Where do you start when it comes to buying solar? What are the important things to watch out for?
After reading this article, you’ll have the know-how to dodge any dubious solar sales tactics – and feel more confident in your solar purchasing decision.
When shopping around for solar, the starting point is to make sure you are choosing a Solar Retailer that’s well-proven and likely to be around to honour the warranties on your system.
Three questions to ask are:
1. Are they a Clean Energy Council (CEC) Accredited Solar Retailer?
This accreditation means you are dealing with a company that meets the highest industry standards. To get this accreditation, solar companies are thoroughly vetted and subject to regular audit. It’s your guarantee of quality.
Another ‘no-brainer’ reason to choose a CEC Accredited Solar Retailer is that if you want to get the Victorian Government’s solar or battery rebate you have to purchase from a solar company with this accreditation.
2. How long have they been in business?
50% of solar companies in 2012 no longer exist today. You should be looking for a Solar Retailer who has been in business for at least five or ten years in case you need to claim on a warranty.
This is vital for the workmanship warranty which is the sole responsibility of your Solar Retailer. It is also relevant for the warranties on the system components – like the panels, inverters. That’s because your Solar Retailer should be your first point of call if there’s a problem and – if they’re any good – they should sort out the warranty issue on your behalf with the solar manufacturer.
3. Do they hold a REC (Registered Electrical Contractor) licence?
It is surprising that not a lot of Solar Retailers are Registered Electrical Contractors and instead rely on their subcontractors to hold this licence.
The REC licence is issued by Energy Safe Victoria and is your guarantee that your Solar installation company has the appropriate experience, technical knowledge and skills to undertake electrical installation work.
Specialized Solar & Electrical has a Registered Electrical Contractor licence. This means that we have the electrical know-how to design a solar system to best practice electrical standards.
A Registered Electrical Contractor is responsible for all electrical installation work it is engaged to carry out. It must ensure that the work is:
- complies with regulations.
- inspected, if required.
In addition, a Registered Electrical Contractor must ensure that a certificate of electrical safety is issued for all work carried out. A REC must:
- electronically notify Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) each time a certificate is completed.
- provide a copy of the certificate to the person for whom the work was carried out.
- lodge a copy of the certificate with ESV.
As a REC licence holder there is a requirement to carry a minimum of $5 million in public liability insurance. Specialized solar & Electrical holds a $20,000,000 public liability insurance.
When looking at the advertised prices for solar and battery systems, check whether prices are before or after State Government rebates.
Advertised solar pricing should make it clear what the price is before any State Government rebates – but not all solar companies do this.
The Victorian Government’s solar and battery rebates are subject to eligibility criteria. Not everyone will get the rebate. That’s why highlighting the price after rebates is misleading and not in line with industry best practice.
Pushy sales tactics
There are stories about installers who get half the system installed and then tell the client there’s an issue and it will cost them an extra $1,000 (for example) to complete the installation. This is an unethical sales tactic. Don’t agree to it. Insist that the installation is completed at the quoted price.
Some solar companies make a big deal out of saying the panels they are quoting are Tier 1.
What does this mean?
The Tier 1 Solar Panels list is published every quarter by Bloomberg Finance. It has around 70-80 companies on it. Tier 1 is a rating of the financial stability of the manufacturer and quantity sold. It is not a measure of panel quality. Sunpower, the best panel in the world, is number 38 on the list.
Are Chinese panels any good?
A lot of people think that if the solar panels are made in China, they will be poor quality. That’s not necessarily true. 95% of all panels in the world are made in China; most of the rest are made in Southeast Asia. Of course, some Chinese panels are not high quality – but many are excellent. For example, Sunpower, one of the world’s best solar panel companies, manufacturers a huge proportion of their panels in China.
Monocrystalline v polycrystalline
On solar panel datasheets, it will state whether the panel is monocrystalline or polycrystalline.
Does this matter? The answer is – it doesn’t. That’s because the difference between these two panel technologies is negligible. A 330 watt monocrystalline panel will produce the same amount of power as a 330 watt polycrystalline panel.
The only time when this could be relevant if is you want a high wattage panel. Currently most panels are 330 watts (give or take). High wattage panels (with higher prices) are around 440 watts. This might be worth considering if you have limited roof space and want to get the most power possible. If this is your situation, you would be looking at a monocrystalline panel.
If you’re happy with the standard wattage for sensibly priced panels (i.e. 330 watts per panel) – and you can fit enough on your roof to meet your power needs – there’s no significant difference between mono and poly.
It’s important to know what to ask when it comes to warranties on your solar system. They can vary a lot. You want to know that you are getting at least the industry standard and ideally better than standard.
Here’s the list of warranties to check on a solar system, together with the industry standards:
|Type of warranty||Industry standard|
|System performance warranty||Only offered by best practice solar retailers|
|Solar panels performance warranty||25 years|
|Solar panels product warranty||10 years|
|Solar inverter product warranty||10 years|
|Mounting kit warranty||5 years|
|Workmanship warranty||5 years|
Here’s what to look out for with each of the warranties:
System performance warranty
This is an important warranty and definitely worth having – but not all solar companies offer it.
It is based on the annual estimated yield of your solar system.
Quite simply, the estimated yield is the amount of power your solar system is estimated to produce each year. It should be stated on your quote.
Whilst it’s nice to know how much power your system should produce, what happens if it doesn’t produce that much power? Whose responsibility is that?
The questions you need to ask are:
- Whether or not the solar company will guarantee the annual estimated yield and for how many years.
- Whether or not they will fix your system at their cost – and compensate you for any loss – if your solar power system does not produce the annual estimated yield through no fault of your own.
When you purchase a solar system you are buying your own power generator. What matters most is that your system produces the amount of power that’s stated on your quote. If you can get that guaranteed, then you’re right – and the risk of something going wrong is not yours!
Solar panels performance warranty
This warranty sounds terrific, after all it’s for 25 years. But in reality, claiming on this warranty is hard and generally not worth it.
This warranty provides a measure of the degradation of a panel over a 25-year period.
The industry standard is that panels will perform at 75% efficiency at the end of the 25th year, compared to their day 1 efficiency.
When you think about it, that’s pretty impressive. Not many electrical appliances would work that well after 25 years!
It’s a good idea to make sure you get at least the industry standard (based on the datasheet statistic). Ideally look for a panel that will be at least 80% efficient after 25 years.
Solar panels product warranty
The product warranty is the most important warranty for solar panels – not the performance warranty. That’s because it covers defective materials or workmanship in the manufacture of the panel.
The industry standard is 10 years. You can find solar panels with a longer warranty that are affordable and good quality. Given the choice, purchase a brand of solar panels with a product warranty of at least 12 years – 15 years is even better!
Solar inverter product warranty
If there’s going to be an issue with your solar system, generally it will be the inverter.
The industry standard warranty for solar inverters is 10 years. Many of these are 5+5 years, meaning that you get the first 5 years covered for parts and labour, with the next five years covered only for parts. This is pretty useless as the labour can often cost more than the parts.
It’s highly recommended that you get at least a 10-year warranty covering both parts and labour. Ideally, look for a solar inverter with a warranty that’s longer than 10 years. There are good inverters on the market that are reasonably priced with a 12 or 15 years warranty for parts and labour. Get one of those!
Mounting Kit Warranty
The mounting kit is an important part of your system and you want to be sure it is corrosion resistant. The industry standard is 5 years, with the better quality mounting kits provide a 10 year warranty.
Last – but not least – is the workmanship warranty. This warranty is provided by your Solar Retailer and the industry standard is 5 years.
This is one worth watching out. That’s because damage to the roof (e.g. a broken tile during installation) may only be noticed later on. It could be water damage in your kitchen and you wonder what caused it. If the damaged occurred during the installation, then it’s important to know that rectification of the damage – including replastering, painting etc – would be covered by this warranty.
Look for a Solar Retailer that offers more than 5 years workmanship warranty – 10 years is much better!
Service and maintenance
Service and maintenance of your solar system is not required in order to claim on your warranties. Your solar panels should be positioned on a pitch so they are self-cleaning. If you have a flat roof, the panels should be put on tilt frames to pitch them.
This is not to say that getting your panels cleaned isn’t a good idea. It is worth doing on a regular basis, as is getting a complete system check.
For complete peace of mind, get a system with decent Wi-Fi monitoring; one that automatically sends alerts to your Solar Retailer if there’s a problem.
Two of the most important things to be aware of with a battery is:
- How efficient it will be after 10 years.
- Whether or not it will work in a blackout.
All batteries slowly become less efficient over time, so the warranty will guarantee the battery performs to a certain level (for example, 70%) of its original capacity.
Surprisingly, most batteries don’t work in a blackout. Do your research and get one that does, if that’s what you want.
Whilst this list isn’t exhaustive, it is a great starting point when you’re shopping for solar. It’s important that you feel comfortable with your purchase decision as solar is a long-term investment.
If you’d like to chat to a solar expert at Specialized Solar & Electrical, get in touch. We love talking solar and we’d love to help you with your solar decision.