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SolarQuotes FAQ's

The most common questions I'm being asked about solar right now.

Last Updated: December 13, 2016

Buying Solar

We do not, and have never, made outbound (sales) calls pushing solar. We only want to organise quotes for you if you come to us because you are considering solar and are at the stage where firm quotes are the next logical step.

The only customer phone calls we ever make are to customers who have either used our service to get quotes (in case we need to clarify something about their quote request) or have sent us an email requesting that we call them and answer their questions about solar.

If you do get one of these calls it will be from Finn, Rob or Jonathon. Real people who understand solar. Once we have processed your quote request - you will be called by a maximum of 3 solar companies that we trust that match your requirements. These should be genuine local solar salespeople or installers. If any of them ever use an overseas call centre, we want to know! That is not the experience we want for our customers. You can see the experiences we do expect here.

Unfortunately, we know there are companies working through the whitepages with badly trained (usually overseas) call centres trying to recruit people to get quotes. They often give misleading information ("Rebate just announced!", "Rebate Ending Soon!" etc.). Some of these mobs are even claiming to be from SolarQuotes - which unfortunately happens because we are the biggest solar quoting website in Australia, so unscrupulous companies have a lot to gain by affiliating themselves with our good name.
If you ever get unsolicited phone calls from these companies pushing solar, we recommend you ask that you be placed on their "do not call" registry and hang up.

As of December 2016, approximate prices for good quality solar panel systems (Tier 1 panels + quality central inverter), fully installed, are:

  • 3kW : $4,000 - $6,000
  • 5kW : $6,000 - $9,000
  • 10kW : $12,000 - $16,000

Note that these prices also include the discount from the 'solar rebate'.

Costs can increase if you need a switchboard upgrade or other electrical work to make your home suitable for solar, or if the design of your home makes the install more difficult. If you decide to go with micro inverters over a central inverter, costs will also increase by approx 20-30%.

Adding battery storage (for an off-grid or hybrid system) will also increase costs.

If you're quoted much less than these price ranges by a solar salesman, chances are they're cutting corners somewhere or using inferior quality products to deliver a lower overall cost. So, be wary!

There is a much more detailed answer about solar system pricing here.

There are two approaches to system sizing:

Approach 1: The solar-lover. Just bang as many panels on your roof as you can fit. You know solar is a good thing, and if you are going to get solar installed you might as well cover your roof! That was my approach, and my last bill was $33.

Approach 2: Common Sense. You want to maximise the financial return from solar, and get the system size that will give you the optimum return. How to do this is a long answer. It depends on how much electricity you use and even more crucially when you use that electricity. I explain the concepts you need to know about careful system sizing here.

If you want a solar installer to do the maths for you, then you can get 3 independent quotes (with your paybacks calculated) here.

The short answer? No.

The long answer: With net feed-in tariffs averaging around 8c per kWh, it simply makes little economic sense for anyone who only uses electricity at night to install a solar system.

If you install batteries as well solar can make a lot more sense (because you charge the batteries during the day and then draw electricity from them at night instead of from the grid), but if no one in your house is home during the day, then solar just isn't worth it for you.

Be wary of any solar installer who knows that you only use electricity at night and still tries to sell you a system anyway!

Despite the hype about solar battery storage, any honest solar installer will give you the same advice: Batteries will not pay for themselves - yet.

At the moment, a decent amount of battery storage will cost you around $10,000 to install, and will take about 15 years to pay back. Most battery systems have a 10 year warranty.

You do the maths.

Unfortunately, all the hype in the mainstream media about batteries has made people question the viability of solar without batteries - to the extent that people are waiting for 'affordable batteries' before they invest in solar.

But even though the cost of solar battery storage is projected to decline year-over-year, it makes no sense to wait to get solar.

Every day you don't have solar is another day you do have to pay high electricity bills. A well designed solar system without batteries can give you tiny bills.

Waiting 2, 3 or 4 years for batteries to become affordable means another 2, 3 or 4 years of high bills.

One day, batteries will make lots of sense - and when that day comes they can easily be added to any existing solar system using a method called AC coupling. 

So don't lose years of savings waiting for cheap batteries to arrive.

Consider going solar now - with the knowledge that you can easily retrofit batteries later when they will pay for themselves - not before.

The 'solar rebate' as a concept is tricky to describe. I go into detail about the 'rebate' here.

You may well remember the furore last year when the Renewable Energy Target (RET) was almost scrapped by the Abbott government. In fact, it was saved by only 1 vote in the senate.

If the RET had been scrapped the solar rebate would have gone with it, and solar would have increased in price by about 40%.

The current legislation means that the solar rebate will start to reduce by one fifteenth every year from Jan 2017 until it drops to zero in 2032.

However, this could all change very quickly depending on the outcome of the double dissolution election we are about to have.

If the Turnbull government wins both the upper and lower houses - then I believe it is highly likely that they will introduce legislation to kill the RET and wipe out any solar rebate.

Just to be clear - no one knows what the outcome of the election will be or what legislation a new government will pass. But you may want to consider getting a solar system sooner rather than later if you believe a newly elected Liberal goverment would try and kill the RET if they had the opportunity.

I’ll be up-front and concede that the heyday of solar (with its 60c gross feed-in tariffs) has passed, but this does not mean that solar can’t significantly reduce your power bills – it simply means that having a solar system on your roof is no longer a license to print money, but rather a license to save money. To prove this, I recently got a $33 quarterly power bill for a 6 person home, even with a measly 8c net feed-in tariff. You can read how I get such a low bill here.

The installation company should do this for you. Paper work sucks - so leave it to them.

Yes - First off he needs an Electrical Licence. In some states he also needs a building licence. If you are claiming the solar 'rebate' then the person installing must be Accredited by the Clean Energy Council to install solar. There are 2 levels of Accreditation: On-grid and off-grid. Your installer needs the latter if you have decided to go off-grid. Also, the design of your solar system must be done (and signed off) by a CEC accredited Designer. Ask for the design document with this signature.

If you want to go with a non-accredited installer, and are not claiming any 'rebates' (AKA STCs) you can, but I would not recommend it.

The CEC only accredits individual installers (the actual person). It does not accredit companies and never has. All installers (the individuals) must be accredited. All the installers who are employed by the top ten are accredited. You can ask them for their ID to prove it when they come to install.

Companies who employ accredited installers often display the "CEC Accredited" badge, adding to the confusion.

Any solar company can join the CEC as a member if they pay a few thousand a year. These companies can use the "CEC member" badge on their website.

In the last few months the CEC has launched a 3rd scheme called the 'Approved Solar Retailer'

As you can see, not many companies are approved yet as it is quite a lot of hoops to jump through. Those that are in the scheme can display the 'CEC approved retailer' badge!

If an installer (the person) performs a substandard install, you can complain - if it is serious he/she could get their accreditation (and possibly their electrical licence) revoked.

You are covered by Australian Consumer Law, and the Australian Standards if the work is not to standard.

And if a solar company in the SolarQuotes network does a bad job, they get a phone call from me which usually results in a quick resolution! Thankfully I don't have to do this very often!

I’ve taken some serious flak for having this opinion, but in my humble view, off-grid systems are not (at this point in time) worth the expense if you have access to the traditional grid - for reasons I outline here.

However, for all those people out there who just picked up their pitchforks and torches, please put them down! There’s a middle ground that can keep us both happy: hybrid solar systems.

You get all the benefits of an off-grid system (being able to store and use electricity so you can keep your energy bill as low as possible), without the drawbacks (running out of electricity because of a cloudy day or particularly high energy usage). I go into detail about hybrid systems here.

No, you didn’t hear me – I may live in the city, but I want to go completely off grid, and no amount of reason will dissuade me from my crusade to cut the electricity company umbilical cord, even if I have to spent hours in the dark waiting for the sun to come back up.

Well, I wish you the best of luck. It is a free country, and it's your money.

Solar Panel Quality

A Tier 1 solar panel is a panel that is made by a manufacturer that has been rated as Tier 1 by a reputable independent PV industry analyst.

Tier 1 is the highest (best) tier, and means that the analyst who ranked it believes that the manufacturer scores well on lots of criteria including:

  1. Experience
  2. Financial position
  3. Manufacturing scale
  4. Deployment scale
  5. Durability & quality
  6. Technical Performance
  7. Vertical integration
  8. Insurance and backing
  9. Service and support

I always recommend that non-solar experts buy Tier 1 panels - as it is a simple way to filter out the junk being sold as "Top Quality".

I have written in detail about Tier 1 rankings here.

Not necessarily. For example, you need to be a very large company to become Tier 1. Lots of little 'boutique' solar manufacturers make excellent panels but will never be classed as Tier 1 as they don't ship enough volume.


Eh? So why do you recommend only getting Tier 1 panels?

Because unless you have deep knowledge of the industry, you won't be able to judge if the small panel manufacturer is a top quality boutique manufacturer or absolute junk being shipped to Australia because no one else will touch it.

If you insist on Tier 1 panels, you know you are getting a well regarded brand with good support, good quality control and warranties. If you don't insist on Tier 1 you are alone in the dark!

Ask me. My contact details are here. Email is best!


Why don't you publish a comprehensive list online so I don't have to bug you?

You don't wanna talk to me? I'm sad now :-(

But seriously, Tier rankings are published by a very small number of independent solar industry analysts and, due to the effort and importance of the information, rankings are generally not openly published but rather are sold as industry intelligence

My list cost $4,000, and if I put it online the author will kill me! Just shoot me an email. I will reply.

If you do find a list online it is is probably both out of date and based simply on the opinions of the author. It is highly unlikely to be a based on a rigorous ranking methodology from an independent solar research house.

I've created a chart here which represents over 90% of the panel brands being quoted in Australia today. Every brand on this chart is a brand that, in my opinion, I'd be comfortable installing on my roof. 

Please note that this chart is not comprehensive, and there will be some good brands out there that I haven't put on the chart - but again, if you get a quote for solar today, chances are very high that you'll be quoted one of the brands from the above chart.

If you've been quoted a brand that isn't on this chart and you're seriously considering it, please feel free to email me to ask my opinion.

Good quality solar panels can be expected to last upwards of 20-25 years. If the quality of panels is particularly high (and they’ve been properly maintained), an installation can last up to 40 years.

Solar Panel Technology

The short answer: Functionally, they're almost identical. There’s no need to worry about differences in performance between mono- and poly- crystalline panels. The longer answer is here

Solar battery storage is something that has been on the fringe for most household solar owners in previous years, mainly due to the cost of batteries. There are a number of benefits to having a battery bank attached to your solar system, however - mainly that you can store excess electricity that your panels generate during the day for use at night, instead of selling it back to the grid.

The fuss that you might have heard lately revolves around Tesla Motors announcing their new PowerWall battery pack, which is a lithium-ion battery pack that has significantly pushed down the price of battery storage.

However, the response from competing battery storage companies has been fierce - which we detail in this post.

In our opinion, the popularity and hype around the Powerwall is the result of Tesla's great marketing efforts, as the battery itself does not particularly stand out when compared to other lithium-ion battery storage products.

Inverters

The most important thing is that the inverter is in a shaded spot. Direct sunlight will reduce its lifespan. A cool garage is best.

The installer should also try to place it as close to the meter as possible - to reduce voltage drops (and efficiency losses).

However, if you have to choose between a shaded location and being close to the meter, being shaded is more important.

Your installer can make up for a larger distance to the meter by simply using thicker wire to reduce voltage drop. The loss in this cable should be less than 1%.

I go into great detail about micro inverters here.

To summarise (in case you don’t particularly feel like reading a page of text): Micro inverters are roughly 25% more expensive than central inverters, but they have a wide variety of safety and performance benefits that make them worth the extra cost for many folks.

Yes, it is OK under the CEC guidelines to have 33% more panels than the inverter is rated for. I actually think you should be allowed to have as many as you like because it does not harm the inverter, and oversizing can produce heaps more power in winter and on overcast days. There is a great article on this by the esteemed Matthew Wright here.

I've created a chart here which represents over 90% of the inverter brands being quoted in Australia today. Every brand on the chart is a brand that I think will perform well, but I will point out that, in my opinion, it's very much worth it to spend extra on a premium inverter over a budget one.

Please note that this chart is not comprehensive, and there will be some good brands out there that I haven't put on the chart - but again, if you get a quote for solar today, chances are very high that you'll be quoted one of the brands from the above chart.

If you've been quoted a brand that isn't on this chart and you're seriously considering it, please feel free to email me to ask my opinion.

Upgrading Existing Solar Systems

Not to be the bearer of bad news, but if you're currently enjoying a generous feed-in tariff, upgrading your solar system may mean that you forfeit it and are forced onto the new, smaller one. It is often possible to avoid this though by upgrading the right way. I explain how here.

Now for the good news. Yes! Upgrades are eligible for the solar 'rebate'. i.e. your upgrade cost will be discounted by the value of the 'rebate'.

(Don't get the solar 'rebate' confused with the Feed In Tariff. They are totally different things)

Using And Maintaining A Solar System

I have a detailed  blog post on solar panel cleaning here.

But the short answer is: You will probably never have to clean them. They should self clean in the rain.

The exception to this is:

1. If your panels are flat.

2. You live in a very dry area.

3. You have a really stubbornly soiled panel due to moss, dead possums, particularly sticky bird poo etc.

If your solar production does drop - then there may be something on the panels that requires cleaning. The best way to find out is a visual inspection.

Safety warning…

If you don’t feel confident on the roof and poking around near electrical wiring, get a professional; solar systems produce deadly voltages. Many window cleaners are now trained to clean solar panels, and solar panel cleaning companies are springing up all the time. I pay $4 per panel to have mine cleaned.

Cleaning solar panels yourself can be a little tricky – they are up on your roof, after all! This means that proper safety precautions must be taken (including, but not limited to, a safety harness) if you want to get up onto your roof to clean the panels yourself.

If you DO want to be a cleaning hero and get up there yourself, all you really need is warm water and dishwashing soap to remove any dirt or grime – clean the panels like you’d clean your car.

In terms of cleaning frequency, you should only need to clean your panels annually (unless flocks of birds happen to see your panels as a particularly attractive bull’s-eye!)

Properly installed, quality systems should only require an inspection every 5 years – be wary of dodgy installers who claim that you need maintenance performed every year or two in order to stay in warranty!

Yes – but with greatly reduced efficiency. Expect your panels to only produce 10-40% of their rated capacity on an overcast day.

An important thing to keep in mind is that, when considering if solar is right for you, you should be looking at how much sunlight your home will get over the course of a year, not on any one particular day.

In fact, many locations around the world with the highest rates of solar installations aren’t known for their abundance of sunshine (Germany, for example).

If it is overcast today our whizbang solar panel forecast tool can show you what you should be getting (approximately).

Getting Quotes For Solar

When a review in our review database is published by someone who doesn't want their real name used, "Anon" (short for "Anonymous") is the default name given.

Note that we still verify the reviewers name and contact details before they can publish a review.

Easy - just click here and fill out our short form, and you'll get your free, no-obligation quotes from installers I trust within 48 hours.