Bloomberg 2019-Q2) that had >5GW/year manufacturing capacity, while 12% were smaller tier 1 manufacturers, and 7% were from other manufacturers.

Panel market share by class and manufacturer

Let’s look more closely into the individual manufacturers (whose names are accessible to SunWiz MarketView subscribers). 

The chart below reveals some of the smaller tier 1 manufacturers (blue) have a larger market share than some other tier 1 companies with greater manufacturing capacity. 

Panel market share evolution by confidential retailer

We can also see the extent to which some companies are loyal, versus those that switch from one provider to another, and those that offer a mix. 

The chart below illustrates – for a select group of leading but confidential solar retailers – the proportion of their sales of each panel brand over time. Each banded row illustrates the sales patterns of an individual solar retailer.

  1. The top one switched back and forth between Longi and JA Solar.
  2. The second one made the move from JA to Jinko and (for a time) Trina.
  3. The third had quite a range but mostly sold ET Solar before moving to Trina while trialling Jinko, who ultimately won their business (for now).
  4. The fourth retailer chooses between Seraphim, Jinko, and JA Solar
  5. The fifth retailer uses an ongoing dynamic mix of Trina, LG, Canadian, and Jinko.
  6. The sixth retailer continues to offer REC on many jobs, though also loved Canadian for a period but has now started with Jinko.
  7. (There are plenty of retailers who stick with one or two panel brands only).

System price per watt for sub-100kW systems, by panel and inverter (where known)

We can even see how system prices vary by panel brand – and inverter brand, where specified.

This table shows an extract of the average price of a range of sub-100kW systems, pre-subsidy, in GST-exclusive dollars per watt. 

It illustrates the vast range of system prices available on the market, with average prices that range from $1.15/W for a JA Solar-Solis system up to $2.12/W for a Hanwha Q Cells system with unspecified inverter.

Price distribution for sub-100kW systems

Our next chart shows the distribution of system price for each panel brand. 

The colour bands illustrate the quartiles – the lighter part of each bar indicating the range of the top 25%-50% priced systems, the lower part of each bar indicating the range of the top 50%-75% priced systems. 

Here you can see that:

  1. Hanwha Q Cells systems have a greater price range than LG systems
  2. The median price for Longi, Seraphim, Jinko, REC, Trina and Canadian is very close
  3. Seraphim has a much wider price range than the others, whereas Longi is much more narrowly distributed

Volume vs average price by panel manufacturer

The chart belows shows the volume of systems versus their average $/W (pre subsidy, ex GST) for the last 90 days, broken down by which panel manufacturer was selected. (Panel manufacturer names are hidden deliberately to preserve value for subscribers, but each coloured circle represents a different manufacturer).

It illustrates that cheaper doesn’t necessarily result in more volume. Manufacturers whose systems are priced near the median are doing the most volume, and there are some that are in the upper quartile that are doing far more than those in the lower quartile. 

This suggests that companies that can sell quality well can make more revenue more easily, and that competing on price will not necessarily deliver greater volume.

Warwick Johnston is managing director of SunWiz.