Can I trust my solar installer?

Over 2.5 million Australian homes and businesses have solar panels and on the whole, most are working fine.

However, like many industries with government subsidies, there are businesses and individuals who want to “game” the system or take advantage of consumers who lack the knowledge to make a good choice.

So how do you avoid the “cowboys” and con-men to ensure you get a quality solar system at a fair market price?

Some basics.

If it sounds too good to be true, it is almost always a con.

You can’t get something for nothing and despite generous subsidies, you can’t get a free solar system.  If you see “$0 upfront” the warning bells should ring as this is not free and is just a sales trick to get your attention.  Run away!

These guys are not only doing it for free, but are then giving you $1,000. Good luck with that.

A 6.6kW solar system for under $4,000 installed is either using really cheap components or cheap labour to do the installation, usually both.  That’s not a good combination and most of the fires caused by solar panels (not many but they have happened) are from these shoddy installations.  Don’t go there.

Fully installed and free shipping from eBay. Not sure how that works.

To get a guide to what you should pay here is a table of current average prices in Australia for a good mid-range to higher quality solar system after rebates.

As you can see, a rough rule of thumb is that a solar system costs around $1,000/kW installed after rebates.  A typical 6.6kW system from a reputable company is around $9,500 and after rebates ends up costing around $6,000-$7000.  To use car analogies, if you want a Kia then you might pay $5,000, but if you want a BMW you might pay $7,000 and if you want a Rolls Royce you can pay well over $12,000.

These prices in part are based on component costs, but also the quality of the installer, how much care they take to make sure the system is installed to exceed current standards and their qualifications.  Many “cheaper” installers subcontract work to unqualified labourers to do most of the work and they only use an electrician to check the connection to the switchboard and sign off the paperwork.  But if you pay someone $20/hour instead of $60/hour, expect there to be a trade off in the safety and quality of the work.

Cheaper installers will also not care what the system looks like.  Bits of cable and conduit running down your external walls at different angles are an eyesore to be avoided.

Other site specific issues adding to the cost include;

  • a tiled roof is more expensive than a tin roof,
  • 2 or more storeys requires additional equipment and time,
  • partial shading requiring optimisers,
  • multiple roof directions requiring additional isolators and cable,
  • old switchboard needing upgrading or not enough room for additional breakers

These can really only be checked and costed during a pre-installation site inspection so this is why accepting a quote should only be done after this site visit and the additional items included in the quote.

How do you avoid a shonky deal?

Due your research and due diligence.

Check the installers or solar retailers website.  How long has it been online?  Does it have genuine photos of their installations or just stock photos stolen from someone else?  Ask them about the photos and make sure they are genuinely their customers.

How long has the installer been in business and in the solar industry?  Ask for some sort of tangible proof.  While businesses and people do change jobs or industry, there should be some track record of what they have been doing.  Check LinkedIn to see their history.  Have they previously been in liquidation/receivership/banned from being a director?  Many unscrupulous companies deliberately go out of business to avoid their obligations for warranty and customer support, so it’s important to see how they have performed in the past.

Check for reviews.  Google reviews are usually a good place to start, BUT they can be faked sadly.  Solar Quotes has a list of installers and reviews, but note that not everyone uses Solar Quotes as this is a paid service for installers and some don’t need to pay to get work.  Just because they aren’t on Solar Quotes doesn’t mean they aren’t a great installer.

Check their memberships and affiliations with industry bodies.  Generally all solar installers and retailers are members of the Clean Energy Council and/or the Smart Energy Council.  While it’s easy enough to pay a membership fee, the Clean Energy Council has added another layer of consumer protection by offering an Approved Solar Retailer membership which has some quite significant checks on the solar business before being allowed to join.  So if you see Approved Solar Retailer on the website it’s another tick for the business as they have to conform to much higher policies and business practices.

Ask around.  Ask friends and family or Facebook groups for recommendations, but noting the human habit of not wanting to admit they made a mistake when listening to recommendations.

Make sure your quote is itemized with everything that is going to be installed so you don’t get nasty surprises in the final invoice.  While many installers will use a variety of solar panel brands and most are interchangeable and of a similar quality, there are differences in warranties and performance so get the datasheet of the panels they are going to use and make sure you understand what is being installed.  Inverters are a completely different matter and it is critical that the inverter quoted is installed.  There are a lot of very cheap Chinese brands available and while generally they are okay, they are not built to the same standard or tolerances of the better brands and non-Chinese models.  That said there are genuinely good Chinese inverters at a fair price as well as the European brands, so again this is something to check.

You don’t need to be an expert, but like with any large purchase, asking questions and being an educated consumer is always a good thing if you want to avoid problems in the future.

This might seem like a lot of time doing your homework, but given you are making a significant investment in your property or business and it is going to be there for 20+ years, it’s worth the time to get it right.

Finally, if you want to do your due diligence on us, give us a call or email for more information.  We are more than happy to answer any questions.

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