We’ve listed some questions below that we feel any reputable solar installation company should be able to answer, if they can’t or won’t, think about whether or not you want to give them your hard earned money.
You can also download a printable version here.
Choosing the right size system
Choosing the right components
- What brand of panels and inverter will I receive? Can you point me to 3rd party reviews or tests of them?Try the Whirlpool forum – http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum/143 for honest conversation from people who know what they’re talking about and who are more than happy to offer advice. Make sure that you receive documentation outlining what panels and inverter you’ll receive. Check this on the day of install as well to make sure you’re getting what you paid for.
- Where are the components made?About 80% of panels and 50% of inverters are made in Asia, the rest generally in Europe. Country of origin isn’t a problem in itself. Who services the warranties if a panel or inverter fails is more important. Make sure you ask the installer this question.
- Do the panels have a negative or positive power tolerance?A 5% positive power tolerance means that a 100W panel will produce between 100W and 105W. A 5%+/- power tolerance means that the panel will produce between 95W and 105W. Better quality panels have a positive power tolerance. No solar cell manufacturer can produce cells to the exact specification so therefore, the higher quality manufacturers will pay more for the cells with positive tolerance while the rest with +/- will go to lower quality manufacturers.
- Do the panel and inverter manufacturers have an office in Australia?This is important, if the installation company isn’t around in 10 years, you don’t want to be having to call the manufacturer in China or Europe, you can realistically kiss your warranty good bye.
- If the panels are installed on different roof areas facing slightly different directions, will you use an inverter with an input for each different facing section?This is a must, otherwise all panels will produce only as much as the weakest panel at all times, greatly reducing production.
- What maintenance is involved with the system?This generally involves cleaning the panels with soapy water once or twice a year depending on rainfall. A car cleaning hose will do the job nicely. Be aware of companies who make you sign up for a yearly maintenance programme. If you check the fine print, they’ll demand you pay for this or else you’ll void your warranty. This is a ploy to reduce their obligations into the future and may be illegal under consumer law. This is a sign of a dishonest company.
- Does the inverter have communication software?Communication software which links wirelessly to your computer allows you to keep an eye on production and spot any problems quickly and easily. If you have the option for this, we would definitely recommend it.
- Will I be able to add an off-grid storage battery to this system in the future? If so, can you manage this for me and what is involved [time and cost]? The short answer is ‘yes’. A new battery/power source will need to be interfaced with your current system. The supplier that installs the system will be able to simply check the specs and both the system and on the new power source before providing you with a time and price quote for interfacing them. This should not take longer than a few hours.
Choosing the right installer
- How long has your company been around?The solar industry is relatively new and few companies will be older than 5 years old but still ask the question and try to find out a bit about the company’s history.
- How many systems have you installed?Go for companies who can demonstrate that they’ve installed a good number of systems in your area.
- Do you have a physical office I can visit?Visiting the company can be worthwhile and will give you a better insight in to how the company is run.
- Can you provide me with references in my area?Any good company should be able to point to systems they’ve installed in your area and provide references.
- Do you handle all the rebate paperwork for me so I just have to pay the difference?Generally, the installer will take care of the rebate so all you pay is the difference, ask the question though.
- What documentation will I receive both before and after the install?Make sure you receive a written quote outlining all of the components that go into the system and the terms and conditions of the contract. If a company won’t give you this, it’s not a good sign.
- Am I responsible for organising connection to the grid?Generally, the installer will organise this but definitely ask the question.
- If so do you provide the paperwork and instructions?As above.
- How much will I be charged and how do I pay this?Ask the installer and get confirmation in writing as some companies will include the meter expense in the price and others won’t.
- How much is a new meter?This varies by state so ask your installer.
You can also download a printable version here.