What’s the real cost of choosing cheap solar power?

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Cheap solar power might seem tempting, but it’s worth taking a closer look at how retailers cut costs and what that costs you in the long run. In this article we look at everything you need to know.

Solar Panels

When researching solar power for your home or business, you’ll quickly find that prices vary dramatically. It seems like there are a million providers out there with an unlimited number of options. It can be tempting to just go with the cheapest offer, just to get some panels on your roof. But what are you giving up? What are you really compromising on?

Old solar power tech

Innovation in solar tech is never ending. Panels are getting more efficient and better every day. Simply put, the more efficient a panel is, the more dollars each year you get from every ray of sunlight- meaning a better and faster return-on-investment.

Solar panels are measured in ‘efficiency ratings’ as a percentage, and newer panels will get over 20% efficiency rating. For comparison, only a few years ago panels maxed out at around 14%. While that may not seem like much, a panel with an improved efficiency of 6% actually produces 50% more kilowatt hours (kWh) than the older panel.

As a result, informed customers obviously want the newer technology. This leaves many providers with old, often degraded, and generally inefficient stock sitting around in warehouses. To clear out these panels, providers will often (but not always) discount these panels, but neglect to mention that they are dramatically less reliable or efficient.

So while it might seem attractive to save $1000 from the initial cost of an installation, reputable solar companies have no shortage of horror stories of these panels failing in just a couple of years. Not surprisingly, this common practice is usually the cause of the company that sold you your ‘competitively priced’ panels have gone out of business – taking your exaggerated panel warranty with them.

(Solar Power Co provides a free service for customers looking for high quality solar from experienced and trusted suppliers. Register your details here and have them compete for your business.)

Victorians to receive $2225 solar power grantNot all panels are made equal

Every market loves a shiny new object. But in the solar market, it’s ‘buyer beware’.

In an attempt to get an ‘edge’ in a noisy market, many manufacturers in the last few years have started exploiting some under-policed loopholes in international quality standards. Effectively, and due to demand from questionable sales practices, manufacturers have started making panels and inverters without any investment in research and development. Instead, they’ll just copy older designs of established solar power manufacturers.

The worst part – it’s not small companies, even some very well known companies you almost definitely know of are guilty.

Less-than-reputable sales companies will either seek these out (or even stick an invented brand name label on them) to appear to have ‘exclusive’ panels and inverters. Some customers who haven’t done their research may end up paying a little less, others are found paying FULL PRICE not understanding what they’ve purchased.

One of the criteria for ‘tier-1’ products requires manufacturers to have been operating in their market for minimum amounts of time, and have a minimum ongoing spend in research and development.

Be careful what’s under the brand sticker, you might not be getting the results you were expecting.

(RELATED: Want to know what it costs to get solar power in 2019? Read our article on pricing and the changes you can expect on your electricity bill here.)

Solar cowboys

Solar has been proven to be a sound environmental choice, and one of the best investments any home or business can make because of a fast return-on-investment and ongoing savings.

The down side is that anything so good, invariably attracts businesses in for a quick buck at the expense of the customers and the industry. We call these the ‘solar cowboys’ – and there are a lot who have popped up.

Solar cowboys are typically marketing and sales companies that have never seen a solar panel up close, that will promise the world, but lack real world experience or expertise. They often don’t even have an actual brick and mortar store for you to visit. As distinct from solar companies, these are often outsourced companies that sell all things they can get cheaply and sell for inflated prices (see previous points). Their ‘solar experts’ have often been working in the industry for weeks or months, since their last gig (same company) had them ‘experts’ in selling mobile phone plans, electricity change-overs, light globes or encyclopaedias.

These companies can be tricky, and trained to tell you whatever they need to, to make a sale. After the sale is made the marketing company receives a commission and hands over the installation to an anonymous installer you have never spoken to or dealt with.

Often times, installers look for this business model so they don’t have to deal with a customer directly, and no-one is responsible when things go wrong. They don’t want to have to handle warranty claims. They don’t want to have to explain to you how things work. This is also a setup installers will use to hide negative reviews they’ve been receiving.

When choosing solar, look for businesses and brands that have been in the market for at least 2 years (more is better), are exclusively solar or solar-related experts with a demonstrable record of plenty of jobs with real customer testimonials.

Top 15 things to ask before buying solar

Top 8 things to check when buying solar:

Who is selling the system?

  1. Is this just a website or do they have a physical office and/or local warehouse?
  2. How many installations have they completed (this year)?

Who is the manufacturer of the system?

  1. Are the panel and inverter manufacturers well known with dependable warranties?
  2. What sort of reviews do these manufacturers get?

When was the system manufactured?

  1. Am I getting an outdated system, or has the installer ordered it new?

How is warranty handled?

  1. Who is my contact for warranty-related questions?
  2. What’s the downtime of my system if something were to fail?
  3. What happens if the original seller and/or installer goes out of business?

A good and experienced solar power retailer will be able to answer all these questions. A solar cowboy likely will not and by asking the right questions now, you’ll avoid disappointment later.

Solar Power Co aims to empower and educate consumers with the right knowledge about solar power and help them to find the best product to suit their individual needs. We assess and review all installers we recommend and only work with providers who meet high standards of experience, customer satisfaction and quality.

To speak with one of our experts, give us a call on 1300 765 502 or schedule a call back here