10 Questions to Ask a Solar Panel Salesman Before You Buy
There are several things you need to consider, such as your budget, roof space, orientation, solar panel brand, warranty and your system’s payback period when going solar.
With a reliable solar installer, you will have a smooth transition to solar power. However, in the aftermath of Australia’s government rebates, many unscrupulous solar companies decided to take advantage of unsuspecting customers and disappear from the market before honoring their warranties.
To help you separate the wheat from the chaff, we have crafted 10 questions to ask a solar panel salesman before you buy any solar system.
There are two types of solar installers:
- Clean Energy Council CEC approved solar installers
The problem with option a is they will need to get a CEC qualified installer to come out and inspect their work. They are not self sufficient.
I suggest you go with a certified solar installer who can do it all themselves.
What is the right system size for my home?
This is another critical question that you should ask any potential solar salesman. Choosing the right system size is essential, especially if you want the best returns.
A salesperson cannot estimate the right size just by looking at your monthly power bill. The professional should assess how you consume your energy and estimate how much power will be exported to the grid. To get the best out of your system, you need to use as much power as possible. So, if you use most of your electricity at night, solar energy will not be of much help.
Is it worth oversizing my solar system?
A solar system that fits your needs will save you 90% off your power bill. This is because you will need to sell excess power to your power company through the day (off-peak), then draw on it at night (peak). The difference in how much they buy it for and how much they charge you is the reason you can not eliminate your power bill entirely.
If you over-size your system, so install a 7kWh solar system instead of a 6kWh system, then the extra produced will come close to eliminating your bill all together.
Is my house right for solar power?
Whether or not your home is right for solar power will depend on several factors. These include:
- The amount of sunshine your roof receives – if a larger part of your roof is shaded by trees or buildings, you may not benefit much from a solar system. This is because the panels may not receive optimal sunlight to be able to meet your daily electricity needs.
- The orientation of your roof – typically, south-facing roofs receive the most sunlight hours, which means you can get enough power for your home even with just a few panels. If your roof’s orientation does not favour you, investing in solar energy may not be a viable option.
Your solar provider should advise you whether investing in solar power will make financial sense once they assess your home.
Should I get micro inverters or a central inverter?
This will depend on your roof and how close it is to trees and other objects that might give you partial shade. If you do get some shade, then microinverters are the way to go. They are a little more expensive, but they mean you will generate substantialy more power during times of partial shading which make them worth it.
Most people do go for central inverters as they have direct sun all day every day.
Which local power company has the best feed-in tariff at the moment?
This is pretty important. It´s not just about the amount they pay you for power, but the difference between what they pay you and what they charge.
Which is a better option?
- Feed-in tariff = 25c Per kWand power cost = 35c per kW
- Feed-in tariff = 55c per kW and power cost = 68c per kW
The answer is option a. This is because the difference in price between the two is 10c as opposed to 13c in option b.
Do you do the grid connection yourself?
This sounds like a silly question, but it is important. A lot of installers are not certified to connect to the grid. They contract someone else. I have seen many cases of it taking months after the installation to get a grid connection.
You want your installer to do it all so you are ready to go from day one.
How much do you charge for panel supply and installation?
It is not easy to estimate the cost of a solar system without the proper information, but now you have asked the above questions we can begin looking at cost.
The biggest factors that contribute to cost is the quality of panels and the markup the installer charges. Please check out our cost guide to have a good idea of what most will charge.
High-end brands like SunPower, LG, Q Cells, and Rec tend to cost more per watt. Despite that, you shouldn’t choose solar panels because they are a big name in the market. There are so many other more affordable brands that can provide excellent performance.
What is the warranty period on the solar panels?
The standard product warranty on solar panels is 10 years, with the performance warranty for solar panels being 25 years years. Some companies may offer 30-year linear power warranties on their panels.
Warranty for solar panels and inverters are covered by the manufacturer and not the installer. Installers work such as cables and roof condition will come with a standard 5 years.
Do I need battery storage for my system?
In my opinion, a solar battery is not worth it at current prices. If you plan to go off-grid or you want a backup just in case, then it might be worth it, but lets look at the math.
- Standard system = 6kWh – $5,450 – Saves 90% off current power bill
- Standard system w/ battery – $15,450 – Saves 100% off current power price
If your power bill is $500 per quarter, a standard solar system will reduce your bill to $50. You will see a ROI in 3 – 4 years then enjoy 90% cheaper power for the next 20 years.
With a battery, you will see a ROI in about 10 years at which time you will need to replace the solar battery anyway.
Speak with your solar installer, but I think it´s important to have the above facts before they try to sell you on the idea of a battery.
Do you have references for your work?
Any reputable company will always have references for their former or ongoing projects. So, if a salesperson claims that their panels are good, they must have evidence. Ask the installer to show you some of their former projects. Most companies usually stock images of their work on their website. However, do not trust the images so easily until you physically see some of the installations.
If possible, contact some of the company’s former clients to get firsthand information about their experience with the company. While at it, ask them whether they have any problems and whether the panels have met their expectations.
Author: Ben McInerney is a renewable energy enthusiast with the goal of helping more Australians understand solar systems to make the best choice before they purchase. Having an accredited solar installer in the family helps give Ben access to the correct information, which allows him to break it down and make it easily understandable to the average homeowner.