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Buying solar panels? what to avoid

22nd Mar '18 • By Darryn Van Hout | founder of Switchee

Recent advancements in the realm of solar have proven beyond reasonable doubt that solar energy is viable - not just in terms of saving money but also in drastically reducing our carbon footprint. Here are a hand full of mistakes to avoid when considering solar panels.

Deferring your quest to buy solar with the hope that battery prices will drop


Despite the current craze around solar battery storage, any good solar retailer should give you this advice: Solar storage batteries won’t finance themselves in 2018.

The current market price for installing a one of the leading brands such as the Tesla Powerwall is over $10,000 and has a payback period of around 15 years. (For the average family) The unit comes with a warranty of 10 years. In addition to this, has anybody actually seen into the future to determine the lifespan of the Tesla Powerwall?

I know that I haven’t!

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Sadly, the much hype in the media about storage batteries has left most potential solar customers questioning the viability of solar panels without batteries—to the point that majority of people are waiting for the more ‘affordable batteries’ before going solar.

But here is the thing; even though the initial cost of battery solar is expected to drop year-after-year, the time to invest in solar is now—not tomorrow. 

Did you know that a day without solar means another day to pay higher electricity bills? Installing a well-designed solar PV panel without batteries can still give you a nearly zero power bill. Waiting 3, 4 or even 5 years for the cost of batteries to fall only translates to 3, 4 or 5 years of high electricity bills.

Someday, solar storage batteries will make a lot of sense; and when that time comes, you will easily add them to your existing solar system using an innovative technique called AC coupling. So don’t miss out on great savings just because you are waiting for the arrival of cheaper batteries. Consider installing a solar system now—with the confidence that you can always retrofit storage batteries at a point when they can recoup their own costs—not before.

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Not comparing multiple quotes 


It’s important for consumers to shop around for multiple solar quotes (and not just when they want to invest in solar). This is because there are some unscrupulous solar installers that still go around charging customers up to $20,000 for a system that costs $5,000 only.

Getting quotes from multiple companies will give you a clear picture of how much your desired solar size will cost you, and that will give you a better understanding of which solar package is ideal for your budget and whether or not your solar company is manipulative in either quality or price. 

Oh, and don’t be afraid to check the company's history. How long have the been operating? Who are the founders? What is their background (retail sales or electrician). Don’t forget to check their reviews on Solatrust!

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Understand how the ‘rebate’ works and/or how to compute paybacks from solar


This is another serious mistake that most people make—misunderstanding how the existing solar rebate and feed-in tariffs (what you receive when you export your excess solar power back into the main grid) work.

We have provided more details on about the solar rebates here, but in summary, a solar ‘rebate’ is a financial incentive offered by the federal government while the feed-in tariff is a financial incentive provided by a state government.

The misunderstanding surrounding paybacks from solar comes from one of two fallacies:

Firstly,  "The only benefits from solar investment are what your power company prints on your bill." 
Most consumers are adamant with the fact that the real benefits of solar PV system are simply ‘invisible’, and ideally, can’t be printed on your bill. It’s worth noting that currently, paybacks on solar panels are faster than ever before.  

Secondly, Most people have the perception that installing a decent-sized solar panel system automatically translates into a zero electricity bill and followed by a fat cheque every other quarter from their power company.

Listen, this can only happen if you signed up for a gross feed-in tariff over 4 years ago. With the Australian feed-in tariffs floating at about 6-8c per kWh mark, it’s obvious that the days when a solar panel was a sure license to print money are long gone.  

However, this doesn’t mean households and businesses can’t significantly cut their electricity bills using solar—my recent electricity bill was just $49 for an 8-person household.

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Failure to understand your protection rights under Australian consumer law


This may leave you tongue tight, and yes, you should never believe everything a salesperson tells you!
Every so often, customers will tell me their solar installer advised that their solar system needs service at least once every two years if it has to remain in warranty. This is simply hogwash. 

Having partnered with national and international solar energy companies, manufacturers of solar panel and inverter technology and some of the most reputable online software developers that create tools to quote, monitor and manage solar power systems, I know for sure that an excellent-quality solar system only needs a good clean once per year and servicing once every 5 years. 

The next time your salesman mentions that you’ll need to pay a maintenance fee to keep your solar panels in warranty, simply look elsewhere.  

Dishonest salesman can also trick customers by claiming that the solar panels come with a 25 year ‘performance warranty’, in an attempt to make it look like any arising issue with your system shall be covered under the 25-year warranty. 

Sadly, this is never the case. Sometimes solar manufacturers will easily wriggle out of the ‘performance warranty’ by citing that any defects in the solar panels are covered under the ‘panel warranty’ which only lasts for a span of 5 years.

The truth is that there are four different warranties that come with a solar system— and these include the ‘performance warranty’. The other three cover your inverter, the solar panels and the workmanship.

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When it comes to the warranty, here’s what you should look for:

  • A 10-year warranty for your inverter 
  • A 10-year warranty for your solar panels
  • A 5-year warranty for the workmanship

Ensure that the warranty is fully backed by an Australian Entity. I’ve stumbled upon cheapo deals where the Chinese manufacturer’s warranty requires the owner of the solar panels to send them back to China at his/her own expense to have them tested.

If you’re looking start the process and connect with local solar installers within trustworthy networks that focus on giving you the best value (in terms of performance, quality and wallet) before and after installation, click here for a solar quote

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Not asking the hard questions to determine whether the solar installer is right for the job


Generally, dubious installers hate consumers who understand what they want. Knowledge is power and so if a fake installer realises that you are well informed about things to do with solar, their chances of ripping you off will be near impossible.

For that reason, always verify any information provided independently, whenever you can. Today, there are countless resources that can help you verify the information provided by salesmen (if Google can’t help, the Whirlpool forums can). If none of these help you, then just drop me an email here.

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Being ignorant about the right size system for your home


This is easier to fix since most reliable solar installers will discuss with you the full analysis of your electricity consumption habits before giving you a quote. 

They will ask about your financial goals and the budget you have in accomplishing those goals. This is because finding the right solar panel size to match your energy consumption may not be an easy walk in the park.

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The perception that solar isn’t worth it because your roof has a shade or doesn’t face the optimal direction 


Of course this can’t be further from the truth but hey, with recent advancements in solar technology, the efficiency of solar panels has increased to the point that even if your solar system isn’t mounted facing north, only 10-15% of your solar panels productivity will be lost meaning your system will still be worth the investment. 

As a matter of fact, your solar panels may become more productive when facing east or west especially when your electricity consumption is at peak in the morning or evening. 
There you have it! The 7 common mistakes people make when buying solar panels.

About the author:

I took an interest in the Australian energy market ten years ago and since then have monitored the trends, technologies and direction of the national Energy Market. I was drawn to the Australian solar market in 2008 and since then have worked heavily in the field. I am partnered with national and international solar energy companies, from manufacturers of solar panel and inverter technology; online software developers that introduce tools to quote, monitor and manage solar power systems; and media organizations who, like myself, closely monitor the solar and renewable energy sector.

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