13 Solar Questions You Must Ask To Weed Out The Shonks

13 questions to ask about solar power

One of the questions that lands in my inbox almost every day is this:

“Hey Finn – I’ve been made a fantastic offer on a shiny new solar power system for my home. It is heaps cheaper than every one else on the market. Is it too good to be true or a genuine bargain???”

Here are 13 Solar Questions to quickly ask either yourself or the solar sales dude  that will help you decide. [Read more…]

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

[Read more…]

How to Spot a Solar Cowboy

By Rich Bowden

OK so you’re almost ready to make that big decision to install solar panels to save on your sky rocketing power bills while doing your bit for the environment. But, mindful of recent poorly-regulated installation disasters (who remembers the Pink Batts saga?) you’re leery of the same type of dodgy operators who may operate on the fringes of the solar industry. Obviously safety and correct installation of panels are two of your main goals and you want to avoid the “solar cowboys” from getting anywhere near your roof.

Easier said than done (I hear you cry). What does a “solar cowboy” look like and how do I find quality solar installers?

Well one way is to seek the advice of an expert and I’ve managed to nail down SolarQuotes.com.au founder Finn Peacock to answer some common questions:

 

Can anyone install solar panels?

Finn Peacock: In theory yes – if you can climb on a roof, drill some holes, assemble the racking, screw the panels on to the racking and connect the panels to the racking, you can theoretically install the actual panels yourself.

But – and it’s a big but, working on a roof is really quite dangerous, and if you haven’t got a lot of experience drilling holes and/or lifting tiles etc, you may regret it when the rains come. Also when the solar panels are being connected up electrically (before they are even connected to the grid) you can have a voltage build up of several hundred volts and that can quite easily prove fatal.

Remember – solar panels will create a voltage even when they are disconnected from anything else – so you really do have to know what you are doing. Also there are certain ways you need to earth and protect the solar panels, which if done incorrectly will either leave you with an under performing or dangerous system, or both. And when it comes to installing the inverter, you start dealing with mains electricity and it is technically illegal in Australia for anyone other than a qualified electrician to do that. So, yes, if you live for danger and don’t mind breaking the law you could theoretically save a thousand dollars or so and go the DIY route. I obviously cannot recommend this though!

 

 

How do I know if a tradesperson is qualified to install solar panels?

FP: Ask them for their CEC accreditation number then go to solaraccreditation.com.au and look them up. Check that they are qualified to install systems. Some CEC accredited people are only qualified to design systems.

  

How do I find a reputable solar installer in my area?

FP: If you’ve got a friend that has got a system and they had a good experience, then find out who did it and get them to quote.

I’d also recommend getting at least 3 quotes to compare that one with, which is why I started SolarQuotes.com.au of course! Just go into the site, add your postcode, fill in the required details and up to three quotes from installers in your area will be made available.

 

What guarantees do I have that the work will be up to an acceptable standard?

FP: The install has to be signed off by a CEC accredited installer, so I’d hang around for the inspection and make sure that he actually has a good look over the system. Also be aware that technically the guy installing the system doesn’t have to be accredited as long as he is “supervised” by a CEC accredited installer. So make sure that the supervisor really does supervise the install (or ideally actually will do the install). There are some known cases where cowboys will leave the apprentices to do the install and just get a CEC accredited installer to sign the paperwork at the end with a very superficial inspection at the end – if at all.

 

Is there an overseeing industry regulatory body?

FP: There is the CleanEnergyCouncil, although some other industry bodies are trying to start even more stringent certification schemes, with AUSES and SEIA leading the charge.

 

Do you provide a rating system for solar installers?

FP: I think the best way to judge any company is to read uncensored reviews by past customers, so I publish thousands of these for all solar companies (not just ones in the SolarQuotes network).

 

 I’d like more information about the types of solar panels available. Where can I find this?

FP: I’ve brain dumped all my knowledge here and I’ve got a really cool solar panel performance comparison tool coming in a few weeks which will be able to be linked to from that page.

 

 I keep hearing that I may be eligible for state and federal government solar rebate schemes. Where can I find easy-to-understand information on this?

FP: I’ve explained the ins and outs of solar credits here and solar feed in tariffs here on the website.

 

Thanks to Finn for taking the time to share this information with us. But have we missed any important questions that you’d like to see answered? Please let us know and we’ll seek to answer them for you.

Also feel free to join in any of our discussions on our FacebookPage.

2 Reasons to be wary of Ultra Cheap Solar Deals

Thanks to Mark for sending these pics in from his “Great Value” solar install…

In a hurry to install this boys?

That might hurt your efficiency…

Installed with love?

4 Ways to Know You’re Talking to a Solar Moron

The title of this blog post is not exactly accurate. “Moron” implies that they don’t know any better. In actuality, most of the people who throw these lines DO know better.

Much better. But they still use these lines because they help them to sell more product. Which makes them much worse than morons. [Read more…]

Got A Shaded Roof? Then don’t buy solar without a Suneye shade analysis.

Shade is the number one enemy of a high performance solar power system.

If your roof has substantial shading between 9am and 3pm then installing solar panels is probably going to be a really bad investment.

If you are confident that your roof roof has absolutely no shading, then solar can be a great investment thanks to the current handouts by the Federal and State governments in terms of Solar Rebates and Solar Feed In Tariffs. [Read more…]

Are you getting the best Solar Panels? The Top 10 Things To Check

the best solar panels

How do you know if they are going to perform on your roof?

There are a bewildering array of solar panel brands out there. How do you sort the wheat from the solar chaff and be sure you are getting the best solar panels for your roof?

My advice is go thru the spec sheet for each panel and judge them on the following criteria.

If you haven’t got a spec sheet, then get another quote!

If the spec sheet combined with the quote doesn’t have the answers, call up the solar supplier and ask. If they don’t know the answers, that’s a bad sign.

The Top 10 Criteria [Read more…]

Don’t Install Solar…Until You’ve Read This

I had a cracking couple of days at Narnu farm, 1hr south of Adelaide, a coupla weeks ago.

We go there with the kids who love it. It’s a hobby farm where the kids can feed the animals and go horse riding and all that good stuff.

As soon as you drive in, you can’t help but notice their 2kW Solar System made up of about 30 60W Kaneka Solar Panels on the roof of the office building.

So is this blog post going to be singing the owners’ praises for getting solar and doing their bit for the planet?

Short answer: no.

Being the grumpy old contrarian that I am, I’ve got 2 big problems with this particular install.

Here’s the first error with this install:

This photo of the solar system (see the panels on the roof on mounting frames) was taken at 10:30 in the morning. Can you spot the problem?

Solar panel shading

The tree on the right is casting a bloody huge shadow across almost all the panels! Ouch!

That’s bad. However my real problem with the install is this:

They have made zero attempt at energy efficiency before or after installing solar.

It is about five times cheaper to perform energy efficiency than it is to install solar to save the same amount of electricity.

So, although solar is a wonderful thing, you should always do everything you can to maximise the energy efficiency of your home or business first.

Here are some examples of really bad energy wastage that could have been addressed with minimal time or investment:

1) They are still using incandescent bulbs! Check out the photo – I haven’t seen these old things in years.

an energy shocker

I counted about 16 of these energy guzzling devices of satan. Let’s do some really simple sums:

Assume each one is on for 4 hours per night (a conservative assumption – I saw lots of them left on all day).

The amount of energy they will consume in 1 year is: 60W x 4 hours x 365 = 87.6kwh per year per bulb = 1401.6kwh per year total.

A CFL bulb will use about one tenth of the electricity of the incandescents, so they are wasting about 1250kWh per year, for the sake of spending about $60 on new bulbs.

That energy that is being wasted is probably close to the amount of electricity generated by 1kW of solar panels – half of their solar system!

Next: Check out the fridges…

They have at least 6 of these antiques.

A modern fridge of a similar size can be had for about $500 and will use a quarter of the electricity!

So for about $3,000 they could be saving about 3000kWh per year. That combined with the bulbs should easily give them energy savings greater than the output of their entire solar system (which probably cost them about $20,000 when they bought it).

Other shockers which should have been replaced are the antique window rattler Air Conditioners and the electric storage hot water systems. The latter is especially crazy for accommodation that is most likely empty for many weeks a year, because you get hot water whether the place if fully occupied or not.

The moral of the story is: Yes – solar is fantastic. But before you get that solar system at least do the most basic energy efficiency measures: i.e. bulbs, appliances, hot water, draft sealing, window shading… Otherwise you are getting a much bigger system than you really need.

A good solar installer will talk you through all this before selling you a system.

Grid Connection of your solar system: should you organise it yourself?

Short Answer: no

If you are buying a solar system for your home, I would strongly recommend using a firm that will organise the new meter, grid connection (including new meter calibration) for you.

Trust me: you really don’t want to try and deal with the electricity companies’ bureaucracy yourselves, leave it to the solar supplier who has done it a thousand times before.

Here’s a story that Gary emailed me yesterday. Basically, even though he paid for the solar supplier to organise the install for him, he ended up organising the final part himself! The moral of the story is: Get in writing a date by which you will be connected to the grid with a fully functioning import export meter correctly configured for billing.

“My wife was a contracts manager for a commonwealth department managing a large staff base with a 26 million annual budget. I have been a businessman, purchasing manager and finally a business analyst with the department of defence.

We foolishly thought we were ideally setup from a competency point of view to analyse the whole solar market.

We needed all this background experience and more, including professional experiences to achieve a successful outcome with solar home generation.

Some additional comments to your questionnaire:

We were very happy with Solar Charge the company that installed our system.

They were not the cheapest, but we believe they were the best as regards quality of components, customer service and qualified careful installing
tradesmen.

But in many ways the acquisition process, selection of a competent cost effective solar company is the easiest part of the whole exercise.

The most difficult parts are-

When we bundled initially with a energy retailer provider, that was a pleasant exercise, 17.9 cents net per KW hour for electricity and a similar outcome for our gas needs.

But as soon as we went to solar all previously contractually agreed bets were off and our electricity charge from the grid from [all retailers seem to be a similar cost] our charge jumps to 29.9  per KW hour from 7 am until 11 pm weekdays. our off peak charge is only 11 cents per KW hour 11 pm until 7 am in the morning.

[note from Finn: this doesn’t have to be the case see here to find a retailer that won’t increase your tariff for getting solar]

So from 17.9 cents per KW hour after discounts jumping to 28 after discounts.

but in someway it gets even harder-

To get our so called smart meter recalibrated to recognise and meter our solar generation was a nightmare from an admin point of view.

I initially was told by our retailer provider that it would take 26 working days to process our paperwork through to our distributor who is responsible for reconfiguring our smart meter.

Solar Charge told us it would cost $136 dollars which they included in their quote.

Our retailer provider told us it would cost $196 and if we wanted to speed the connect up we could pay an additional $50 to get the truck to visit our suburb out of turn so to speak.

When I got rather firm [not abusive at any stage] with the retailer with finally a senior customer service person she said her company’s performance to date was poor and she would husband our paperwork [which Solar Charge had submitted in a timely manner] as quickly as was reasonable.

Which was the case exactly in fact.

The retailer got our paperwork to the distributor in 3 working days, very reasonable.

The large distributor did the reconfiguring in 3 working days [also reasonable] from their workshops and here is the good news, at no cost.

Because these smart meters in my suburb can be reconfigured from their workshops via a computer download.

No visiting truck is required we were told.

[We need to see this in actual reality if true in future bills, I have made a record of conversation regarding who I have spoken to and the undertakings given to me].

Solar Charge has without any hesitation agreed to refund our $136 but after a few weeks period that allows for any unexpected bill arrival from the distributor [they don’t totally believe this is ttrue yet].

*Our solar installation was finalised on the 5 November and our so called smart meter was recalibrated on the 23 November.

All that is reasonable, but it would certainly not have happened without an enormous persistent personal involvement from ourselves.

Speaking to a neighbour living on her own, it took her 9 months [for some months she did not entirely understand the whole process] to get her system connected to the grid from a metering  of her solar power point of view.”

Avoid this experience by getting in writing the absolute latest date at which you will have your system connected to the grid and properly metered.

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