How much should I pay for a solar system?

It depends!

While not the answer you want, there are just too many variables to give a simple answer.  And comparing your quote to someone else’s isn’t helpful without knowing their exact circumstances and the equipment proposed.

This blog will give you some information that hopefully lets you make an informed decision.

A well designed and installed system should last more than 25 years and be an extremely reliable clean power source. Saving some dollars on the installation is very often a mistake that comes back to haunt buyers. When it stops working, you stop saving.

Some questions first.

Do you own your home and intend to stay there for the foreseeable future?  If so then spend a bit extra and get a better quality system.

Is the solar for your business?  With accelerated depreciation and potential reduction in demand charges as well as energy use, a cheap solar system pays for itself in 3-4 years, but a better quality one pays for itself in 4-5 years,  As above, it depends how long you intend staying at the premises.

Do you want/need a battery for blackout protection?  Then consider a multimode inverter even if you delay the battery purchase for now.

Are you going to buy an electric vehicle in the near future?  Oversize the solar by as much as you can afford.  Feed in tariffs have been going down, so putting any excess into a battery or EV is a smart move. Some EV’s have  “bidirectional” battery charging capability that means you can effectively use the car battery in the event of a blackout.

Can you reduce your energy costs easily first?  Do you need help reducing energy costs?  If so see the link at the bottom of this blog.

The most expensive way to go solar is on the cheap.

There is a fair bit of truth in this. You would not expect a Chinese Great Wall Ute to perform as well, or last as long as a Toyota HiLux, or be the same price.  

A cheap Chinese inverter (Sungrow, Goodwe, Solax) wholesale is $1100, a good mid-range (Huawei, ABB, Delta) is $1500 and European brands (Fronius, SolarEdge) $1900.

Most Chinese panels prices are within a few cents of each other (they are usually priced in cents per watt) but there are differences in quality. Acceptable, but slightly cheaper brands include Suntech, Seraphim, Yingli and Risen (costing less than 35 cents per watt).  Mid-range brands include Jinko, Trina, Canadian (it’s made in China), JA Solar and Longi (35-40 cents per watt).  Other brands (LG SunPower) can be twice the price ($1-1.40 per watt). 

If you want Australian made, then Tindo can help but you are paying the same price as the LG or SunPower without the same reputation (90 cents to $1 per watt). 

Note here that some of the more expensive brands offer a lower priced panel with their badge on, but similar quality to the mid-range panels.  However, they still tend to be 20-50% higher priced for a similar product performance wise.  Compare product and performance warranties as these give some indication about the manufacturer’s confidence in their product.

Tile versus Tin Roof makes a difference

To install properly on tile roofs takes even the best installer longer.

Tile roofs are a pain to work on as it’s very easy to break tiles, brackets for panels are more expensive, you have to grind tiles to make them sit flat so it’s more work and more expensive than a tin roof.

Getting up to a 2 storey roof requires a scissorlift and extra edge protection and will generally cost more unless the installer is trying to cut costs and potentially breach health and safety rules.

Even the cable and isolators can vary by 100% because there is cheap that says it meets standards and there is quality that installers will put their reputation behind.

Good initial design is very important for production yield and payback

Shadows at various times of the day require optimisers, $70 extra per panel plus installation. Do you want a good monitoring system so you can see consumption as well as generation (most inverters offer an app so you can see generation only but not consumption), minimum $160.

STC (Small-Scale Technology Certificates – green credits) discount is different in each zone and can be up to 50% more in Zone 1 than Zone 4.  Prices also vary from day to day and brokers charge a fee, so when you see the spot price, that’s not necessarily the price the installer or retailer is paid.

Professional installers versus cowboys

If you had all the car parts from BMW factory to build a new car, and had the choice between an ex BMW engineer to put it together, or the garage round the corner who can do it for half the cost, which would you choose?

Do you want cheap labourers with no training doing most of the work and being signed off by someone who turns up just to say they attended the site? Or do you want an experienced installer who takes pride in their work and has been doing this for 10 years or more?

Don’t even get me started on preapprovals, variations and other potential costs.  But as a guide, below is my checklist for every installation. It takes time and care to make sure things are done properly.

A good installer/designer will take account of all these things before doing a formal quote so they don’t underquote and then have to cut corners to make a profit.

So how much should a solar system cost? 

It depends.

Your best bet is to get a few quotes from reputable companies and compare apples with apples then you will know if you are being ripped off or it’s a fair price.  But always keep in mind you will usually get what you pay for, and the most expensive option long term is usually the cheapest price.

Feel free to contact us for more information on how going solar will benefit you.

If you’re not ready for solar just yet but want to save on your energy costs, we offer a free energy broking service and have saved our clients hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.  Click here for more details.

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