There are a hell of a lot of companies offering cheap solar panels right now, and as with all free markets, that is driving down the prices and the margins of solar power installers and suppliers.
The question I get asked the most is this:
“How do I tell if this deal from XYZ solar (which is heaps cheaper than anyone who quoted through your site) is too good to be true?”
So here’s your answer:
Imagine you see an advert for a 1.5kW system, (six cheap solar panels plus inverter) installed for an incredibly low price compared to everyone else. (I’ve seen a few)
Everyone loves the idea of getting a bargain. So is this a great deal or not?
Your first port of call should be to see what experiences previous customers have had. I’ve collected thousands of reviews of almost every solar installation company in Australia. Check out the link to see them in all their uncensored glory.
But back to the super cheap offer, let’s analyse it:
1) They typically claim that you will get a “Fully Installed” system. But a close examination of the fine print may reveal that you must arrange and pay to connect it to the grid yourself with an import export meter from your local electricity distributor…
Now – in many jurusdictions the installers are not legally allowed to do the final grid hookup.
But the good guys will:
a) make this clear to you when they quote, and give you an indication of the extra cost to you and
b) arrange the grid connection for you so that it gets done soon after the install and you don’t have to navigate the bureaucracy of your local energy network.
So beware firms who don’t even mention the grid connection of your solar system!
2) Beware of companies that won’t tell you what brand of cheap solar panels you are getting! One way to keep your prices down is by buying panels on the “spot market” in China – getting the absolute cheapest panels they can. (Don’t get me wrong, some great solar panels come out of China, just make sure you Google the brand and also use this solar panel comparison tool to make sure it is a reputable one. Finally you can see customer reviews of solar panels here.
3) Ditto – inverters, it is a warning sign if they won’t tell you the brand.
4) There may be an extra charge for a pre install inspection.
5) Additional charges may apply for “non-standard” installations…
The full terms and conditions may reveal some or all of the following “extra charges”:
“Additional charges may include:
- Houses more than XXkm from the CBD may incur an additional charge.
- If your roof does not have a sufficient slope there may be an additional charge per panel.
- Your fusebox may need upgrading.
- If you require additional wiring, a surcharge may apply at the discretion of our installers.
- If you have a two storey home, this may incur a cost.
So you could have to pay a lot more that the headline price if: you live more than 50kms from the CBD, if your roof is not between 20 and 45 degrees, you have fuses instead of circuit breakers, you require “additional wiring” whatever that means, you have 2 storeys without “easy access”.
Now most companies will charge extra for more difficult installs. Look for companies that are completely transparent about any extra charges and explicitly identify them before any deal is done.
6) Let’s have a look at some other terms that may exist while we are here:
They may insist that your system is “serviced” every 2 years or the warranty is voided.
So if you don’t get your system “serviced” every 2 years (whatever that means) you are potentially only getting a 2 year warranty, not the heavily advertised “25 Year Warranty” that you see every man and his dog promising.
7) Now let’s talk about what kind of install you could be at risk of getting with super cheap deals. The chances are that they are going to be sub contracting the install. Every installer I’ve asked tells me that the going rate to do this well is about $1000. Ask the solar power company if they subcontract the install, and if they do, how much they pay the installer for the install (If they think that you don’t have the right to know this then move on to another, more transparent company!).
If they are paying closer to $500, then corners may be cut to make that price. What kind of things? Possibly the mounting frame/technique, the wire may not be put in conduit (in which case it will only last a few years in the Aussie sun), the little components that make a big difference to the longevity of the installation may be the cheapest that can be sourced. And when they rock up to your house they probably won’t have a whole lot of time to make sure all the panels are in the optimum position to maximise output.
8 ) You get what you pay for in this world. It is very rare that this rule is broken!