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The good and the bad of solar in Australia: One solar homeowner’s story

Like any other industry, the solar power industry in Australia is not perfect. Sometimes companies do a fantastic job of providing equipment and servicing consumers and sometimes they don’t.

Recently, I was contacted by two different customers who had two very different experiences.

“Mary” (not her real name) bought a solar system a few years ago. She wanted to do her bit for the environment and reduce her electricity bills. She shopped around and chose a company who were very high profile and were offering systems so cheaply, that it seemed like a no brainer.

The system worked well for a couple of years but late last year she notice her bill had gone up quite dramatically.  A quick check revealed the inverter had a blinking red light (never a good sign) but there was a problem – the company who supplied the system had gone broke.

For consumers like Mary, this was lesson number one. Companies who provide the cheapest deals are unlikely to survive and unfortunately Mary learned this one the hard way. “It hindsight, I should have seen it coming,” she said. But like many others, Mary assumed that such a big company must simply have lower costs and they were so prominent that going broke didn’t seem likely.

Now in Mary’s case, there was a saving grace because when the company went bust another company stepped in and bought up the remnants. Mary even got a re-assuring phone call telling her that they had taken over responsibility for everything including warranty.

So, when Mary’s system failed she contacted the new owners. She was told that a warranty claim would be put in for the inverter and would take about 6 weeks to process. After 7 weeks and no follow up, she contacted the company – who by now had changed trading names. Mary called again and again and again, pretty much getting the run around and being promised return calls which never came.

Fed up, and losing savings every day Mary called Consumer Affairs. This got the phone ringing but it turned out the warranty claim “had probably never been put in”. The inverter company was subsequently contacted but were allegedly not responding to calls or emails from the supplier.

Mary was also stunned to learn for the first time that for things to proceed, an electrician would need to come and confirm the problem was with the inverter and that she would be charged $198 for this to happen.  With little choice, Mary agreed, the electrician came to site looked at the inverter and said “yep, it’s broken” and handed her an invoice for $198. Oddly, he also warned her that he was not confident that a warranty replacement would proceed.

This is lesson number two for solar consumers. Read your warranty terms and conditions carefully and understand what you are and are not covered for. A cheap deal usually excludes all sorts of things.

Unsure of what to do next, Mary got on the web and phoned us for some advice. Luckily, within a few minutes we were able to provide a local phone number for the inverter manufacturer (provided by Solar Choice staff). Mary contacted the manufacturer directly and was assured that a new inverter would be delivered within weeks.

Luckily, Mary looks like she is going to have a working system again, despite the poor quality product she was supplied and the woeful support of the company who took over.  Consumers can protect themselves from this type of unscrupulous behaviour by looking for companies who have a strong track record and history in solar power and are signatories to the Clean Energy Council Retailer Code of Conduct or the Australian Solar Council’s Solar Gold program. It is important to read the detail of the terms and conditions of any offer you get and to accept that good quality service comes at a price.

Either way, Mary didn’t deserve the treatment she got and in particular the poor service from the company who took over. A complaint has been lodged about their poor service and with any luck, consumers will not support them.

On the other hand, there are cases where solar companies do respond well and in our next edition, we’ll tell the story about how well things can go when a good company is involved.

© Solar Choice Pty Ltd 2014

Nigel Morris

Nigel is one of the foremost solar energy analysts in Australia, having worked in the industry for over two decades.
Nigel Morris

Comments

  1. A very unfortunate but likely story on the topic of dodgy solar installation jobs. Sometimes the cheapest provider isn’t always the best.

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