Solar power is considered one of the best ways to reduce your household’s power bills. There are now millions of solar systems installed across Australia and for most households, it is a great investment that will significantly reduce your power bills.
But unfortunately, not everyone plays by the rules, which means there are certain tricks and solar panel rip-offs that you need to watch out for when looking to install solar power.
An Important Warning About The Solar Industry In 2020
The solar power industry is in a price war at the moment. Due to everything that is happening in the world, we are seeing a number of solar installers dropping their prices to win business.
You would think this would be a good thing, but it’s turning into an absolute disaster.
There are two main types of systems being discounted:
- The best possible brands (such as LG Solar, Enphase etc.) discounted by $1000 or more compared to the industry average
- The cheapest possible brands are being sold (typically a ‘6.6kW system with tier 1 panels’) for under $4000 – you can read about the dangers of ‘Cheap Solar’ here: A Warning About Cheap Solar
1. The Hidden Crisis: Cheap Quotes On Quality Systems
The Australian solar industry is currently plagued with dodgy operators who are leaving their customers with faulty systems that cost thousands of dollars to fix.
When we say faulty systems, we aren’t talking about a solar panel underperforming slightly. It’s way worse than what most people would imagine.
We are getting dozens of calls a week at the moment from people desperately looking for help to get their system fixed. The bad news for many of these households is the money it costs to fix a dodgy install is typically thousands more than the money they saved by going with the cheapest quote.
Here is a recent example from July 2020:
“I went with one of these systems this year:
1. They flat out stole the “free” pannels
2. After providing me with a plan (requested because I saw on Product review that they had sold systems that did not fit), the installer knew nothing about the plan and just did the job off the cuff.
3. It was not working when they left
4. The installer just threw the “dongle” into the garden, when he vanished
5. I was screamed at down the phone at by the saleswomen when I very calmly and politely advised I was not going to pay for a system, that could not be installed, for plans that were wrong and I wanted it addressed.”
John S. Mount Kembla
Installers Are Hiding Behind Brand Name Products
Dodgy installers are hiding behind big brand names such as LG Solar. They will discount the price by over $1000 compared to the industry average, but they will then claw that money back by cutting corners. Examples of this are biding the install out to inexperienced sub-contractors and running away from any post-installation support.
We are regularly asked by the larger manufacturers to help out with service jobs where the customer has tried to get help directly from the manufacturer.
We have heard of multiple accounts from people who call us looking for help where these installers run their business through a mobile phone so that they can block the calls of upset customers.
How To Avoid A Dodgy Install
Although there is growing pressure for the CEC to clean up these dodgy players in the solar industry, unfortunately for now it is buyer beware.
The good news is it has never been easier to find a reputable installer. Manufacturers are partnering with the industry’s top installers as well as recognising the best of the best with awards.
Continuing with the example of LG Solar panels, Solaray Energy is one of a handful of installers that are Platinum LG Solar Authorised Energy Specialists:
We have also recently been recognised by LG Solar as the best installer in the country:
It takes a bit of time to research the top installers of the products you want on your roof, however conducting your due diligence can save you thousands of dollars, not to mention the time and stress of having to deal with an installer that won’t help you if something goes wrong.
2. Be careful of salesmen who are trying to sell door to door
We do not have an issue with this practice, in theory, however over the years we have come to see the same tactics used over and over again. One of the biggest issues is that the salesperson will typically be on a commission-only payment arrangement, and so they may be more likely to say absolutely anything to get a sale.
Our Team are constantly having to educate people who have been misguided, and some of the things we hear almost defy belief, such as “this solar power system will replace your power bills”, or “rebates are about to end, and that prices across the industry are about to go up”.
Our general advice is never to sign a contract without taking your time to do proper research, and contact us if you would like to price check a quote – we find that a lot of prices that have been quoted by a door to door salesman are significantly more expensive than they should be, often by many thousands of dollars.
3. A system with a 4kW inverter is not always a 4kW system
In order to make a system appear like a bargain, we have seen advertisements selling the size of the inverter rather than the output of the system.
You must ensure you are not buying 6 panels and expecting the output of 16. Let’s be clear, an inverter does not generate power, it simply converts D.C. power to A.C. power to be used in the home. Whether you have 6 panels or 12 panels, getting an industrial size inverter will not save you an extra cent off your power bill.
In fact, an inverter that is too large for the system’s output can actually have a negative impact because an inverter needs a minimum amount of power to switch on. A small string of panels may not be enough to do this in low light situations.
This is misleading and against the Clean Energy Council’s Code of Conduct, showing how important it is to choose an installer that is a CEC Approved Retailer.
4. Upgradeable Systems
With a normal solar system, the inverter should be matched to the size of the panel array to ensure maximum performance, however, if you do this, you would typically need to replace the inverter if you want to expand the system.
The only true upgradeable solar systems are those that use microinverters, where each panel is independent of the rest of the array. We are currently selling most of our systems with Enphase technology, and one of the key advantages is that you can add panels in the future without needing to match up the panels to the existing ones. Find out more here: Enphase Micro Inverter Systems.
If the system does not include micro-inverters, you need to be very careful when buying an ‘upgradeable solar system’. This normally entails installing a larger inverter than what you would otherwise need so that you can add panels to your system at some stage in the future; for example a 5kW inverter with a 3kW panel array.
We generally would not recommend you buy an ‘upgradeable’ solar system with an oversized inverter, because:
- You will have 2 sets of installation costs, one for the upgradeable system and then one to add additional panels
- Adding panels to an existing system requires matching the new panels with the old ones. As technology progresses older panels are hard to source from Australian wholesalers. For example, we are currently getting a number of enquiries from households with existing systems trying to find 220W panels, but unfortunately, in many cases, we have been unable to source them. Most manufacturers have moved onto 310W-370W panels and they are not willing to ship a pallet of outdated panels to Australia at a competitive price, in fact, most of the time the smallest shipment you can order is a container.
- Australian safety standards are constantly updated, and when we upgrade an existing system we need to bring it up to the current standards. If the system is more than a few years old, it can cost around $1,500 to replace the cables and upgrade some of the hardware, making it prohibitively expensive to expand an existing system. In most cases we would actually install a new system alongside the existing one, making it pointless to have an oversized inverter on the first system.
- Because of this please keep your own interests a priority, and don’t take an upgrade just because it is part of a sale or it seems cheap (or even free). We have often seen companies using larger 5kW inverters for all of their installations, allowing them to in bulk at a lower price. At face value it may seem like a good deal to get a larger inverter, however, an oversized inverter will not work as well as it should if an under-sized panel array is not generating enough voltage, and so your system can under-perform until you add the additional panels.
Want to learn more about how solar power can reduce your power bills?
Be sure to ask an installer if their quote includes absolutely everything. We will always put it in writing that our quote is an all-inclusive figure, and if there are any issues that need to be investigated we will book a site inspection for you before the scheduled installation.
It is important to read the fine print and at the very least get an agreement in writing before you sign a contract. Be sure the following is included in your quote:
- Your roof type
- How many storeys your house is
- Access to the roof. (it is not uncommon to need a cherry picker if you have 3 or more storeys)
- Split arrays across two or more roof sections
- Cathedral ceilings
- Tilt frame for panels on a flat roof
- Travel charges
- Full installation including the mounting of the panels, inverter and cable runs
- A service check post-sale to explain how the system works and ensure it is running smoothly
6. Long Waiting Lists for Installation
You should not have to wait more than 6 weeks for your installation. If a company can’t get their act together and have your installation booked for a date within a month or two, it would be wise to ask why and proceed with caution. Even during the busiest months of the year, our lead time for installation is typically around 4 – 6 weeks.
7. Unusually high deposit
We ask for a deposit of 10% for our residential solar systems, which is the industry norm. We know of companies trying to secure more than 50% and even up to 80% for a deposit and then delaying the installation date, perhaps while the directors finish up their holiday in the Caribbean. In reality, it may not be a scam, but if you are asked for more than 10% as an upfront deposit it would be wise to proceed with caution.
8. We Can’t Install Your Solar Until You Get a Roof Restoration
Some solar companies have ‘close ties’ with other industries or have diversified into these industries. This is a great business decision if they can make it work for them and their customers, but that does not mean you should bend to their rules so that they can sell you more than one product, especially if you don’t want it or need it.
If you want a roof restoration, perfect. Get a quote for that as well as a solar system and see if you can get a deal, but please note that it is very rare for our installers to walk away from a job because the roof needs restoring. If you have a salesman saying he can’t install a solar system for whatever reason, get a second opinion. We only do solar power and we have no close relationship with companies in other industries. The Solaray Team would be happy to provide further advice and a site inspection if needed.
9. Don’t Get Ripped Off
We have seen quotes in this industry that are so overpriced it defies belief, and unfortunately, it is a matter of ‘buyer beware’. As a part of our product range, we sell the best quality products on the market, so it is absolutely worth your while calling us for a comparison quote, or for advice on the brands you are looking to buy.
If a competitor’s price comes in more expensive than our comparative quote, or our top of the range system, it will probably be over-priced as we not only offer a fully installed price but full replacement warranties, technical support and 24/7 system monitoring on our internet-connected systems.
10. German Made Solar Panels
German companies are renowned for their high standards of manufacturing, and this was particularly true in the solar industry. Buying a German Made panel was a reliable way of ensuring you were buying a quality system. Unfortunately, there are no longer any solar installers making panels in Germany for the Australian market.
There are also a number of companies that associate themselves with Germany (despite not being German at all). These companies are typically manufacturing their panels in China and then misleading consumers with false statements about Germany. Find out more here: The Truth about ‘German Solar’ Panels
11. Do you have a salesman going for the hard sell?
Whether over the phone or during a site visit, companies in the solar industry have been known to push for a quick sale. They tend to gloss over the most important questions such as the brand of your panels and inverter, spend little or no time looking at your energy usage, and then recommend a solar system that is on sale until close of business tomorrow so be quick!
Slow down! Sizing up a solar system and selecting the right components takes some research and advice from someone who is happy to make recommendations without constantly demanding a deposit.
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