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10 Things You Should Know Before Getting Solar

Author
Tom Sedgwick
Updated at
Reading time
3 min

In our day to day conversations with people looking to buy solar, we speak to a lot of homeowners who are looking to replace or upgrade their existing system or who have had solar at a previous residence.

And we’ll be honest – some of them have regrets about their first solar purchase. Often this stems from poor product selection, poor installation or just misinformation and confusion.

Or worse, they are like one of old our customers who moved to a new house recently that already had solar and a battery (yay!), only to discover that (as he so delicately put it):

‘The app is crap. The call centre is not helpful. And the user book is not helpful either. How am I meant to get the best out of this system when I don’t know what it is doing and I cannot get any support from the retailer or manufacturer?’

Because he had previously had a good solar experience with us, he knew what he was missing out on at the new place (boo!).

Getting solar is a big investment, so it is only natural to want to get it right. To help, we have compiled a list of some of the most common ‘things I wish I had known before I got solar’ in the hopes that it will flag some potential issues or questions you should be aware of when you are talking to installers about going solar.

1. That Bigger is Better

'That the figures on what each size system will generate are typically based on a sunny day. Had I realised the annual projections didn’t account for overcast days or poor weather conditions, I would have gone for a bigger sized system.'

Beyond just accounting for poor weather conditions, when helping people size up a system, we often encourage to ‘oversize’ the system slightly to allow for increasing power usage as homes continue to electrify more appliances and with the electric vehicle roll out on the rise.

If you’ve got the budget for it, it is often better to get a bigger system upfront, than it is to add additional panels to your system later as it keeps costs down (less labour and lower product prices). It will also work towards off-setting your night-time usage (if you don’t have a battery) and reducing the cost of your daily usage charge on your power bills.

66kW-LGNH-Cordeaux-Heights-Very-old-generation-panels-also-in-the-photo

LEARN MORE: System Sizing Info Hub

2. Realistic Expectations About Savings

‘My solar quote featured some wild figures about how much I could expect to save. My system has not lived up to them at all. I’m still happy I went solar, but I would have budgeted differently had I had more realistic expectations about the financial benefit I was going to actually receive.’

Every solar quote must include a page that breaks down estimated yield for the year, greenhouse gas emissions and your potential quarterly/annual savings. But not all output pages are created equal.

It is important to check what figures the calculations on these pages were based on. Typically estimates are based on North-facing panels, and should always be based on your city or state. They should also state the power prices that were used to do the estimates, so that you can compare to your own rates. 

We tend to base the quarterly/annual savings estimates on 70% usage of your solar power. Each individual’s usage will vary – for some it may be higher, some it may be lower – but it helps to set you up for a more realistic expectation on the potential savings and payback periods.

3. To Watch Out for ‘Bait and Switch’

'At the last minute before my system was installed, my installer called to say that the panels I had ordered were out of stock, but that they had been able to source some replacements that were just as good. I found out the hard way, the replacements were not as good.’

It is unfortunately not uncommon for less reputable installers to do this to take you from a higher quality quoted product and then switch you to crappy cheaper products so they can save money and still charge you the same amount. 

Sometimes, substituting a product is actually necessary, so it isn’t something to be afraid of, just to be aware of. If your installer calls to say a substitution is required, don’t be afraid to say that you aren’t comfortable signing off on the product change until you have had time to confirm that it is a fair and reasonable substitute. Then just do your homework on the new product to ensure that you aren’t getting ripped off.

Watch out for Terms and Conditions that say that they reserve the right to swap out products for an ‘equivalent product’ as this is the loophole they will use to try and get away with it.

4. That Panel Level Monitoring Exists and Why It is Helpful

'I wish that my mum had checked that a system monitoring app was A) available and B) included in the quoted price. I have an app but had to pay extra afterwards to have this add-on, and my Mum’s system has no monitoring capabilities at all. We have no idea what her system is doing until a bill arrives.’ 

Being able to monitor what your solar system and battery are doing is a great way of staying on top of your system and electricity bills. Monitoring essentially enables you to keep the manufacturers honest about how their product will perform – because you can see it in real time if it isn’t!

Installations with Enphase microinverters and Tesla Powerwalls come with their monitoring apps as standard. Both of their apps provide an amazing level of transparency for what your system is doing at any given time, which helps you to get more out of your system.

SolarEdge systems with DC Power Optimisers have system-level monitoring available as standard, but you can purchase an optional upgrade from SolarEdge directly once installation is complete that will give you panel-level monitoring. Panel level monitoring is especially useful to check that all your panels are performing consistently.

Lots of string inverters come with a basic level of monitoring – but here is why panel level monitoring matters:

If one panel is underperforming your system will overall perform marginally worse. This could be accounted for simply by the weather, so you could go for months or years without knowing there is a problem. If you have panel level monitoring, you can easily see if one panel is not up to scratch and can investigate from there to get the issue resolved and get your system back on track.

Enphase App

5. Properly Understanding the Available Financial Options

‘I did not realise that 0% interest payment plans just have their fees built into the price. Even though I paid my solar off early, I didn’t get any financial benefit for this as the fees were loaded upfront.’

Repayment Calculator

Solar can be a big investment upfront, even though it will pay itself off over the coming years thanks to your reduced power bills. Not everyone can afford the upfront cost, which is why most installers will help make finance options readily available for their prospective customers.

Please note: The following information is not intended to be financial advice, just an overview of the main options currently available in the industry.

Interest-free payment plans or ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ options have exploded in popularity in recent years. But a lot of people don’t realise that interest-free does not mean fee-free. As one of our team puts it, ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch.’

With BNPL, the fees are built into the purchase price, and you then just pay it off over a set number of years. It is not uncommon for the fees to come in at over 20% of the purchase price. The main advantage of these is that they require little documentation when applying and often get approved same day.

The other common option is Green Loans, which are fixed rate personal loans but often at a reduced interest rate. These require a little more documentation during the application process and can take a few days to get approved. You can usually select a 2 – 7 year loan period and if you pay it off early, you pay less interest!

Others opt to add their solar costs onto their mortgage, so that they can secure the lowest possible interest rate. However it is worth noting that unless you work to make extra repayments to wipe out this additional loan amount, you will often end up paying much more in interest over 25 years than you would have with a higher interest rate Green Loan for just 5 years.

The best option will depend on your personal circumstances, so we encourage you to do your homework and shop around to determine the right financial option for you.

Calculate your potential Green Loan repayments:  Brighte Calculator  OR Plenti ‘Get Your Rate’

6. Future-Proofed for Expansion and Battery Ready

‘I definitely wish I had gotten a bigger system upfront. And one that was battery ready. Because I had a string inverter, it is turning out to be a lot more expensive to add additional panels than I would have thought, because they are having to add a whole other string inverter.’

Some people get a bit of a surprise when they go to get a quote for adding additional panels to their existing system. It is never just a case of ‘adding 4 extra panels’ to your roof. The quote will also include the cost of the labour and the additional inverter products.

If you think you will want to expand your solar system later, it can be worthwhile asking questions about how your inverter product would work for future system expansion, and is your solar system battery ready?

A lot of people are surprised to discover that their solar system is not compatible for adding a battery. We’ve known for many years that battery uptake was going to grow exponentially, which is why all the smart solar systems that we install are with products that are battery ready.

The moral of the story: If you think you will want to add a small number of additional panels to your system in the future, you may find that it is more economical to do it now, even if you need to finance the additional costs to make it work. You’ll start getting payback on the extra panels immediately, and the cost of having the extra panels will be significantly cheaper than if you have them added on later.

7. Why the Product and Performance Warranty Matter

'Whilst I bought quality panels, I ended up getting ones with a 15-year product warranty and 25-year performance warranty over the more expensive panel with the same brand that came with a 25-year product warranty. This decision was based purely on cost, because our power bills weren’t particularly high. But I know I plan to live in this house for decades and my kids will likely be power-hungry teenagers in the years to come, so why didn’t I pick the product with an extra ten years and better performance on the warranty?’

If you’re looking to live in your house for an extended period of time, you may be better suited to spending the extra money on higher quality products if it means a better return on investment in the future. Sure a cheaper system may pay itself off quicker, but if it won’t give you the same level of performance over time and/or it fails in 7 years time and you lose your original investment, is it really the smarter financial choice?

Not all panels and inverters are created equal, so it is important to weigh up the pros, the cons (and the costs) when deciding which solar system is right for you.

Q Cells Performance Warranty QM QB REC

Not all panels and inverters are created equal, so it is important to weigh up the pros, the cons (and the costs) when deciding which solar system is right for you.

8. What’s the Go with My Roof and Cleaning Panels? 

‘I should have renovated my roof before putting solar panels on and not after, such a hassle for me and my bank account.’

If you’re planning to do any roof renovations it is highly recommended that you do it before putting panels on your roof as taking off solar panels is A LOT harder than putting them on (not including the price of removing them). Whether your roof is tin, ceramic or sheet metal, installers should have the appropriate brackets available in order to correctly install the panels on your roof without damaging it or leaving any holes in your roof. 

With cleaning your roof, if the panels collect dust or dirt, they are designed that when it rains, the rain will clean the panels and remove the dust/dirt that may have gathered on them. With some of the heavier grime that may collect on your panels, it may be dangerous and unsafe to clean them. It is recommended that you clean the panels from the ground and avoid trying to stand on a ladder with a hose and a brush as it can be quite risky. 

9. The Benefit of Installing East and West-Facing Panels as Well

‘I should have installed some panels on the East AND West-facing roof to take advantage of the afternoon daylight too!’

SolarEdge

In the Southern Hemisphere, North-facing panels will naturally get the most sunlight exposure across the day, followed by North-East and North-West facing panels. East and West-facing panels will do a good job of catching the morning and afternoon light respectively, but will be more significantly impacted by the shorter periods of daylight in the cooler months.

East-facing panels can be particularly useful for charging a battery quicker to be used earlier in the day, whereas West-facing panels are more beneficial if you are looking to utilise your solar power directly later in the day.

A lot of panel decisions do come down to your roof and personal circumstances (e.g. are you looking to just fill your roof), but this is something you can discuss with your installer to ensure you are making the right choices for your home.

10. That Having an Installer with a Local Office and Buying Products with an Australian Office Matters

‘When my system stopped working, I had trouble tracking down the original installer as their contact details had changed. Then when I finally managed to reach someone, they told me to call the manufacturer. When I finally managed to get through to the manufacturer (who was overseas), they told me to talk to the installer as they didn’t have any staff in Australia. So frustrating!’

These kinds of stories are all too common, which is why we always encourage people to ensure that both the retailer (who you buy the system from) and the manufacturer (who makes the products) have an Australian-based (and locally staffed) office.

Tammy Working

Having a retailer with a local office is beneficial as if you have any problems arise with your system or the installation, there is a single point of contact for you to deal with and this streamlines the process to get these issues addressed in a quick and timely manner. 

They will then go and liaise with the manufacturer on your behalf to ensure that any warranty issues are resolved. Manufacturers with Australian-based offices demonstrate a commitment to the Australian market and are better placed for managing any warranty issues. (We’ve heard stories of a Chinese manufacturer whose warranty terms stated that the owner had to ship panels to them in China at their own cost just to get them tested!) This is why we only work with brands with Australian offices.

How Do You Avoid Having Solar Regrets?

This one is simple – do your homework. Research your retailer/installer. Research your products and their manufacturer. Ask around.

No one likes regrets (or expensive power bills) and that is why it is important to have all the correct information when making a decision for an investment such as solar. It is also why we pride ourselves on our reputation of no high-pressure sales, just helpful advice – because we are committed to helping people navigate the minefield of misinformation and avoid the shoddy products and shoddy workmanship that is unfortunately still all too common in our industry.

At the end of the day, you want your panels looking slick, your system running smoothly, and your power bills slashed. And we want that for you too, so if you want to have a quick chat so we can answer any of your lingering questions or worries about going solar, then we are here to help.

Call us today at 1300 525 451 or fill in your details below to request for a solar or home battery storage quote today to see how much you can save!

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