How To Avoid Buying A Crap Solar Power System

There’s lots of really great solar installers in Australia, but unfortunately also quite a few that perform shoddy work. In this video, SolarQuotes founder Finn Peacock shows some examples of bad PV installations and offers tips on how to avoid winding up buying a crap solar power system.

Solar Panels Installed In The Shade

Finn first shows a photo of an installation taken around midday – and most of the panels are shaded.

“Because these panels are connected in series, one after the other, when one is shaded the electricity through all the panels is reduced. This solar system at midday in summer will be producing bugger-all electricity”.

A company that allows for this sort of installation to occur is best avoided.

Cutting Corners And Costs

There are all sorts of corners that can be cut when installing a system that reduce installation time and costs; but will leave the household with a sub-standard system – and issues you can actually see could be just the tip of the iceberg. It can be simple things that are flags, such as solar panels not correctly lined up.

“This is just lazy.” Finn says. “If they can’t even be bothered to line the panels up nicely, what shortcuts have they taken on parts of the install that you can’t see?”

Finn also shows an example of excess wiring next to an inverter.

“If it’s not as short as possible, if it’s not nice and neat, it’s a really, really worrying sign that again the bits you can’t see; they’ve cut just as many corners.”

In another example of corner-cutting, a rooftop is shown with two solar arrays on different roof faces. Instead of connecting the two arrays by going through the roof below the arrays and via the roof space, wiring through flexible conduit is laid across the roof. It looks horrible and there are other potential issues.

“You’re exposing that flexible conduit to really harsh UV for maybe 25, 30 years – I don’t think it’s going to last.”

Finn then shows a photo of silicone being used to seal the end of conduit containing wiring, instead of it being terminated with a component known as a gland.

“Again, it looks shit and it’s not going to last,” he says.

Avoiding Crap Installers

Finn advises one of the best things you can do to avoid winding up with a crap installation is to type a solar company’s name into Google followed by the word “whirlpool”. Whirlpool is an Australian forum that covers many topics, including PV.

Product review sites should also be checked – for example, SolarQuotes features tens of thousands of ratings and reviews of Australian installers.

“Look at the worst reviews of each solar installer. All solar installers drop the ball every now and again. All solar installers get a grumpy customer every now and again. So they might have low 1-star, 2-star reviews. See why they got those reviews.”

If companies appear happy doing bad work – avoid them like the plague.

Finn cites the recent example of a solar installer that had chopped off a plumbing vent and installed a solar panel over the top. This interfered with the way the home’s plumbing worked and resulted in the toilet overflowing; spilling sewage onto the floor.

“You don’t want to use that solar company.”

Beware Of Very Cheap Solar And TV/Newspaper Ads

In the case of buying the cheapest solar power system possible, the old wisdom of “what you pay for is what you get” can prove very true. Finn also cautions against TV and newspaper ads touting solar energy deals.

“Not all the companies that advertise on the TV and in the newspaper are bad, but there’s a high percentage of them that are – so be super-wary of going for a TV or newspaper deal.”

CEC Approved Solar Retailer Scheme

The Clean Energy Council Approved Solar Retailer scheme is program where installers jump through a bunch of extra hoops and pay a fee in order to gain the status. It used to be a really good scheme says Finn.

“But now, just recently they appear to have let in some really bad eggs.”

He recommends if you want to use Approved Solar Retailer status as a filter, to use it as a high-level filter but still do the other checks.

“I can tell you there are a number of companies in that scheme that I would not recommend to my worst enemy.”

For more tips on avoiding crap solar and finding a good installer, check out Finn’s book, The Good Solar Guide; free to read in its entirety online.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

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