Don’t Become A Lost Sheep In A Field Of Wolves:
The Top 7 Mistakes People Make When Buying Solar Systems
MISTAKE 1 #
Don’t wait for batteries to drop in price before buying solar
Despite the hype about solar battery storage, any honest solar installer will give you the same advice: Batteries will not pay for themselves in 2020.
Typical payback time (years)
At the moment, a Tesla Powerwall battery system will cost you around $15,000 to install, and will take about 15 years to pay back. The unit is warranted to last 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.
MISTAKE 2 #
Not getting multiple quotes
MISTAKE 3 #
Not understanding the difference between the solar rebate and solar feed-in tariffs
People get these mixed up all the time. To keep it simple:
The “solar rebate” acts like a point-of-sale discount off the cost of a solar system, and is claimed on your behalf by your solar installer.
The “feed in tariff” is what your electricity retailer pays you, per kWh, for feeding excess solar into the grid. It pays to shop around, as retailers can pay anywhere from 0-20c per kWh.
If you see prices quoted online, on the telly, or in the paper, there’s a 99.99% chance that the quote price already has the ‘discount’ from the solar rebate applied.
It’s worth about $650 per kW of solar panels installed, but this will vary depending on where you live.
As an example, a 3kW system attracts around $1,950 in rebates.
Anyone can claim the rebate, even if you’ve already bought solar power systems in the past and want to buy a new system.
MISTAKE 4 #
Not knowing what protections you’re entitled to under Australian consumer law
Almost every week someone will tell me that they’ve had a solar installer tell 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 will only need to be serviced once every 5 years, and cleaned once per year.
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 isn’t the case. It’s very easy for solar manufacturers to wriggle out of this ‘performance warranty’, by claiming that any defects in the panels fall under the ‘panel warranty’, which can only be 5 years in some cases.
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
MISTAKE 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
MISTAKE 6 #
How many panels should you buy?
My answer to this question has changed considerably compared to just a few years ago.
This is because prices for solar installation have fallen considerably, electricity prices have risen, and feed-in tariffs (what you’re paid for exporting excess electricity generation) have also risen.
The only limitations now are your budget, what your roof can properly fit, and the amount your DNSP (Distributed Network Service Provider) allows you to install.
For most homes, this means the sweet spot is 6.6kW of panels (approx. 22-24 in total) with a 5kW inverter.
The biggest regret I’ve heard from solar power owners is they didn’t factor in how winter limits electricity bill savings from their system. They wish they installed more panels when they had the chance, as it’s expensive and complicated to add panels later to an existing system.
MISTAKE 7 #
Thinking that because your roof isn’t north-facing, 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.