Don’t Become A Lost Sheep In A Field Of Wolves:

The Top 7 Mistakes People Make When Buying Solar Systems

By Finn Peacock – Chartered Electrical Engineer, Ex-CSIRO, Founder of SolarQuotes

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1) Putting off buying solar because you are waiting for batteries to drop in price

There are a lot of reasons to buy a battery. If your main goal is to save money, any honest solar installer will give you the same advice: They’re not yet at a price point where the raw economics stack up for most people.

At the moment, a Tesla Powerwall battery system will cost you around $15,000 to install and will save you, absolute best case, $900 per year.

Meaning – it will take at least 15 years to pay itself off. Let alone save you any money. And it’s warranted for 10 years.

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.

2) Not getting multiple quotes

I swear this isn’t a shameless plug for the free service that my website provides. It’s absolutely critical to get multiple quotes wherever possible (and not just when it comes to solar!), as some unscrupulous installers are still going around charging people $15,000 for a $5,000 system. 

By having multiple companies give you a breakdown on how much solar will cost you, you can gain a real understanding of whether solar is right for your budget, and whether or not you’re being ripped off (in either price or quality).

3) Being unaware of how the ‘rebate’ works or how to calculate paybacks from solar

Another big mistake that I see people make comes from their (mis)understanding of how the solar ‘rebate’ and feed-in tariffs (what you’re paid for sending excess solar energy back into the grid) work.

I explain in greater detail here, but to summarise, the solar ‘rebate’ is a federal government financial incentive and the feed-in tariff is a state government financial incentive.

The main misunderstanding about paybacks from a solar system comes from one of two erroneous beliefs:

#1: People think that having a decent-sized solar system means that not only will they never have to pay an electricity bill again, but they’ll also get a fat cheque in the mail every quarter from their electricity companies.

This generally only happens if you were lucky enough to sign up to a 40-60c gross feed-in tariff 10+ years ago.

With net feed-in tariffs hovering around 3-15c per kWh mark around Australia, the days of a solar system being a license to print money are in the past.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t significantly reduce your electricity bills with solar – I was still able to get a $33 power bill for a 6 person household.

#2: “The only benefits of solar are what your electricity company prints on your bill.” 

Most people don’t realise that the true benefits of a solar system are ‘invisible’ – that is, not written on your bill – and don’t understand that paybacks for solar systems are faster than what they initially seem.

4) Not knowing what protections you’re entitled to under Australian consumer law

This may come as a shock to some people, but you shouldn’t believe everything a salesperson says!

Almost every week I hear from someone that a solar installer told them that they need to have their systems serviced once every two years (or more) in order for the system to stay in warranty. 

This is bollocks. Speaking as a chartered electrical engineer, good-quality solar systems should only need to be serviced once every 5 years.

If you have a slimy salesman telling you that you’ll need to pay some kind of ‘maintenance fee’ to keep your panels in warranty, show them the door.

Another tactic that dishonest salesmen use is to assure you that your solar systems will have a 25 year ‘performance warranty’, to make it seem like any problems that befall your system will be covered under this apparent 25-year warranty.

Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case. Solar panel manufacturers may try to wriggle out of this ‘performance warranty’, by claiming that any defects in the panels fall under the ‘panel product warranty’, which is most commonly 10 years. 

In reality, there are actually four separate warranties that you get with your solar system – the ‘performance warranty’ being one of them. The other three are for your inverter, the panels themselves, and the workmanship. In terms of warranty, what you really want to look for is:

  • A 10 year warranty for your inverter.
  • A minimum 10 year product warranty for your solar panels (A handful of panel brands do come with a bona fide 25 year product warranty – don’t confuse this with the less valuable performance warranty which is almost always 25 years.)
  • A 5 year warranty for the workmanship – this covers the racking, cabling, etc.

Check that the warranty is backed by an Australian Entity. I’ve seen cheapo deals where the Chinese manufacturer’s warranty states that the owner has to post the panels back to China at the customer’s cost to get them tested!

If you’re looking to get quotes for solar from installers within our trusted network, that are looking out for your needs (and not just their own wallet) then simply click here to start the process

5) Not asking the hard-hitting questions to separate the solar installer wheat from the chaff

The only thing shonky installers hate more than an ACCC investigation is a customer who knows their stuff! With knowledge comes power, and if a shonky installer realises that you know solar, their ability to rip you off just took a nose dive and they know it.

Always, always, always independently verify information, whenever possible. There are numerous resources available to help you verify what solar salesmen tell you (the Whirlpool forums are one of my favourite sources of such information), but if Google can’t help you, I will. Just shoot me an email here.

6) Not knowing what size system is right for your home

This one is easier to solve because most reputable solar installers will sit you down and analyse your electricity use before they provide you with a quote.

They will ask you what your financial goals are and how much you’re willing to spend in order to accomplish those goals – because it’s not as simple as purchasing a solar system size that matches your energy usage. Installers will also be able to tell you what maximum system size is allowed for your home in your area.

These days, the biggest sizing mistake I see is that people’s systems are actually too small!

7) Thinking that because your roof doesn’t face the optimal direction or because there’s some shade on your roof, solar isn’t worth it

This couldn’t be further from the truth! Solar panel efficiencies have reached the point where, even if your panels aren’t facing north, you only lose 10-15% of your solar system production – which means that the system is still well worth the investment.

In fact, depending on the time of day you use your electricity, it may make more sense for your solar panels to face east or west (for morning or evening heavy electricity usage habits, respectively). I go into greater detail about this topic here.

There you have it! The top 7 mistakes people make when purchasing solar systems.  

If you’re considering installing solar panels for your home or business, SolarQuotes can help you get quotes from high-quality installers quickly and easily:

About Finn Peacock

I’m a Chartered Electrical Engineer, solar and energy efficiency nut, electric car and e-bike owner, dad, and founder of SolarQuotes.com.au. My last “real job” was working for the CSIRO in their renewable energy division. Since 2009 more than 600,000 Australians have used my site to get quotes for high quality PV systems from pre-vetted solar installers.

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