Alpha ESS Battery Review: An Unforgettable Installation Experience
The Alpha ESS battery: hailed by many, criticised by others. Established in China in 2012, Alpha’s surge in popularity across the Australian market has many of us asking if these batteries are a fantastic bargain or asking for trouble.
Through my journey of installing various models, including the SMILE5 series, I’ve witnessed both the charm and the hiccups. Join me in my recount of an installation experience that I’ll never forget, and find out if the Alpha ESS is worth your time and money.
Mixed Alpha ESS reviews suggest that while many consumers find value in Alpha ESS, others feel they’ve compromised on quality for a cheaper price. And if someone recommends the Alpha Hybrid for off-grid solutions? Well, I’d be sceptical.
I have installed a few different versions of these and found them wanting in terms of surge capacity and technical support. “Factory training” consisted of two guys in an unmarked van coming to a job and pointing at the phone app. I guess they were well-meaning, but it wasn’t useful. As I understand it, some used a GoodWe inverter behind the very nice-looking white cover, but this arrangement has been discontinued. That’s probably a good thing because the one I recall most vividly was knowingly shipped by AlphaESS as a non-goer.
As a general rule, whenever I install a hybrid with a pass-through/series backup circuit, such as an Alpha ESS battery, it always gets a manual changeover switch. If anything goes pear-shaped, the customer can throw the switch and operate all his circuits directly from the grid. Image credit: Solar Depot
My Personal Experience Of Alpha ESS
I have had jobs where everything hooked up well enough, but I struggled to commission them, and of course, that’s always at 4pm when the tech support call centre has hung up the headset. The instructions, in quaint English, printed in tiny text with pages upside down, weren’t particularly useful. When I returned and finally got the tech line to answer (hot tip: ring them when you’re at least 10 minutes away from the job), they ran me through a procedure or two, but to no avail. Then they sent me “the email”, which mashed together four different troubleshooting procedures.
So the most memorable one was finally made to work, but only after cutting a comms plug off, changing the wiring and misnaming the battery in the commissioning app. Without these modifications, the unit was effectively dead on arrival. But hey, it was cheap, and it could just about manage to run the lights and the fridge! The kettle though; that was out of the question.
Other installs of different models have gone more or less ok but again struggled to commission with an unclear choice of phone apps and poor Wi-Fi connectivity. I can only hope they’re making things better.
Aesthetics and Design
Design-wise, Alpha ESS batteries are sleek and tidy, with a removable cover that offers ease of service. However, some nuances, like removing the protective film, can be tedious. So tedious that I always advised the customer to do it themselves.
We did once field a novel complaint. The battery level indicator, which will flash its green LEDs continuously under normal operation, was reflecting off the side fence at night, and this could be seen through the house window. We considered mailing him a piece of black tape to cover the light…
This is a partially installed Alpha ESS. The weight of the battery anchors it while you make fixings. One good point is that the space behind the all-encompassing cover allows you to remove a whole brick for cabling and conduits if needed.
Sunpower And Alpha In A Tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G
Curiously, it seems that the long-term and outright leader in solar PV panel technology – with the highest efficiency, longest warranty and most reassuringly expensive list price – Sunpower – has partnered with Alpha ESS for their first Sunpower Battery. How the SunPower One product from Maxeon measures up, I will be very interested to know. From my perspective, it’s like fitting a Rolls-Royce with Russian truck tyres, so we’ll have to wait and see.
There are a few Alpha-ESS product lines in Australia, and I’ve picked the SMILE5. This is an all-in-one unit, which includes batteries, a battery management system (BMS) and an inverter, but they’re discreet components behind a single cover. As a 48-volt nominal system, Alpha even claim they are compatible with DC coupling, but I haven’t seen an MPPT solar regulator added to one for solar panel connections.
The battery modules used in this unit are LFP chemistry, so they’re a safe type of lithium-ion battery technology. The battery modules for AlphaESS come from another Chinese company, EVE, which has been in the battery business since 2001. The 13kWh battery units are quite big and heavy monoliths, so while they come with nice handles, you must have two people to handle them.
The Alpha ESS SMILE 5 has a 10-year product warranty on the batteries, but the rest of the system only has five years. If you’d like to download the specific warranty documents, there are no fewer than 19 options to choose from once you’ve filtered the results. There are a truly maddening number of variations in model nomenclature.
This alpha still requires an external DC solar isolator and time-consuming customisation of mountings to cope with real-world walls and floors.
The performance warranty for Alpha ESS solar batteries guarantees a minimum of 80% of their original capacity after 10 years (assuming the system is connected to the internet and is only used for self-consumption). If the system is not internet-connected, the warranty plummets to three years. And if it’s configured for anything apart from self-consumption, the warranty is also compromised. So, while it might be technically compatible with some Virtual Power Plant (VPP) programs, the warranty will expire earlier. Be careful.
As for how strong the warranty backing is, we’re aware of a situation where an Australian customer battled for months with Alpha ESS over a Storion OF5 warranty claim. This resulted in the owner sending a letter of complaint to the ACCC and Office of Fair Trading.
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SunPower increases solar cell size with new 400-W A-Series of modules for the residential market
SunPower launches today in the United States a new line of solar modules for the residential market. The new A-Series, using SunPower’s “Next Generation Technology” will deliver 400 and 415 W of power. In Europe and Australia, the company has also released 400-W panels known as Maxeon 3.
New A-Series modules on a home
“SunPower is introducing the world’s first 400-W residential solar panels as most in the industry are just crossing the 300-W threshold for home solar,” said Jeff Waters, CEO of the SunPower Technologies business unit. “Our record-breaking cell technology and innovative research and development efforts have enabled us to fit more power capacity on rooftops than we ever have before. Our growing panel portfolio is delivering unprecedented value across global markets that goes unmatched by any other residential solar technology currently available.”
SunPower’s patented Maxeon solar cells are built on a solid copper foundation for high reliability and performance. The Maxeon cells provide SunPower panels with improved resistance to corrosion and cracking.
SunPower’s new larger solar cell (right). Credit: Paul Sakuma Photography
A-Series panels are built with SunPower’s fifth-generation Maxeon solar cells, called Gen 5, which were perfected at the company’s Silicon Valley Research Facility. This new technology required new materials, tools and processes, and resulted in a 65% larger cell than previous generations that absorbs more sunlight and ultimately offers more savings to homeowners.
Combined with Maxeon Gen 5 solar cells is one of the industry’s highest-powered, factory-integrated microinverter, making A-Series ideal for use with SunPower’s Equinox platform. All SunPower panels are backed by its 25-year combined power and product warranty.
The Maxeon 3 panels in Europe and Australia use SunPower’s third generation of smaller Maxeon cells.
“SunPower solar panels are designed to maximize power production and energy savings for our customers, and we’re only scratching the surface of what’s possible in home solar,” Waters said. “With our innovative solar solutions and services, and our established channels to market, SunPower will continue building on its strong leadership position in distributed generation around the world.”
Larger maybe, but you all seem to forget that word and real meaning of the word… efficiency! the A425 has 22.8% efficiency, so a larger panel with more efficiency means that you will actually buy less number of panels.
This is “vaporware” in the US. For one thing, I have yet to find a dealer (6-8) contacted nation wide. None of them have 400w x-series. For second point, The one that did wanted 1400 a panel plus shipping. Im told by other dealer that this is bullocks because sunpower will not sell panels unless the dealer gets to install. Now having said this I would strongly discourage others from buying from SunPower. This practice that you are forced to buy install with panels is bad for the consumer. And in other industries and situations this is called “tie-in” and courts have ruled it illegal. Customers dont have to wait for lawsuit — just vote with your feet. There are other manufacturers that are so close to this 400W, that its going to be better to go with them.
This. I have been asking them for panel pricing for years now. #DemandBetterSolar. How do they even make money if nobody can buy them, or even determine cost? Just like Auntie Maxeon said, #ReclaimingMyTime. I do not have time for games and nonexistent nonsense. Being mysterious and inaccessible is not cool, it is frustrating af. You are not the revolution. You are not available. I hate your brand. #SunPowerSucks. I hope you get Solyndra’d. You are useless. If your market is multimillion dollar installations only and idiots willing to pay 4x too much for a goddamn commodity, STOP ADVERTIZING TO ME. Solar Cells should be getting smaller and more modular so they can fit in more places, not 65% larger. But you are not trying to install your panels in more places. You are trying to be exclusive. Which is gross morally, and must be bad for your business if it exists at all. Go power your own world cuz you haven’t even tried to power anything in mine, ever. Your degradation rate is actually the worst in the industry because this invisible and inaccessible pricing is demeaning, degrading, and disrespectful to all the nerds that spend their free time trying to make the world a better place and fall into the trap of your marketing wasteland. I don’t know how one monetizes pissing off the little people, but if i ever get my hands on an elusive SunPower panel, i’m throwing it off the roof and tossing the shattered glass onto YouTube to demand better solar. I deserve 420W panels for my home grow anyway. I’ll wait. #ReclaimingMyShine.
I was wondering how much do these 400Watt modules cost? and the type they are called? I was thinking about investing in one where could you recommend me to get started?
Ok well can someone please tell us the difference and do a comparison article. That will answer the questions, that would be really really great and also maybe throw availability. Thanks
I just completed an install with the new A series 415 w modules. Amazing product! They are an AC module. 66 cell format. Just slightly larger in height to the standard 60 cell format. Approx 3-4 inches taller.
IF so, these panels will be about 3 inches wider and actually around 1 inch shorter than the typical 350W panels out today, much like the LG 350W series panels. The old Schott solar PV panels that were in the 400W to 500 watt range were right at 4 foot wide by 8 foot long. This allows one to “harvest” 400 to 415W from about 16.25 square feet as opposed to “harvesting” 330 to 350W from about 17.5 square feet. It’s this kind of technology nudge that will drive some early adopters of solar PV to install these new panels and put their old system on e-bay for the secondary used market. Is this not how the automobile built by Henry Ford became so popular. First as an affordable automobile, then as a cheap second hand car creating the “used car” market? Bring on the high output panels, the hybrid inverters and cheap battery storage to allow net zero energy use for decades to come.
So this is actually 66 cells at 400 watts? And what is the difference between the 400W to the 415W is the 400W a blk on blk?
This is bogus. You can’t get them. Certainly you can’t get them in the US. That’s what they will tell you when you call SP. But they wills say Europe. Call Europe and they will tell you, not Europe; but you can get them in the US.
There have been 400W, even 500W panels for 4.5 years. Even 500W panels at the size of these new Sunpower panels, 4.5 years ago.
The 6×10 cell A-series produces 400W / panel at 95cm x 156cm while the 96-panel X-series produces 370W are measured 105cm x 156cm.
What are the frame dimensions? With a larger cell it seems like they would need a larger module. If this is actually the rough size of a current 60-cell module I’ll be impressed, but if they’re making something roughly the size of a 72-cell they can get in line behind other manufacturers who have already done it.
Bullet proofed design, ahead of time technology.
Maxeon Solar Technologies, a global pioneer in solar innovation, is responsible for the design and production of SunPower solar technology. Maxeon is a spinoff of SunPower Corporation, which is based in the United States.
It was developed using 35 years of boundary-pushing solar DNA. Through a global sales network consisting of more than 1,200 sales and installation partners located all over the world, we sell solar products under the Maxeon and SunPower brands in more than 100 nations.
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