Don’t Make these 10 Mistakes When Buying a Solar Power System

1. Buying the cheapest – because it is the cheapest.

If a solar system seems too cheap to be true, then it is probably is!

Here are 4 ways they get the price so low:

a) The solar company is buying absolute junk panels and inverters on the spot market in China

b) The solar company is paying the subcontracted solar installer half the going rate. i.e. $500 instead of $1000 for a 1.5kW solar system install. The solar installer has no choice but to cut corners to do it so cheaply! Remember: Installing solar is a 3 person job that takes at least half a day per system and requires lots of training, equipment, consumables and insurances.

c) The solar company has no intention of putting money aside for ongoing customer service or warranty issues. It has no intention of honoring warranties a few years down the line (they may have a complex company structure so they can do this totally legally!).

d) The company has no interest in going to the expense of  surveying your roof, evaluating your solar potential, or electricity usage patterns.

2. Buying the first solar system you are quoted on because the sales guy is such a lovely chap or the TV ad said the “Offer Ends Tomorrow!!!”

Please – always get at least 3 solar quotes!

 3. Insisting on an Off Grid System because it is “going back to nature”.

Unless you genuinely live miles from the nearest grid connection, please do not go off grid! The economics are insane compared to a grid connect system and, rather that being all sustainable and green you are actually going to be using all sorts of evil chemicals in your huge battery bank that Mother Nature will certainly not thank you for.

4. Using precious Solar Electricity to power your electric water heater.

If you have a conventional electrical hot water system and Solar PV, then here is the convoluted process you are using to make your water hot:

a) The sun is hitting the solar panel and being converted to DC electricity

b) The DC is converted to AC power

c) The AC Power goes to your electric water heater and heats up a kettle element.

d) The kettle element draws about 3kW of power to heat the water. A 3kW solar system in December 2011 costs about $10,000 after rebates.

 

If you have a solar hot water system (cost after rebate in December 2011  is about $2500) then this is what happens:

a) Sun shines on solar water heater panel

b) Water heats up

As you can see it’s kinda crazy to use solar electricity (instead of solar heat) to heat your water.

 5. Not getting a shade analysis if you have any shade whatsoever on your roof

How can you possibly assess how much shade will affect your solar system by simply looking at the roof on a single given day? The sun changes position throughout the day and throughout the year and the geometry of it all is really fricking complicated!

Do yourself a favour – don’t invest your hard earned cash without a proper shade analysis. Find out exactly how to analyse your roof for shade here.

6. Buying an enourmous inverter, just in case you might want to upgrade how many panels you have at some point.

Unless you are certain you will buy more panels in the next 12 months (and you have the roof space) then this is just an upsell that is completely pointless.

 7. Using your best north facing roof for your solar swimming pool heater.

Solar pool heaters have no ROI, they are expensive and don’t last very long. Don’t waste your best solar roof space on them. If you have to have them, then please stick them on your East or West facing roof. Or alternatively just harden-up and swim in not-quite-so-warm water! Or get a pool cover for a fraction of the price.

8. Skipping the Energy Audit

Every dollar you spend on energy efficiency will reduce the size of the solar system you need and save you $5 on solar electricity . Nuff Said.

Do your own energy audit here:  It really is not rocket science!

 9. Spending thousands of $$$ on extra solar panels instead of a few hundred dollars on some wood.

Don’t put lipstick on a pig. If you have unshaded north facing windows and a solar system, then all your solar energy (and then some) will go to feeding your airconditioner to keep your home cool. Buy some wood and shade those windows (and design them so they still let in winter sun!) and you will need a much smaller solar system to kill your bill.

 10. Waiting for the “next big breakthrough” before buying.

If you think that the next big solar breakthrough is just around the corner…then I really hope you are correct, but as with all technology, every breakthough is followed by an even better breakthrough. If you had the same attitude to computers you would never have bought one, because a better, cheaper, faster one will always be available next year.

 

About Finn Peacock

I'm a Chartered Electrical Engineer, Solar and Energy Efficiency nut, dad, and founder of SolarQuotes.com.au. My last "real job" was working for the CSIRO in their renewable energy division.

Comments

  1. P Morrissey says

    Hi there, buying cheap because it is cheap, if it is cheaper than well known, generally well priced brands, there has to be something wrong, very correct in the above post regarding cheap panels are cheap because corners have been cut Future Sustainabiltiy have a great page with excellent pictures about cheaply manufactured panels comparative to high quality product… find it here: http://www.futuresustainability.com.au/what_is_a_quality_solar_power_panel

    [ Disclosure: Patrick works for Future Sustainability 🙂 ]

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