Why shopping on price for Solar is the worst way to shop.
Much like any growing industry, there are some serious horror stories in the solar industry about dodgy solar systems, unsafe installations and less than scrutable operators and installers.
As with most technologically driven sectors, it can be really difficult to filter through the masses of information to determine what is the best approach, who is the best person to talk to and how do I go about starting the conversation?
The key to sourcing a quality solar system that will perform for its intended lifespan is a three-pronged approach:
- Know your solar installer/retailer
- Understand what it is you’re investing in and ensure you’re paying appropriately for it
- Understand what a system should provide and ensure that is what you’re getting.
Below we will cover how to select your installer or solar retailer, what to look for in a solar system proposal and what to expect from your solar installation company.
By following these steps, you can rest assured knowing you’ve done your due diligence and your solar system will work hard for you and your bottom line for as long as possible!
Know your installer/retailer
How do I pick the right company for my solar investment?
The ABC 7:30 report did a piece recently on what they called ‘shonky’ installers. And this story is becoming common within the industry. Workers who jumped on the solar train to make a quick buck on the next big fad. Due to the sudden and meteoric rise in the popularity of solar in South Australia in particular, every man and his dog jumped on the bandwagon. Without proper regulatory checks in place, people fell afoul of substandard work done by less than honest operators.
So how can you be sure that you’re chosen retailer or installer is not in this category?
The main regulatory body for the Australian solar industry is the Clean Energy Council (CEC). This body supplies (and revokes) solar installer accreditation for electricians who operate in the solar industry.
Without being an accredited installer, an electrician may not be able to perform an installation and/or warranties provided by manufacturers may become null and void. On top of accrediting installers, the CEC has brought in a voluntary accreditation level for companies who sell solar systems.
This “Approved Solar Retailer” accreditation requires a solar retailing company to provide evidence of compliance with code of conduct, warranty and risk mitigation processes as well as ensuring appropriate processes are in place to address any problems that may arise as a result of an install. The CEC has an up-to-date list of all Approved Solar Retailers on their website at all times.
Whilst a company does not NEED to have this title, those that have undertaken the rigorous vetting process required to become accredited have taken the time to prove their intentions within the industry. Companies that are non-compliant are removed from the list. This can be just a suspension pending resolution of a dispute or full removal from accreditation.
It is wise to ensure that the company you deal with is on this list to ensure that your system is what you are paying for, that the work carried about is up to standard and that the company will be in operation long enough to service all warranty needs.
Another great way to explore your chosen installers reliability would be to have a look at testimonials, reviews and or client feedback from your installer!
- Did they honour their warranty promise?
- Have they completed sub-standard installations?
- How did they fix the problem?
- Are they likely to pick the phone up or return your phone calls?
These are all great questions to start asking when deciding who to put your faith (and your hard-earned money) in.
OK, I know who I am dealing with, so what’s next?
Understand what a system should provide and make sure you’re getting it!
When you buy a car, you don’t go out to try and find the cheapest car available on the market. When you buy a bomb, you get a bomb. You also wouldn’t go to a real estate agent and tell them you want to buy the cheapest house in the suburb you like, you would want to know that the house you’re looking at is the right size, with sufficient rooms for your family, enough of a back yard for your pets or for entertaining, bathrooms as required and all the little details that make a house into your home!
Yet on a regular basis, we deal with people looking to pay as little as possible for their solar. You see these ads on social media pop up regularly promising a ‘6kW solar system for $3500’ or ‘buy 18 panels and we’ll throw in four more for free’. All these advertisements promoting cheap solar systems look great on the surface; you mean to tell me I can get clean, green energy for my home for that little? Where do I sign up, right..? WRONG.
Substituting quality for price when it comes to technological equipment is a flawed thought process. So how do you know what is good and what to stay away from?
Well, the most common quantifier of materials in solar is the manufacturer’s tier rating provided by Bloomberg. This rating system categorises manufacturers based on a complex set of production standards to ensure that the products being produced and distributed by these so-called reputable companies are living up to their expectations and lifespans.
Companies such as Jinko Solar Pty Ltd, Canadian Solar, JA Solar & more all hold a strong reputation for being compliant with Tier 1 requirements and proving exception back up and support on a global scale. It is important to ask your installer or retailer why they chose the panels that they did choose. But more than just the panels, what inverter did they choose and why? What is the benefit of this inverter over the other top two or three brands?
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to purchase the most expensive product on the market either.
I had a client recently discuss installing solar for his holiday house. He wanted to make it as grid-independent as possible. He had been told that LG was the best panel on the market. They have fantastic warranties, they’re a household name so you can be sure they’ll hang around and they’re the most efficient panel around. Paired with a Bloomberg Tier 1 rating, LG panels sound like an all-round win.
However, when you break it down to cost, LG panels are 40-50% more expensive than their competitors; other panel manufacturers who offer panels that may not match LG’s efficiency rating but are within the same ballpark, still carry a Tier 1 rating and are 50% less expensive can be a better option when considering the whole system!
We discussed his plan and what he wanted at length and then came to the understanding that we could install his system using LG panels and bite the bullet. However, we also explored the option to install the system using Jinko Solar Panels as they are a globally recognized company with great efficiency, a Tier 1 rating and linear performance and lifetime performance warranties to match LG, and all at 40% of the cost of an LG panel.
Hang on… you just told me not to buy the cheapest on the market and now you’re saying to go for the cheaper option? Isn’t that a touch hypocritical..?
Whilst Jinko Panels are 40-50% cheaper than their LG competitors, Jinko is the largest manufacturer of solar panels in the world. Not only that but they are globally recognized as an industry leader in quality, support and longevity. They conform to all of the system quality requirements that you should look for when exploring solar, without the hefty price tag. It comes down to a cost vs benefit analysis. You need to weigh up all of the important performance and return factors to ensure you’re getting the best system possible for your buck!
So, what questions do I ask to find the right panel for me?
- What is the output efficiency of the panel chosen?
- What warranties are available for that brand and model?
- If efficiency is the aim of the game, how much more do I want to pay for increased efficiency, and does it measure up?
So now I’ve found an Installer I trust, and I’ve got some understanding of Product selection… am I ready?
Surely, we’ve covered it all. You’ve patiently read everything, clicked some links and built up an understanding of what you should do… right?
There is one more thing we need to consider before we let you go. What should your solar system do for you, what features, and benefits should you get with a solar system and is the company you have chosen delivering on them for you?
So, what should my solar system do for me?
The most obvious answer is to reduce the cost of electricity and reduce your monthly or quarterly bills. This is the beautiful promise of solar energy and you want to make sure that your getting value for your money!
Your solar system will produce more solar in the summertime, and this can often make your system look like an absolute superstar. But then during winter, your system’s output can be as low as 40% of your summer production, on average. It is a good idea to discuss with your install company how you are going to monitor your system’s output to make sure that it is performing as expected.
What features and benefits should my system come with?
Solar systems are becoming more and more technologically advanced all the time. What is my favourite advancement in tech? Thank you for asking!!
DC Optimisers. These little wonders, in my opinion, have revolutionised solar installations across the globe. A DC Optimiser is a piece of tech that mounts to the back of a solar panel and allows each panel within an installation to operate independently of its neighbours.
A traditional, string designed solar system has all panels connected in strings or arrays. Simply put the panels are connected together in rows of up to 42 panels (for a commercial install). In a traditional setup, every panel in these strings operate at the efficiency of the least efficient panel, the old adage of you’re only as strong as your weakest link is the best summary of this. So if there is shade being cast over a panel, or a build-up of dirt due to storms or rain etc or a large flock of birds decides to drop all their waste onto one panel, it will bring down the performance of every panel in the string.
DC Optimisers allow each panel to operate independently, having the ability to ramp up or down production without having to wait for the rest to catch up.
This can be beneficial for a number of reasons:
- Shading becomes a much more minor problem.
- Panels degrade at different rates, much like humans or cars and if one panel degrades a bit faster than the rest, the optimiser stops that panel pulling the whole system.
- Optimisers give you the ability to monitor each panel’s output individually:
- Better performance guarantees;
- Faster fault recognition;
- Reduced maintenance and inspection times due to being able to identify problematic modules remotely to save testing every single one.
- Increased system performance across the board as the system can ramp up and start producing earlier due to not having to wait for any other panels to wake up.
Ok so I am a big fan of optimisers but what are the features and benefits that you should expect from your system?
There are five main questions to ask when you are exploring your solar system choices:
- How is this system going to help me reduce my electricity costs?
- How did you work out my consumption offset?
- How will I know that my system is working as it should?
- Is there monitoring and if so, how effective is it?
- What warranties and guarantees do I have that the installer knows what they are doing and is going to be happy to come back and fix my system if any issues?
The best way to find out about how well your chosen company is delivering on their pre-install promises is to ask! Ask them what sets them apart? Where can you view testimonials or feedback from clients? Are there clients that you can talk to about the services provided?
A strong and well-founded solar company should have evidence to back up their service offerings as well as their work history. A company that won’t let you see any feedback, any previous works or discuss previous works should send red flags waving all over the place!
Much like any other high-value decision you make, it is important to understand what to look so that you don’t get caught with your pants down and a heft solar bill that doesn’t align with what you wanted in the first place!
At P4B Solar & Energy Solutions our business ethos is to be honest and upfront with all of our clients about what we believe is the best system for them, based upon their needs and requirements and not based on our bottom line.
We are an approved solar retailer as well as a member of the clean energy council, we offer a 5-year workmanship guarantee on every aspect of the installation, alongside all manufacturers guarantees.
We provide complimentary first-year performance reporting to all of our commercial clients to show that we are not going anywhere and that your investment is performing just the way it should, from day one.
If you’re considering solar for your business or your home and you want to talk to someone you can trust and rely on, 24/7, give us a call today or enquire about a quote below.
(The feature image of this blog post is a photo of our commercial Solar installation for Paulett Wines in South Australia.)