This article was originally published by my friend Finn at SolarQuotes. I think it is a great piece of advice, and Finn agreed that I could send it to my network. (I’ve made a few comments of my own in italics).
The Top 6 mistakes people make when buying solar systems
1) Not getting multiple quotes
Finn: “I swear this isn’t a shameless plug for the free service that my [SolarQuotes] website provides. It’s absolutely critical to get multiple quotes wherever possible (and not just when it comes to solar!), as some unscrupulous installers are still going around charging people $20,000 for a $5,000 system.
“By having multiple companies give you a breakdown on how much solar will cost you, you can gain a real understanding of whether solar is right for your budget, and whether or not you’re being ripped off (in either price or quality).”
2) Being unaware of how the ‘rebate’ works/how to calculate paybacks from solar
Finn: “Another big mistake that I see people make comes from their (mis)understanding of how the solar ‘rebate’ and feed-in tariffs work.
I explain in greater detail here, but to summarise, the solar ‘rebate’ is a federal government financial incentive and the feed-in tariff is a state government financial incentive.
The main misunderstanding about paybacks comes from one of two erroneous beliefs:
Mistake #1: People think that having a decent-sized solar system means that not only will they never have to pay an electricity bill again, but they’ll also get a fat cheque in the mail every quarter from their electricity companies.
This will only happen if you were lucky enough to sign up to a gross feed-in tariff 4+ years ago.
With net feed-in tariffs hovering around 6-8c per kWh mark around Australia, the days of a solar system being a license to print money are in the past.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t significantly reduce your electricity bills with solar – my latest power bill was only $33 for a 6 person household.”
Mistake #2: “The only benefits of solar are what your electricity company prints on your bill.” I’ve written a lengthy post detailing my own experiences with solar paybacks, as well as how to interpret your electricity bills with solar.
Most people don’t realise that the true benefits of a solar system are ‘invisible’ – that is, not written on your bill – and don’t understand that paybacks for solar systems are faster than what they initially seem.
Warwick says: “Ensure your solar retailer accounts uses PVsell to calculate your solar ROI – this is the only tool that makes accurate solar payback calculations, and its a tool trusted by hundreds of solar companies”
3) Not knowing what protections you’re entitled to under Australian consumer law
Finn: “This may come as a shock to some people, but you shouldn’t believe everything a salesperson says!
Almost every week someone will tell me that they’ve had a solar installer tell them that they need to have their systems serviced once every two years (or more) in order for the system to stay in warranty.
This is bollocks. Speaking as a chartered electrical engineer, good-quality solar systems will only need to be serviced once every 5 years, and cleaned once per year.
If you have a slimy salesman telling you that you’ll need to pay some kind of ‘maintenance fee’ to keep your panels in warranty, show them the door.
Another tactic that dishonest salesmen use is to assure you that your solar systems will have a 25 year ‘performance warranty’, to make it seem like any problems that befall your system will be covered under this apparent 25-year warranty.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. It’s very easy for solar manufacturers to wriggle out of this ‘performance warranty’, by claiming that any defects in the panels fall under the ‘panel warranty’, which can only be 5 years in some cases.
In reality, there are actually four separate warranties that you get with your solar system – the ‘performance warranty’ being one of them. The other three are for your inverter, the panels themselves, and the workmanship. In terms of warranty, what you really want to look for is:
- A 10 year warranty for your inverter
- A 10 year warranty for your solar panels
- A 5 year warranty for the workmanship
Check that the warranty is backed by an Australian Entity. I’ve seen cheapo deals where the Chinese manufacturer’s warranty states that the owner has to post the panels back to China at the customer’s cost to get them tested!
Warwick: “The reputable solar quote providers (such as Solar Quotes and Solar Choice) will ensure that you’re not getting quotes from dodgy solar installers. If you’re a business that is struggling to cut through solar jargon and get a trusted third-party opinion on which quote best meets your goals, then SunWiz’s Trusted Solar Advisor service can help you. We don’t provide quotes, but we can help you pick the best one”
4) Not asking the hard-hitting questions to separate the solar installer wheat from the chaff
Finn: “The only thing shonky installers hate more than an ACCC investigation is a customer who knows their stuff! With knowledge comes power, and if a shonky installer realises that you know solar, their ability to rip you off just took a nose dive and they know it.
Always, always, always independently verify information, whenever possible. There are numerous resources available to help you verify what solar salesmen tell you (the Whirlpool forums are one of my favourite sources of such information), but if Google can’t help you, I will. Just shoot me an email here.”
Warwick: ” Again, SunWiz’s Trusted Solar Advisor service can help you make a well-informed decision.”
5) Not knowing what size system is right for your home
Finn: “This one is easier to solve, because most reputable solar installers will sit you down and do a full analysis of your electricity usage habits before they provide you with a quote.
They will ask you what your financial goals are and how much you’re willing to spend in order to accomplish those goals – because it’s not as simple as purchasing a solar system size that matches your energy usage.”
Warwick: “As part of our Solar ROI calculation service, SunWiz helps you choose the right system size for your needs, one that accounts for your particular energy usage habits. You can also ask for a solar ROI calculation from solar installers that use our PVsell software – ones in your area are listed here.”
6) Thinking that because your roof doesn’t face the optimal direction or because there’s some shade on your roof, solar isn’t worth it
Finn: “This couldn’t be further from the truth! Solar panel efficiencies have reached the point where, even if your panels aren’t facing north, you only lose 10-15% of your solar system production – which means that the system is still well worth the investment.
In fact, depending on the time of day you use your electricity, it may make more sense for your solar panels to face east or west (for morning or evening heavy electricity usage habits, respectively). I go into greater detail about this topic here.”
Warwick: “whether solar makes sense for your business comes down to one metric: what is the return on investment (ROI). This ROI must take account of your roof aspect, shading, tariff structure, and consumption profile… all of these factors are accounted for in our Solar ROI calculation service”
There you have it! The top 6 mistakes people make when purchasing solar systems.