10 Questions to Ask Before Buying A Solar System

Buying a solar system can be exciting but it’s also a huge investment. So before you dive in, you need to be informed as possible about solar panels and other important aspects of your purchase.

LG Energy has great information on everything solar, so we’ve put together some of the most relevant and frequently asked questions we get about buying a solar system from their website.

1. Should I buy a solar system?

The cost of installing solar has been reducing over the past five years and will continue to become cheaper. However, the cost of waiting for further reductions is the increasingly expensive electricity bill that you pay your energy retailer. Right now you are effectively ‘renting’ your electricity and in five years you will have nothing to show for the thousands of dollars you have parted with. Should you then decide to purchase a solar system, the system price may be cheaper but when you add your aggregated energy bills you have paid to this price you find it very expensive indeed!

If you invest in solar now you become an energy ‘mortgagee’. You now own a big share of the electricity you consume and your savings start immediately to pay off your investment cost. In five years or so, your power savings have now paid off the cost of your investment. You now own your energy production outright and with a top tier LG solar system you will continue to make savings for a further 25 years at least.

Right now the power companies have secured the right to increase their rates by 25% annually over the next three years. Based on this rate your power bill is tipped to double! With the arrival of solar battery storage now is the time to start investing in solar and take control over your power bills.

Please also take note. There is still a solar government rebate available in all states and territories, and even though it is less than what used to be available in the past, on a 5 KW system for example you are likely to receive over $2,800-$2,900 in rebates.

Some solar installation companies offer financing options, which could reduce your initial outlays. This will allow you to use the electricity cost savings to help finance the repayment.

2. What makes a good quality solar system

A solar power system has a number of considerations to ensure customers are satisfied for many years:

  • The solar panels purchased should be from a known and diversified manufacturer, so in future years you can receive follow up service or warranty back up, as the company is still around. Some solar manufacturers are currently in financial distress. Just read up on the internet about these issues.
  • Only use high quality inverters with your system. The inverter undertakes the key work in your system. Every time there is a cloud and change in weather the inverter adjusts the output. Therefore an inverter never stops during the day. High quality brands which work well with your LG panels can be recommended by your local LG installer. Please avoid cheap inverters.
  • Framing systems. There is no point buying quality panels and inverter and not fastening them with a quality framing system. Soltek Energy can provide you with solid advice.

3. What is the expected lifespan of a solar power system?

The key components susceptible to failure are the solar panels and inverter. However, high quality products tend to have long life cycles which are reflected in the long warranties available, particularly for solar panels.

A solar panel is a relatively simple device with no moving parts. Solar panels typically have a 25 year output warranty and depending on the quality of the panel can be expected to last beyond this. Also solar panels which are exposed to wind, fluctuating temperatures and weather do deteriorate and each year produce a little less electricity. Cheaper panels, with less UV stabilized backing sheets, cheaper sealants and framing can deteriorate faster and more rapidly.

LG’s warranties generally predict an average of 0.6% loss of power each year after the 1st year and thus, at the end of the 25 year output warranty period the solar panel may have lost up to 16.4% of its initial power rating. This means is where a high efficiency LG solar panel would produce 315 watts, the same panel in 25 years might only produce 261-269 Watts. In reality, for most less productive quality panels, they may start at 250-260 watts (LG’s output after 25 years operation) and then degrade to 200 watts per panel after 25 years. For cheaper panels coming out of China the rate of degradation is much quicker taking 5 years to lose 20%+ of their output capacity. There are cheap panels with rates of complete failure after just 12 months.

4. Why should I choose a good brand solar panel?

Arguably, the quality of your solar panels and the inverter are the most crucial factors in selecting a solar system. Over their 25 year output warranty period, solar panels will be subjected to more than 100,000 hours of relentless sunshine, extremes of heat and cold, wind, rain, hail and more. Australia and New Zealand offer an extraordinarily harsh climate for an electrical device.

A good brand like LG, with our extensive testing and quality control helps ensure that you get the most out of your system over its long operating life.

Please see below: LG panels being pressure tested for long life performance.

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5. When should I NOT buy a solar system?

Most of homes or business premises in Australia can install a system but there are times when you should not buy a solar system. For example:

1. You have no roof space available which is facing North, North East, North West, West or East

2. There is strong shading of trees and building most of the day on your North, East or West facing roofs. Is there is a little shading for part of the day micro inverters or optimisers can offer a solution.

3. You have an asbestos roof

4. When the system has to be installed at a distance from the home (like at farm sheds) and the additional cost of running the electricity wires and poles back to the meter far outweighs the return on investment

5. You are out of your house/premises most of the time, therefore you cannot use the solar power when it is generated. The unused solar power will be exported to the grid. On average your energy retailer will credit you 11c  per kW, making the investment in solar financially less attractive. In this case solar would only be suitable if you also install a battery storage system.

6. As a consumer, what are my rights so I am assured it is a safe investment?

When you purchase a solar system you are protected by a variety of rights, warranties and acts as a consumer.

The overriding protection comes from the Australian Consumer Law which came into effect in January 2011. This Federal Act provides protection for all consumers and is administered at a State level. Businesses are required by law to comply with the requirements of this act and it specifies where responsibilities lay, what rights consumers have and how to take action.

There are several specific issues described in the act which offer protection that is most relevant to solar system owners. They are summarised below:

When you agree to purchase a system, the company you sign a contract with is the first point of responsibility for all issues. They are the prime contractor in law, although they may subcontract some work such as installation and must ensure that all standards, laws and regulations are adhered to by their staff and their sub-contractors.

If you buy imported equipment, the warranty responsibility ultimately lays with the official importer, so it’s important to understand who that is, if it’s not your supplier. That’s why picking brand panels like LG offers you solid protection. However, should you decide to buy a cheaper panel and the manufacturer disappears, or the importer has gone bankrupt, the prime contractor has still a legal obligation to assist you.

Warranty terms and conditions vary by contract and supplier. It is important that you carefully read and compare the terms and conditions from different suppliers so you understand what you may be required to do to comply. For example many panel warranties only include the supply of a new panel. They do NOT include the labour component. LG supplies the panel and pays for the labour within 80 km of population centres.

In the event of a dispute, the Clean Energy Council can assist you with installer related issues. They also have a Solar Retailer Code of Conduct which some, but not all solar retailers have agreed to comply with.

In most cases, if there is a dispute that is unresolvable by discussion, the issue will default to the Australian Consumer Law act and you can approach your State body for advice on what course of action to take. This may include mediation, taking the case to the Small Claims Tribunal or to court.

7. What size panels should I buy?

There are various sizes of solar power panels available. The higher the output, the higher will be the efficiency of the solar panel (as long as the size of the solar panel is the same – of course). A number of years back the 170W to 190W solar power panels were considered a high wattage panel.

Today the technology has improved so that 260W panels are considered a good solid efficiency as more solar power can be produced in a smaller roof space. LG offers panels from 285W to 315W. As a rule of thumb, the higher the efficiency, the higher the cost of the panel.

Nevertheless some higher efficiency panels can offer a shorter return on investment period.

8. What should I check in a quote before I buy a solar power system?

Make sure the installer comes to your house and has a look, before you get the quote. Internet based solar companies quote you for a system over the phone can spell trouble for the install quality, as they cannot truly appreciate the individual set up of your house. Are the tiles brittle? Where are any surrounding trees, which can cause overshadowing? What about antennas and chimney locations – which in the future through overshadowing can affect the system output significantly? How old is your switch board and does it need upgrading to handle solar? All these questions only become clear through a proper home inspection.

When internet or call centre based solar companies sell you a system they use the one size fits all approach and give you a standard price. They then negotiate with a sub-contract installer to install your system for an agreed price. So the sub-contracted installer holds all the risk should your system requires extra cabling or is a particular labor intensive installation. It is more likely in this situation for the installer to find the quickest way, not necessarily the best way to install the system. Being a sub-contractor to the company that sold you the system, the installer’s relationship with your system is one of “get in and get out as quick as possible”.

Should you, in the years to come require support for your solar system, the internet based solar company might not be around anymore, or should they still exist are very likely to send a new sub-contractor to check out the issue. It is better, like with your car, to have the same reliable mechanic undertake the ongoing work. Someone who is familiar with your particular circumstances/system.

In general the quotation should provide solar system specifications like quantity of panels, brand and model of panels, system size and likely output per annum in kW/h, capacity and output of the inverter or if micro inverters are to be used the brand and warranty conditions.

A proper, considered quote should include also datasheets of the supplied products. In general make sure your quote includes:

  • Solar PV modules – brand, model and manufacturer’s warranties;
  • Mounting frames – brand, warranties and which part of the roof to be installed;
  • Inverter – brand, capacity and manufacturer’s warranty;
  • Any additional metering cost – if not included in the price, make sure this aspect is clearly outlined in the quote;
  • Travel and transport requirements if not included;
  • Any trench digging if solar to be installed on outbuildings e.g. farms.
  • At hand over, make sure the installer gives you a system user manual.

The quotation should also specify a total price, together with proposed start and completion dates. The quotation should form a basis for your contract with the designer/installer. Deposit requirements for the system by law should not be more than 10 per cent. Usually the majority of the solar system needs to be paid for on the day of installation.

9. What are the ongoing costs of running a solar power system?

It is advisable to organise some maintenance inspections every few years to make sure that all parts of your solar electric power system are operating correctly. With a tilt angle of 10 degrees or greater solar panels are self cleaning. If you install panels onto a flat roof without panel tilts you will need to hose down your panels every couple of months.

10. Is my solar power system insured?

Most home and building insurance policies cover home solar systems on roofs and garages. A solar electric power system is just like the hot water system an extended part of the home.

However most insurance companies would like to be contacted so that you can let them know you added your solar electric power system. Make sure you let them know the value of the system (before rebates) so they will know the actual replacement cost.

Learn more about the questions you should ask before buying a solar system on the LG Energy site.

Contact Soltek Energy about any questions you may have about solar.

Solar FAQs for Beginners

As the cost of solar continues to fall, the number of installs is also increasing. However, before you make a decision, make sure you get more information from trustworthy sources.

LG Energy has reliable information on everything solar, so we’ve put together some of the most relevant and frequently asked questions we get about solar for beginners from their website.

If you haven’t yet downloaded out Beginner’s Guide to Solar eBook, you can get it here.

1. How does a solar power system work?

A solar module is made up of a group of photovoltaic cells. They consist of 2 layers of silicon wafers which become positively and negatively charged when sunlight hits them. The charge created flows through a circuit of small wires connected to the wafers.

The PV modules generate Direct Current (DC) electricity and send it to the solar power inverter. The inverter transforms the DC power from the modules into Alternating Current (AC) electricity and feeds it back to the meter, ready to be used in the house or exported back into the grid/power poles. Read more about how solar panels works.

2. How do you recognize a quality panel?

Like any product, not all manufacturers’ solar panels are equal. Some use the best quality materials and equipment to manufacture them and others do not.

Some manufacturers conduct extensive research and development into long term performance and have a deep understanding of how the materials will behave and others do not. Some manufacturers have decades of experience in manufacturing electronic equipment, others might have only recently moved into solar.

It’s not easy to tell the differences simply by looking at a solar panel. The glass and frame is simply the box/packaging surrounding the components which make the real difference. The real quality of a solar panel like an LG panel is reflected inside the solar panels, in the composite of chemically treated glass, chemically treated silicon cells, various plastics, protective films, aluminium, sealants and interconnecting wiring.

Solar panels spend their entire life in the hot sun and cold rain, harsh environment for any material, let alone a composition of different materials bonded together. Under such conditions, materials can – and do – chemically change over time reacting with each other and creating new chemicals and compounds as they age. Their elasticity also changes over their life affecting the stresses and tensions they place on each other. Cheaper panels sometimes use cheaper input materials and may have not been on Australian roofs long enough to see how these materials survive the harsh Australian sun.

Solar manufacturers with a strong understanding of materials science, who invest heavily in research and development, are able to understand and predict how these external conditions are likely to affect the materials. Some, who have been manufacturing consumer goods for many years also have the benefit of hindsight and learning. Typically, manufacturers who understand these issues will have accreditation to ISO standards for manufacturing and will have advanced quality assurance processes and controls described on their promotional material. True quality assurance is about understanding what causes variation and controlling it through research, not just checking the final product and hoping to identify faults or defects.

3. Is my roof suitable to install solar panels?

LG panels fit with many types of roof tiles.

The easiest roof to install solar on are metal roofs, either conventional up to 25 degree or flat. Tiled roofs are ok as well as long as the tiles are not too old and fragile. Slate roofs can have solar – but are more difficult and usually cost a bit more. Asbestos roof installations are not recommended and it would be strongly advisable to change the asbestos tiles or sheets first, before installing the solar system.

Naturally single storey homes are easier to access than double storey roofs but installers can install systems at most heights.

Also trees close to the roof can cause issues with overshadowing, and with leaves and branches covering the panels and reducing output. Micro inverters nowadays can offer an advantage in overshadow situation as they regulate the output of each panel individually. So if you have a strong possibility of overshadowing during the year micro inverters and or a solar edge set up can be more advantageous than the conventional solar power string inverter.

4. I’m building or buying a new home, should I install a solar system?

When buying or building a home it is possibly the easiest time to afford solar electric systems. You could simply add the cost of the system to the construction/purchase costs and therefore pay it with your new mortgage.

There are not many items in your home that will pay for itself after a few years, before starting to make money for you year after year. And then, when you decide to sell your home, you will reap the added desirability and resale value that solar provides. See real estate survey

There are solar panels installed in Australia in the early 1990s which are still producing electricity today, so you can expect the benefits of a quality, LG solar system to be available for decades to come.

5. How does shading and dirt affect the performance of my panels?

Solar PV panels should ideally be in full sun from at least 9am to 3pm, but it is more effective if they can be positioned to operate longer in the afternoon to support during the early evening peak hour spike in electricity costs. They should not be placed in shaded areas and should be kept free from dust and dirt. Usually, if dust accumulates and the panels are positioned on an angle, the next rainstorm will wash off the dust. Even a small amount of shade – from trees, roof ventilators or antennas – will have an impact on the output of a panel, as it changes the flow of electricity through the panel.

For most panels, shading or dirt on just one of the parts of a solar panel will result in a significant loss of power from that panel. LG panels enable solar collection to bypass a shade cell. So say there is a bird dropping on an individual solar cell within a panel, it will not adversely affect the rest of the panel. With panels connected together in strings down to the inverter, loss in one panel may affect the performance of other panels in the string, not just the one that is shaded.

Panels lying at an angle above 10° will self-clean when it rains, as our quality LG panels have glass which is designed to allow dirt to be washed off easily.

6. What are feed-in tariffs?

Feed-in tariffs (FIT) are a defined payment for the electricity you generate from your solar PV system that is sent back to the grid. Unfortunately currently in most States the energy retailers pay relatively low feed in tariffs ranging from 5c to 12 cents and varies based on State guidelines and also varies between electricity retailers. We recommend shopping around between retailers to determine the best available FIT rate for you.

In Australia solar system owners have benefited  in the past from a range of generous “premium” feed in tariff schemes, but these offers are no longer available to new solar installations.

State based feed-in tariff schemes are defined and managed by State Governments who are responsible for energy policy and rules in each State. These State Governments define the minimum FIT electricity retailers can offer. Although increasingly when it comes to solar feed-in tariffs (FITs), this is left to the market to decide. In some States the FIT’s paid to you are mandatory and in some cases they are voluntary.

It is important to understand that these policies are State based and as an incentive mechanism they can and do vary over time. The duration, value, rules and conditions vary.

The value of the FIT is an important aspect which can influence the economic outcome of owning a solar system and what the ideal size of a solar system should be in your individual case. Good solar installation companies as part of their site visit should offer a detailed analysis of what they expect your particular self-consumption to export ration to be, and what your economic outcome will be.

FIT offers can vary from electricity retailer to electricity retailer and change over time, so it is important to be 100% clear what offers are available at the time you are considering solar. It is important that you get up to date advice from the solar system installer at the time you are ready to explore solar power.r.

From the industry’s perspective, fair feed-in tariffs are considered an excellent way to help consumers get a reasonable return on their purchase cost and thus help the renewable energy industry to grow and reduce costs.

7. Can a solar system reduce my electricity bill to zero?

Off grid solar systems with battery backup can produce zero electricity bills.

A solar system can help you reduce your electricity bill and in many instances by a significant amount, if you use the electricity at the time it is created. Nevertheless zero dollar future bills are next to impossible to achieve nowadays other than with off grid systems.

In Australia with Net Metering (explained in other parts of the FAQ’s), the electricity produced though your solar system is fed directly during the daytime into your home, office or commercial enterprise. This helps you to offset your consumption which you would have otherwise paid for. The bigger the system the more likely it will be that more solar power is generated than is used  and the excess will be fed back into the grid.

The feed-in-tariff payment for the electricity you generate and feed back into the power grid can offset some of the cost for the electricity you use from the grid during overcast or rainy days or at night. Nevertheless because the feed in tariff nowadays is relatively low, 5c or so per kWh, you need to feed a lot of solar electricity back to the grid in order to offset the electricity you use at night or during cloudy and rainy days when you are likely to import electricity. Then to get a zero dollar bill you will also need to export enough solar electricity to pay the $70 of service/supply charge the electricity companies charge every three month.

This scenario and basic principle does not change if your solar system uses a string inverter or a micro inverter set up. In short, a well designed  solar system will reduce your electricity bills, but a zero bill now that there is no more generous “premium” feed in tariff for new systems – is very rare. Zero dollar bills require an off grid system with batteries or a very very large solar system on your home, preferably with storage batteries.

The installation of batteries to a Solar System will enable power from the system to be stored and used at night or during high demand periods, This increases the ability to reduce electricity bills to zero. However, the cost of batteries, although it has reduced, is still relatively expensive. So for most situations these are not yet financially beneficial. With advances in technology and increases in economies of scale as more batteries are purchased, pricing of batteries will reduce over the next couple of years and will become a more viable alternative to add to Solar Systems.

8. What should I check in a quote before I buy a solar power system?

Make sure the installer comes to your house and has a look, before you get the quote. Internet based solar companies quote you for a system over the phone can spell trouble for the install quality, as they cannot truly appreciate the individual set up of your house.

  • Are the tiles brittle?
  • Where are any surrounding trees, which can cause overshadowing?
  • What about antennas and chimney locations – which in the future through overshadowing can affect the system output significantly?
  • How old is your switch board and does it need upgrading to handle solar?

All these questions only become clear through a proper home inspection.

When internet or call centre based solar companies sell you a system they use the one size fits all approach and give you a standard price. They then negotiate with a sub-contract installer to install your system for an agreed price. So the sub-contracted installer holds all the risk should your system requires extra cabling or is a particular labor intensive installation. It is more likely in this situation for the installer to find the quickest way, not necessarily the best way to install the system. Being a sub-contractor to the company that sold you the system, the installer’s relationship with your system is one of “get in and get out as quick as possible”.

Should you, in the years to come require support for your solar system, the internet based solar company might not be around anymore, or should they still exist are very likely to send a new sub-contractor to check out the issue. It is better, like with your car, to have the same reliable mechanic undertake the ongoing work. Someone who is familiar with your particular circumstances/system.

In general the quotation should provide solar system specifications like quantity of panels, brand and model of panels, system size and likely output per annum in kW/h, capacity and output of the inverter or if micro inverters are to be used the brand and warranty conditions.

A proper, considered quote should include also datasheets of the supplied products. In general make sure your quote includes:

  1. Solar PV modules – brand, model and manufacturer’s warranties;
  2. Mounting frames – brand, warranties and which part of the roof to be installed;
  3. Inverter – brand, capacity and manufacturer’s warranty;
  4. Any additional metering cost – if not included in the price, make sure this aspect is clearly outlined in the quote;
  5. Travel and transport requirements if not included;
  6. Any trench digging if solar to be installed on outbuildings e.g. farms.

At hand over, make sure the installer gives you a system user manual.

The quotation should also specify a total price, together with proposed start and completion dates. The quotation should form a basis for your contract with the designer/installer. Deposit requirements for the system by law should not be more than 10 per cent. Usually the majority of the solar system needs to be paid for on the day of installation.

9. What affects the cost and payback of a solar system?

The cost and payback of a solar power system is dependent on a number of factors, including:

a. The cost of manufacturing panels

b. The international availability of silicon

c. The cost of inverters

d. The installation cost

e. Availability of product

f.  Quality of the components

g. The fluctuating international currency

h. Federal and state rebates (if any) available towards the cost of the system

i. The cost of electricity and feed in tariff rates

The economies of scale in the manufacturing of components together with the above factors impact the final cost and payback to the consumer.

Over the past few years Government solar rebates have decreased. To offset this, the price of solar panels and inverters has reduced as manufacturing volumes increased and economic of scale benefits are passed on. For example, in 2008 a panel cost around $6 per watt = $1500 for a 250W panel, while the same panel in early 2016 would have cost about $200 per watt.

10. How do I check if I’m eligible for a solar system rebate?

There are a few key eligibility rules to be eligible for solar rebate on your system:

  • The solar system must be an eligible small-scale solar PV, wind or hydro system. A normal solar power system for your home normally is an eligible system.
  • The solar power system must be installed at an eligible premises. Examples include houses, townhouses, residential apartments and shops.
  • The solar system must be a new and complete unit.
  • No more than one system at an eligible premise (address) is entitled to Solar Credits.
  • Solar Credits may only be created once for a particular solar installation, irrespective of whether the certificates are created for a 1-year, 5-year or 15-year deeming period.
  • The electric solar system must have been installed no more than 12 months prior to the date of application for STCs.

Contact Soltek Energy about any questions you may have about solar. If you’re looking for a quote, fill in our easy form today.

Solar Panel End of Life: What Happens to Old Panels?

There’s been a lot of good news about solar power recently, but an article published by the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this week encourages solar panel owners to have a think about what happens to their solar panels when they have reached end of life.

SMH describes it as a “waste crisis” on the horizon. So what exactly will happen to your solar panels when they reach end of life or malfunction? What is Australia’s policy on solar panel waste?

Solar Panel Waste: Australia Needs to Figure it Out

In December of last year, Australia reached a record of 2 million households with rooftop solar. What will happen to all of those solar panels when they reach end of life in roughly 30 years?

Australia’s environment ministers have not determined policies concerning solar panels and how they are handled as waste.

Experts and former advisers say that a responsible end of life strategy should be of upmost importance for solar panels, and they believe proper action has not yet been taken. It is assumed bad planning and cost concerns are reasons a concrete policy is not in place for a more environmental way to dispose of solar panels.

Solar Panels Going to Landfill

Just like paint, batteries, electronics and furniture waste, solar panels are going to landfill.

Solar panels and other electronics waste in particular may contain hazardous substances. When these products end up in landfill they contribute to Earth’s pollution problem.

“Photovoltaic panels are predominantly made from glass, polymer and aluminium, but may also contain potentially hazardous materials such as lead, copper and zinc.”

– Nicole Hasham, Sydney Morning Herald

What’s the Solution?

A recycling scheme for solar panels and batteries is needed. Australia already has schemes in place for televisions and computers. Despite costs to recycle, these recycling schemes create jobs and help the environment.

There are state schemes and companies in place who are trying to keep solar panels and batteries out of landfill while the government continues to take no action:

  • The state of Victoria will be banning all electronic waste at landfills from July this year.
  • Sustainability Victoria is reporting on management options for solar panels.
  • Reclaim PV, a solar panel recycler in Australia, is encouraging bans on sending solar panels to landfill: they claim 90% of a panel can be recycled.

Other states and research bodies are focusing on this issue. See if anyone in your state is involved.

Even with these efforts, Australia still needs a nationwide scheme to deal with solar panel materials at end of life.

Read the full story on Sydney Morning Herald.

(This article was originally published on Solar Trust Centre)