STEP 6: Getting Quotes

Components Summary | The Good Solar Guide Contents | Finding Good Installers

The fact that you have started to read a chapter called ‘Getting Quotes’ tells me that you’ve decided solar power is for you. Now we get to the pointy end. It’s time to go out and get quotes. To prepare you for that, this step will arm you with the following knowledge:

  • The five types of solar installer: who to avoid, and who will be most likely to deliver a system that makes you happy.
  • Three different ways to find three reputable installers to give quotes.
  • Whether you should invite the quoting companies to your home before getting the quotes.
  • What a good-quality, comprehensive solar quote should include.
  • Terms and conditions to look out for.

Making sure you understand these five things is the best way I know of ensuring you get a well-installed, reliable solar power system that gives you the savings you expect.

Types of solar installers

In my experience, there are five types of solar installation company in Australia:

  • Type 1: Crap solar
  • Type 2: Cheap but decent solar
  • Type 3: Happy medium
  • Type 4: Expensive (craftsperson)
  • Type 5: Expensive (rip-off)

Obviously, I recommend avoiding Type 1, crap solar, and Type 5, rip-off solar. Types 2, 3 and 4 are the ones I try really hard to refer through my website, SolarQuotes®. Each of those three types suit different buyers.

If you want a budget system with no frills, you live in a metro area and you have a straightforward installation, Type 2 could be the best match.

If you want a good mix of quality and price, a non-standard install and some extra functionality, Type 3 is probably better for you.

Go for Type 4 if you want the best quality and cutting-edge special features (like batteries, advanced monitoring, micro-inverters or hot water diversion), an in-depth consultative sale and a really well-planned install. Ditto if you have a difficult roof or a sensitive home (like mine – it’s made of straw!). You should get a diligent installer who has the time to do everything just as you want.

Let’s go through each type in more detail.

Type 1: Crap solar

In my opinion, a company that sells crap solar has the wrong values. Because they have the wrong values, their only point of difference is price. They’re in a race to the bottom.

This infects their whole culture. They buy crap hardware if it is cheaper, they’re relentless in trying to sell you their systems (you’ll get pestered on the phone to buy), and their installs are unlikely to be done with the care and rigor that a high-voltage electrical system on your family’s roof deserves. Their customer-unfriendly warranties often breach Australian Consumer Law, but they get away with it because most consumers don’t know their rights.

Guess what? I don’t recommend these companies, and I do everything I can to avoid working with them.

Type 2: Cheap but decent solar

When I first got started in the solar game almost ten years ago, there were three price levels for solar-power systems: cheap, midrange and expensive.

To get a decent system, well installed with good after-sales support, I strongly counselled people looking for good value to go midrange. The cheap stuff inevitably cut corners, and the companies generally shirked their responsibility to support you if things went wrong down the track.

As the solar industry has matured, I’ve seen good companies come on to the scene selling cheap (but not the absolute cheapest) systems that are well installed, using reputable, big-brand panels and inverters, and supported if anything goes wrong.

This new breed of cheap solar company offers cheaper-than-average pricing by being ruthlessly efficient in their operations and offering a no-frills but professional service.

They’re not for you if you want a long conversation with the installer or designer, lots of options to choose from, a complicated install, advanced features or plenty of hand-holding to get the most out of your system once it is up and running.

This type of company could work for you if:

  • your house is a simple layout
  • you live in a large metro area
  • you want a decent solar-power system of a standard 3, 5, 6 or 10 kW size, and
  • you’re happy with a Jetstar-style experience over Qantas

The trick is to differentiate the good-value, cheaper-than-average guys from the bottom-of-the-barrel, absolute cheapest companies that are likely to disappoint.

Here’s how, in my experience, a reputable company can sell at lower-than-average prices:

  1. They have really efficient operations. The larger companies may achieve this through investing in an IT system and business processes that make sure their processes are repeatable, efficient and consistent. Or smallish companies with low overheads may have been doing this thing for ages and run like a well-oiled machine.
  2. They often import their solar panels directly from the overseas manufacturer by the container load instead of through the manufacturer’s Australian office. This is legitimate – as long as they’re importing the panels approved for use in the Australian market and they’re not ‘grey’ imports14. To be safe, these panels must be a big brand name, like the ones mentioned in the last chapter.
  3. The disadvantage is that you only have one point of contact for your warranty, because the importer is also the solar company. If the solar company goes under, it will be much harder to claim on the panel warranty than if they were imported by an independent, third-party entity.
  4. They quote over the internet using satellite imagery of your home. This saves on the cost of an initial home visit.
  5. Their prices are based on simple jobs. Usually, that’s up to two roof areas, without any shading issues, on a conventional roof.
  6. You don’t get much choice of solar panels or inverters.

Usually, they offer only one or two brands.

Expect a professional – but not time-consuming – personal service. Their business model does not allow for lots of hand-holding.

At this pricing level, look for companies that have been around for years. This shows that their overheads are sustainable. New, cheap solar companies often hit the wall when they realise their margins don’t cover their real-world overheads.

Type 3: Happy medium

These guys set their prices at a level that allows them to run a sustainable business and still offer the following:

  • A home visit and a discussion of your exact requirements.
  • Simple consumption monitoring and on-site shade analysis to get a good estimate of your savings.
  • A choice of solar hardware.
  • Consideration of any special features, including:

– advanced monitoring

– hot water PV diversion

– batteries – now or in the future, and

– tricky or sensitive installs

Basically, this type of installer is more Qantas, less Jetstar.

Type 4: Expensive (craftsperson)

These guys are real craftspeople, and their installs should be impeccable, with every attention to detail. They only work with the best and most expensive brands (often only LG or SunPower panels).

If you’re thinking of storing electricity, they’re usually all over battery technology, standards and configuration. They’ll be happy to come back to their installs many times to make sure the battery-control software is fine-tuned to your consumption and the seasons, maximising your battery savings.

If you want a really special system with the best hardware, killer performance per square meter of roof, bespoke features and an install that could sit in an art gallery, then these guys are a first-class choice.

Type 5: Expensive (rip-off)

These guys tend to have a business model that’s based on you only getting one quote – so you can’t see how expensive they are for what you’re getting.

They often employ the industry’s most persuasive salespeople, and they prefer exclusive appointments – through either door-knocking or annoying unsolicited phone calls from their pushy (usually offshore) appointment setters.

Expect the hard sell from these mobs – and know your rights.

For these guys, maximising the sales commission is the name of the game. The higher the price they agree with you, the bigger the commission. To make matters worse, they often sell midrange or even really cheap, no-name hardware to make those margins even fatter.

Avoid these guys. Especially the door-knockers.

How do you find the good guys? Research is the key.

14Learn about grey imports here:

Components Summary | The Good Solar Guide Contents | Finding Good Installers

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