So just how do you choose a good, let alone the best solar installer? In this video, we’re going to come up with a list of questions you might ask before you start.
So let’s start with a variation on an old joke. What’s the difference between a solar installer and a used car salesman? At least a used car salesman knows when what they’re selling won’t work.
Solar industry in Australia is not only booming, it also didn’t really exist just 10ish years ago. What’s happened recently is that getting into solar is seen as a great way to get rich quick. And just like with the pink bat scheme last decade there are lots of people looking to make a quick buck out of solar with no concept or even interest in whether what they do is right for a customer.
Believe it or not, the solar installer and solar retail industry is almost entirely unregulated with pretty much anyone able to set up a solar business overnight. All it really takes is a flashy looking website, some slick sales talk and a bunch of product logos.
You’ll see that generally the newer and less experienced they are, the more likely they’ll be promoted as Australia’s leading/number one solar company. Installing solar for over 10 years guaranteed performance, industry leading warranties 20 years combined experience, personalised system design and quote and so on and so on. In fact, all the claims that are real, reputable and committed solar company could make.
So how do you tell them apart? Before we answer that, let’s start with some basic facts that everyone should know before buying solar. A recent audit by the Australian National Audit Office, ANAO found that one in six solar installations were sub-standard and additional reports showed that 30% of customers reported problems with their solar company.
Even the Clean Energy Council recently found that an incredible one in five solar systems were deficient or defective. Worse, New South Wales, Fire and Rescue put out 30 house fires in one three month period alone last year. All caused by non-compliant solar installations. The scary part is that not all dodgy installs use cheap products. Even the best products installed poorly can fail to perform or at worst, be a fire risk.
On top of this, is the fact that solar technology has changed so rapidly in the last five or so years. The designing, installing and managing a smart solar system today, requires more than just a good electrician.
So what should you look for in an installer? There is lots and lots of stuff on the internet about this. All of it promoting vested interest, of course. But in our experience, there are five major areas to look at.
One, licensing and accreditation. Two, what’s the business focus of the installer? Three, experience and track record. Four, reputation and customer feedback. And lastly, what happens when something goes wrong? I’m going to talk about each of these as that may help you with your decision. I won’t talk about Solaray and how we go with these until the end of the video but please watch to the end to find out.
So let’s look at licensing and accreditation. This may sound easy, but believe it or not, there are many, many companies selling solar and storage systems that did not even have a license to do so.
In all States in Australia, anyone, a person or a company selling solar must have a Contractor’s License, from Fair Trading in New South Wales energy saving Victoria, Electrical Safety Office in Queensland and so on.
If you do buy a solar system from a non-licensed person or company you may end up not being legally covered for warranty or damage, including fire. Perhaps even by your own insurance company or if they just take your money and run. This is the first thing to check on. Oh and watch out for traders claiming they’re working under someone else’s license, this is illegal and doesn’t give you any protection at all. All state licensing bodies have an online search where you can check licenses. So, please make sure you do that first.
Also, watch out for clients that solar systems are installed by a CEC accredited installer. This doesn’t mean anything as all solar systems in order to claim the rebate must be signed off by a CEC accredited installer. It has nothing to do with quality or expertise. There are good CEC accredited installers, bad ones, cheap ones, great ones. And those that got their accreditation last week. Not to mention ones that sign off an installation without even attending the site.
Also, the CEC accreditation is focused on the correct installation standards quite rightly and not only overall technology. So even having a great CEC accredited installer is only a small part of what it takes to have a well-working functioning solar system. So you can pretty much ignore this.
There is also a program run by the Clean Energy Council called the Approved Solar Retailer program. At a very minimum, you should only buy a solar system from someone who’s part of this program, as it does require some very basic quality standards and consumer protection.
Unfortunately, this program whilst a good step in the right direction is only a small step as it is quite easy to become a part of this program with no guarantee of experience or quality. However, it’s the only one of its kind at the moment. And so be an important part of your decision making. Similarly, your installers should be a member of the Clean Energy Council, Smart Energy Council and so on.
So let’s talk about business focus. Solar and storage technology today is compared to even just five or so years ago, like a modern smartphone compared to an old wall phone. Today’s systems are all internet connected, usually have great software that helps you manage your household energy and often with the ability to configure themselves to optimize your solar and storage along with your usage and your lifestyle.
It’s therefore important to make sure the solar company you choose has experienced and skills in today’s technology. Not only how to install it, but also how to configure it deal with any software and technology issues that may arise. And most importantly, manage it long into the future. Gone are the days where the design and installation of a solar system simply required a good electrician.
Today, a smart solar system requires much more than just the installation of the products themselves. Now don’t get me wrong. All solar installations need good if not great electricians with lots of experience in solar and storage, of course they do. It’s just that the installation itself is today smaller although very important part of the entire process. So choose a solar and storage company that not only has solar and storage experience, but also has the technical skills and support staff on staff to ensure your system is not only installed properly, but will continue working over its lifetime.
Experience and track record. There’s a lot more to checking your company’s experience than just to look at customer reviews, more on customer reviews in a minute. So make sure you watch till end. But first, why is experience and track record so important?
Well, there are a few reasons. Firstly, as we just spoke about today’s solar and storage products are highly complex and a lot can go wrong.
Secondly, all solar and storage products have long long warranties and they’re only as good as the company you’re buying them from. Whilst a company having been around 10 years or more doesn’t mean they’ll be around for another 10 years. It’s at least a much safer bet, the one that started up in the last year or so. And will jump onto the next, get rich quick opportunity.
Thirdly, there are lots and lots of mistakes that need to be made with solar before you can claim to be good at it. Let alone the best. Trust me, we’ve made them all. One of the many hundreds of important lessons we’ve learned over the years is just what we need to do and how much it costs to support the systems we sell over a long period of time.
Most, if not all, new solar companies believe they install a system and that’s the last they have to do with a customer. It’s only a few years later, they work out the real cost of this and often sadly, that they can’t afford it. And that’s the last we and their customers here from them.
So check that company’s details on ASIC, a simple online search. Check their GST registration on abn.business.gov.au and check how far back any search results on Google go. You should be able to see all comments and reviews dating back years for most companies.
Also, watch out for new companies with claims of 20 or 50 years combined experience and so on. As well as companies that have an old trading name but a new company registration.
So, let’s talk about reputation and customer feedback. You should always check a company’s reviews and reputation before buying. But this can be tricky because the internet today, thrives on customer reviews and lots of internet companies make lots of money from reviews.
The way this works is reviews are today usually placed or hosted on websites that aren’t owned by the provider of the goods or services. This makes sense because across all industries, companies have been caught many times putting up glowing, false reviews about themselves. So whilst you do need to check reviews it’s worth bearing the following in mind. Google reviews are often reliable, but there is nothing to stop competitors placing negative reviews on their competitors pages as there is no validation process.
Also, watch out for review sites that carry advertising on their review pages. We’ve been told by some review sites that the way to have bad reviews removed is to spend money on advertising with them. Not exactly an independent service.
Also, watch out for review sites where they make their money out of collecting your details and selling these details onto others. So you can get free quotes for example. If they make money from the companies being reviewed there’s a strong conflict of interest and that interest by definition, can’t be that of you, the customer.
So, look for reviews on sites where the reviews are validated and the site hosting the reviews doesn’t make money out of those being reviewed. Next to impossible we know, but we do live in hope.
Lastly, never buy from a company that doesn’t have any negative reviews. If company is good and really tries to look after their customers, they are going to make mistakes. Make sure there are only a handful of negative reviews not lots, but watch out for those that seem to be perfect.
Which brings us to, what happens when something goes wrong? Once you’ve been through all the above, what you need to know is what happens when something goes wrong. Remember no one and no company is perfect and mistakes do happen.
Also, products do fail every now and then less so with the good ones, but it does still happen. So make sure you ask questions like, “Who do I call if there’s an issue? Is it just the general number? Do you have a debt? Do you have dedicated support staff? Do you use call centres? And if you do, where are they physically located? Do you have an IT system that tracks and manages any customer service issues? And can I get reports from it?”
You could also ask for the name of the manager in charge of customer service or support and look them up on LinkedIn, to gauge their experience. Of course, you’ll usually get acceptable answers to these questions. So, just be on the lookout for glib responses. You’ve really got to trust your gut with this one.
So these are the five key things that we believe everyone should look for when choosing a solar and storage supplier. So let me just take another few seconds of your time to compare us, Solaray Energy, to these criteria.
One, licensing and accreditation. We’re fully licensed in every state we operate in. Of course, we’re a member of all major industry groups. We’re a CEC Approved Solar Retailer and are committed to the long-term ethics and growth of our industry.
Two, business focus. Solaray has focused on smart solar and storage almost exclusively for the last 10 or more years. And we believe have the industry’s leading expertise with technologically advanced solar and storage systems. The business was founded in the decade before last by seasoned IT and technology professionals.
And over the years has invested significant money and time into our support and service not just sales and installation. We have tens of thousands of systems installed and we still today service all of them.
And we have been awarded the top installer of the year, every year for the last five years by two of the industry’s best suppliers, LG and Enphase. And believe me, we have to work really hard for our customers to achieve that.
Experience and track record. I’d like to say our track record speaks for itself. So please go and look it up for yourself. We have developed technical practical and support expertise across all the major solar and storage technology platforms. So we know what works well, what works just and what narrow opinion doesn’t work at all. This expertise is all applied to our current, past and future customers.
Reputation and customer feedback. After doing what we’ve been doing for so long, we do have a great reputation. Check our reviews. The most important independent site we use is Trustpilot and you will see our words and promises are backed up by our actions, and what happens when something goes wrong. So, we can’t promise you when you buy from us that nothing will go wrong but we can promise you, that it only happens rarely. And if it does, we’ll do everything we can to make it right. A promise we have been delivering on now for many, many years.
I hope all this has helped. There’s clearly a whole bunch of information you need to consider, once you have decided to invest in a solar and storage system, by checking these five key areas and asking the right questions you can help protect yourself from disasters.
Of course, if you do have any questions feel free to contact us. We’d be happy to help.