ATTENTION: IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR THE CHEAPEST POSSIBLE SOLAR SYSTEM – DON’T BOTHER READING ANY FURTHER
Solar power systems have been around for a while now and it’s pretty much accepted that they are a proven means of reducing your electricity bills.
For most people, buying a solar system is a bit like buying a car: you want to avoid the rubbish that is going to give you problems as soon as you start it, but you need to avoid the expense of a Rolls-Royce. And if you are offered a car that comes with optional extras like a dashboard display written in Klingon: that’s great, but how much extra are you willing to spend on features you don’t really understand and are unlikely to ever use? Most of us are looking for a car somewhere in the middle that is a respected brand, good quality, the right size for our needs, has good after sales service and is a fair price.
The problem for most people is that while they understand what they want or need in a car, they really don’t when it comes to a solar system. We are constantly bombarded with conflicting information: solar is good or bad depending on which politician or radio gob you listen to, particular brands are high or low quality depending on what a particular supplier has in stock, and the system size and features you need are often dictated by how ruthless a salesperson is.
At Tropical Energy Solutions we have heard it all over the years: the unrealistic promises of suppliers, the bizarre claims of our politicians and the frustration of customers trying to get an understanding of what they need and what it should cost.
So, sticking with the “buying a car” theme, here are a few tips that might help:
Price – Like a car, with solar you get what you pay for. A good quality residential solar system of around 6.5kW of solar modules and a 5kW inverter should cost between $5,000 – $8,000. If you pay less than this you may be getting low quality components or the contractor engaged to do the installation may not be getting paid what they should to do the job properly, leading to poor workmanship. We have also seen many companies come and go, making a smaller profit because they don’t intend on providing any after sales service.
Quality – When we have to change solar panel brand (usually due to supply issues) we look for panels that are being used in large solar farms. These people don’t muck around, they only use high quality panels. We believe solar panels belong in one of three broad categories. At one end there is the absolute rubbish that you don’t want anything to do with. At the other end are the very high quality panels. They are good, but you may find that the cost increase outstrips the quality increase. In the middle there are a whole heap of brands that are good quality and reasonably priced.
When it comes to inverters I will just say that the Austrian’s are doing an exceptional job and the Italians are doing pretty well too.
Google is your friend here, jump online and do some research. Look at the brand websites, not just the retailers, and try to find large scale projects where their products are being used.
Like a car, there is a cost/benefit decision that needs to be considered regarding how much system performance you are willing to compromise compared to how much getting the next model up is going to cost. Monitoring your solar system at an individual panel level is great, but it costs a lot more, and you only get the benefit if you do actually monitor it. If you are the type of person who measures the pressure of individual tyres on your car on a daily basis, you may well enjoy doing the same with your solar system.
Go local – You will just get better support when you purchase a system from a local company who has a long standing and close working relationship with an installer than you will from a company that uses backpackers in a call centre and the first electrician they call on the list that has time to complete the installation. Like buying a car, you want to deal with people you can talk to face to face.
Make sure you are talking to the right person – When you have a problem with your car you want to speak to a mechanic about it, not a salesperson. It should be the same with solar. Clean Energy Council (CEC) accredited System Designers and Installers have a certificate and ID card that shows their qualifications. Ask to see it.
Every site is different – If you buy a solar system over the phone/internet, or the salesperson who comes to your house doesn’t check and measure your roof space and meter box, or analyse your energy usage, they have no idea if the system will fit, if additional work will be required, or even if what they are selling you is the right system for your needs. Would you buy a car from someone who tells you it’s perfect for you but has no idea of what you will be using it for?
Solar systems that are sold without showing or describing the brand or model – Like buying a car, just don’t do it. I don’t think I need to say any more here.
If this all sounds a bit complicated, that’s because it can be. But, if you choose a local and qualified company, and do a little bit of research on the products they are using, you are well on the way to purchasing a good quality system with after sales support that will reduce your electricity bills for many years to come.