The Faulty Inverter Incident
The Start ….
If monitoring the amount of electricity we use could be called nerdy, then I am an electricity nerd. Probably that is a kind way to describe my ‘interest’ in how much electricity we use; others might think I belong to the ‘power police’.
Having admitted to this nerdy ‘interest’, I am now embarrassed to say that for the last month our electricity use has gone from an average of 3 kWh/day of purchased electricity to about 9. We have tripled our costs and I didn’t notice! In my defense, I have to acknowledge that two members of the family have been very ill, one has now died and it has been Christmas so I haven’t been logging onto our retailer’s website as frequently as I usually do but, even so, they have been sending usage updates to my phone and email, and it still didn’t ‘click’ until last night.
Up until last night, I sort of noticed that our usage had risen but in the back of my mind I explained it to myself by acknowledging that we turned the air conditioner on a few times; our repaired refrigerator has been recommissioned; when it is exceptionally hot, inverters can become too hot and stop working; and, 9 kWh/day is nowhere near as high as our winter usage so it’s probably OK. Just a couple of hours ago though, it was time to follow-up my middle of the night insight and find out what was happening. Yep, triple the amount of purchased electricity, a red light on the inverter with an error message. Time to do something.
And Then ….
I need to have a whinge …. The manual that came with the inverter doesn’t list the error code anywhere in the trouble-shooting section so I look elsewhere in the manual and, lo and behold, the error code is listed under operating system codes! Something about a ground fault. Sounds serious or dangerous or something.
Now this inverter is only three years old and three years ago something very similar happened which meant we had no solar power for all of January and February. When we finally got someone to look at it, it was replaced under warranty after an incredibly lengthy process. It’s easy to feel mildly paranoid. Why does the inverter fail at the peak generating time? We actually had an electricity credit this November even with our little 1.5 kW array and last year we only paid $6 for three months of electricity. My power police behavior/nerdy interest actually paid off with reduced costs (which is probably why no-one in the house is complaining) but, I take my eye off the ball for a month, and its all gone awry.
And Then ….
Apply the ever useful standard … Turn it off. Wait 10 minutes or so and turn it back on. Having done that, the same error message is staring me in the face so I have now turned it off until I can get it repaired.
And Then ….
Find a repairer … I suspect this is going to be easier said than done. Most of the time it took to get the inverter fixed three years ago, involved getting Origin Energy (the nominated ‘installer’) to give us the name of someone and then waiting for that person to appear on site. In the end the contractor just put in a new inverter under warranty. As we are now no longer customers of Origin, I think it is going to be even harder this time, if we have to get assistance via them. Here’s hoping we don’t – it’s probably out of warranty so that probably means we won’t have to deal with Origin.
Time to use trusty Google which, I hope, will tell me who the service agents are for Clenergy inverters! All being well, luck will be on my side and I’ll book a service call and we can get it fixed.
And Then ….
Abandon assumptions …. Amazingly, Clenergy have what appears to be a good website and the warranty period is five years not two. Yeah! I wonder, however, it it is five years from the original installation in 2011 or five years since the new unit was installed under warranty? Either way it sounds like we are covered but did I register the unit? I don’t have any paper work and I always keep that sort of stuff. Ahhh … I wish it was easy. I just want to ring someone who will visit and fix it!
And Then ….
Don’t get excited …. I have just gone into the fine print of the Clenergy site and there is a 12 step process in registering a warranty claim including a series of photos that need to be sent to them. Worst of all it looks like you have to do this via the company who installed the unit – a sub-contractor supplied by Origin Energy nearly five years ago. I’m going to have to call Origin. This will be a nightmare!
And Then ….
Wow …. I rang Clenergy this morning but didn’t get past their automated menu! The first item I heard was ‘for inverter faults press 1’. I dutifully pressed one as I felt a scream rising in my throat. The message at this level said that if you had a problem with your inverter you should phone your installer but if that installer was Origin then here is the number. All I could think was they must have heaps and heaps of dodgy inverters.
And Then ….
I’m pleasantly surprised …. I phoned Origin and they were both helpful and sympathetic. They were able to recall my records from three years ago; there was no mention that we are no longer a customer; and, they said they would have someone on site within 14 business days but more likely one week. I was given a case reference number and a case manager. I mentioned that this had happened three years ago and it took all summer to resolve and I didn’t want a similar experience this summer. The person on the phone said he had heard that there were ‘problems in the past’ but they stood by their current 14 business days commitment. So stay tuned – this could be a good news story in the context of what is probably a questionable brand or at least, historically, a questionable brand.
And Then ….
This is almost unbelievable …. About two days into Origin’s commitment to having a technician on site within 14 business days, I got a call to organize a site visit. The first available time slot was about five days away so I agreed to the day, and to be home over a four-hour period, during which time the technician would turn up. All as good as it gets at this stage of the 21st century.
The day duly arrived along with the technician, who turned out to be two technicians. I know at least one of them was over eighteen because they drove here. Age not withstanding, they seemed to know what they were doing. They quickly replaced the faulty inverter with one that is exactly the same as the old one, only without the dust on its casing. I was doing something else while they were working on the inverter but I told them to summon me if they had any questions. They summoned me quite promptly and said they had replaced the inverter, but there was hesitancy in their manner. The reason for the hesitancy rapidly became apparent. The replacement inverter had only worked for 10 minutes before it too failed but for a completely new reason. I was assured that our system was fine and, once again, the problem was the inverter. Now for the crunch. They didn’t have another inverter with them so I would have to start the whole process all over again and ring Origin and tell them that I had a problem with our inverter! They promised they would send a report to Origin themselves. I think they probably expected me to yell or become hysterical and I certainly felt like doing so but I didn’t. In the pause while I was digesting this almost unbelievable outcome, they beat a hasty farewell and left.
I couldn’t get through to Origin for another 12 hours because they were experiencing ‘unexpected demand for customer support’. When I did get through, they were once again sympathetic, but a new 14 business days sequence commenced. At this point I expressed considerable dissatisfaction about our loss of solar credits. There was a pause in the conversation that I decided not to fill. Finally the case manager said he could reimburse me our losses if I sent ALL pages of our electricity tax invoice to him once the inverter was working again. I will certainly do this because we usually have three or more months of paying nothing for electricity at this time of year.
I’ve already had the appointment call but it will be pretty much the full 14 days before the technician arrives on site and we start generating solar power again.
And Then ….
Two days ago three technicians arrived within the agreed four-hour time slot. All of them were very young. Within minutes they had photographed the error message on inverter number three, installed inverter number four, got it working, checked the system at all levels, including the roof, answered a few questions from me, allowed me a few minutes to make sure the inverter wasn’t going to fail within the first 10 minutes of operation, like it did last time, and then left.
Following this installation, I took the opportunity to scroll through the various screens on the inverter’s display panel. Most of them, I either didn’t understand or they were of no interest, but two were of interest. One tells me how many kWh the inverter has generated for as long as it has been operating, and the other tells me how many watts the array is generating in the moment. Both are interesting. The former because it allows me to calculate how much of our own electricity we actually use, by subtracting the amount sold to the grid from the total generated. The trick with this way of calculating use is that the inverter can be reset to zero, but I’m not sure under what circumstances. Certainly if it is replaced, the count starts again at zero. The second reading is useful because it tells me how many watts are being generated in the moment. Yesterday, for much of the day it was generating around 300 watts which meant I could confidently turn on the washing machine. To date, I have been looking at the amount of sunshine and cloud cover to made the same effective judgement. I will probably use both ways to work out if I want to turn appliances on or not.
Arghh ….. less than 48 hours since installation and I went to have a look at how many watts were being generated, before I turned on the washing machine, and the inverter has failed for the fifth time. This is unbelievable. The fault message says that I need to consult an electrician but I am going to ring Origin again. It cannot be a co-incidence that the fifth inverter has failed. This has to be a brand problem. I have done the turn it off and wait 15 minutes and turn it back on but still the same message.
I have just rung Origin but you can’t contact the inverter faults section on a weekend. I really, really feel like hitting something!
And Then ….
It’s 9am on Monday and Origin will replace the inverter with a new one of a different brand with a completely new 5 year warranty period. They will be in touch within 14 business days ……. we all know the process now.
The Latest ….
The new inverter has been installed and seems really good. The display is much easier to read and understand. I can just glance at it and find out how many watts are being generated. Now I have to wait for the follow-up phone call to find out how I go about seeking reimbursement for the last 10 weeks.
To Be Continued ….