Questions to ask yourself and your solar installer

How much electricity do I consume?

Prior to going ahead with installing a solar photovoltaic system, it is very important that you are aware of your household’s energy consumption. You should be able to attain this information from your electricity bill, where this number will be shown in the form of kilowatt-hours (kWh) or alternatively as units. If this information is not stated, then contact your Electricity Retailer, who will be able to provide it to you. Once you are aware of your energy consumption, you can then compare this against the potential yield of a solar system: As a guide, 1kW of PV will generate 4kW of electricity each day but this will vary depending on your location, the position and orientation of the system on your roof, and the seasons. A Solar Choice Broker will be able to assist in sizing a PV system that meets your needs.

How quickly do you want to see a return?

Obviously, most people will answer, “as fast as reasonably possible”. Most incentives in Australia are net feed-in tariffs, which encourage reducing the amount of energy consumed to widen the gap between what you produce and are rewarded for. A standard rate of return on a smaller system (under 5kW) is usually expected to be under 5 years. On a larger system (5-10kW) the expected payback period is around 5-7 years. Although the initial up-front cost is considerably more, the long-term benefits of these systems far outweigh those of the smaller systems.

How much money are you prepared to invest (spend)?

One objective of investing in a Solar PV system may be to cover your annual bills or at least reduce them. Some individuals simply want to get the most cost-effective system and keep spending to a minimum whilst still benefiting to some extent from the generous feed-in tariffs. Others may want to maximise available roof space and install as big a system as possible with the goal of generating as much electricity as possible. Your Solar Choice Broker will speak with you about your roof to determine just how many panels will fit. Solar energy conversion technology (photovoltaics or PV) has come a long way, and many are investing for sound financial reasons. Returns of up to 18% are achievable. Whatever your aim, Solar Choice will do its best to help you reach that target.

What Government rebates will you receive?

In Australia, two significant financial incentives exist for investing in a PV system and creating solar energy on your home. The Federal Government is responsible for the Solar Credit Scheme, which reduces the full cost of the system and provides a generous point-of-sale discount. This scheme has been designed to taper off over time, so the sooner you purchase your system, the better. Following success in countries such as Germany and Spain, various State and Territory governments in Australia have adopted feed-in tariffs. Under these state-by-state schemes, your energy provider is obliged to buy back the energy you export to the grid at a price equal to or above market rates.

Is your REC/STC (Renewable Energy Certificate) discount locked in from when you deposit?

This can affect the system’s price significantly if it is not locked in. This depends on which Installer you select. Several installers state in their Terms & Conditions that they will incorporate the costs of the REC whether or not this has increased from the time of deposit to installation. However, if this is not stated explicitly,  then it is something to consider as it can potentially affect the final cost of the system upon installation.

Why is this particular system being recommended to you?

Your Solar Choice Broker can discuss with you what system sizes and configurations are possible for your property, and what is available in your area in terms of Installers, panels and inverters, and financial incentives. You can discuss with them your energy usage and how much electricity differently sized systems can produce. Then, based on your budget and priorities they can provide you with a range of options. Ultimately, the choice is up to you.

Will the company quoting on the system also be doing the installation?

The answer to this depends on the individual company.  Some installation companies have teams of their installers who are trained by them and work exclusively for them. Alternatively, installers may use sub-contractors who work for several different installation companies. Just because an installation company uses sub-contractors, this does not mean the quality of work is diminished.  One measure to check is that both the installation company and the electrician/sub-contractor are accredited and certified by the Clean Energy Council.  Generally, utilising sub-contractors allows a company to broaden its geographical reach and installation capacity.

Does the company have a proven track record in solar installations? Are they accredited installer with the Clean Energy Council?

Just like in any market, different companies have different track records. Some have certainly been around for much longer than others. Your Solar Choice Broker will be happy to discuss what options are available to you if this is a priority. Solar Choice works with a network of installers, all of which are accredited with the Clean Energy Council, and is continually updating our knowledge base with market-relevant information. It is important to keep in mind that Solar Choice provides impartial information, and can assist you with your research and due diligence.

Does the Installer use the correct DC cable rather than the AC cable?

The wrong cable can reduce power yield and reduce productivity by thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the system. This is a critical part of your system to ensure the power is used most efficiently. This is something that the installation accreditation course covers in detail, so you can be very confident that your Installer will be using the right cable for the right position, but it is worth keeping in mind. If you can ask a question like this of the installer, you should receive a good answer and respect.

Are manufacturer warranties supported locally and how are warranty claims handled? What happens if something goes wrong with the panels?

As with any large consumer purchase, it is good practice to check who holds the warranties on the panels and inverters. For example, if the panels are held by the manufacturer (a company based in the Zhenxiang Province of China), it may be up to the customer to remove the panels from the roof and have them shipped to the manufacturer for testing, at their own expense. Preferably the warranties should be held by the installer who supplied the panels. This way, if something does go wrong the installer will be on hand to deal with the problem.

How long will it take from deposit to installation?

This factor will vary depending on your choice of Installer. Lead times between Installers can range from as little as three weeks up to four months. Typically, the shortest lead times are with local installers, while the longer lead times are with the larger, multi-state installers. Should you have any questions relating to specific installer lead times, Solar Choice will be able to provide that information for you.

How will the system be maintained?

With very little maintenance, your new PV system will last up to 25 or 30 years. There is very little maintenance associated with a grid-connected PV system. All you need to do is keep the panels free and clear of debris and dirt accumulation and have the electrical system and wiring inspected by an electrician periodically. There are a range of system monitoring devices available.

What racking (mounting) will be used and what is the warranty on the racking?

Standard racking components generally consist of the rail itself (anodised aluminum) and fasteners (stainless steel). The rail is made up of various clamps, plates and brackets. The racking warranty is included in the Installer’s warranty and located within the Installers Terms & Conditions. As this is an integral part of the system, especially for high-wind areas, it is worth asking the Installer for specific details about the racking that they use.

Does the racking use both mid- and end-clamps to secure the modules?

The most commonly used option is to drill into the framework. If a strong wind could potentially relocate your roof, then you have bigger things to worry about than racking. However, mid-clamps are one indication of a better, more stable installation, so it is worth asking your Installer if they use them. If you are told that they will cost extra, then ask them to tell you how much extra, and for them to justify the cost. Some Installers will use mid-clamps as standard, while others will view it as an optional extra. In any case, going Solar is a long-term investment. Your system will pay for itself many times throughout its life. Shortcuts may save money, but to maximise the results and returns in the long term, don’t forget that quality counts!