What to ask before buying solar panels

Living Well | Jan Fisher | Posted on 10 April 2019

Six questions to ask before investing in rooftop solar.

So you’ve decided to buy solar panels. You’re not alone – the Clean Energy Regulator recorded 39,522 new systems for Victoria for 2018 and, nationwide, more than two million homes how have rooftop solar, with panels being installed at a rate of six every minute. 

According to the Clean Energy Council more than one-fifth of Australia’s power came from renewables last year, and renewable energy capacity grew by 260 per cent in 2018. 

But despite its increasing popularity, navigating the world of household solar can be overwhelming. It pays to do your research to make sure you not only get the right system for your requirements, but also steer clear of less reputable suppliers trying to cash in on a booming industry.

Here are six questions to ask before you buy solar panels:

Solar energy represented by bricks for house, pot plant and yellow ball and cord for sun

What size system do I need?

RACV’s home products senior product manager Kieran Davies says the size will be determined by two considerations: the available roof space and the household energy consumption. “A good solar sales company will look at your roof electronically and in person and work with you to design a system that matches your needs,” Kieran says. “This should all be obligation free.” 

Is the supplier a Clean Energy Council-approved retailer? 

Approved solar retailers:

  • have been approved by the Clean Energy Council as demonstrating their commitment to responsible sales and marketing activities, and solar industry best practice;

  • provide a five-year, whole-of-system warranty;

  • will ensure a Clean Energy Council-accredited installer sets up your system.

Kieran says approved retailers, such as RACV, are committed to upholding the highest standards in solar sales through honest advertising, a sale process that properly informs the customer and isn’t high  pressure, and workmanship guarantees. 

“This means customers who seek out these retailers should be better able to find a system that suits them, will have a better purchasing experience and will be much better protected if something happens down the track.” 

Most importantly in Victoria, from July the state government will begin phasing in a requirement whereby only systems installed by Clean Energy Council-approved retailers will be eligible for rebates. That means these systems will be cheaper as well as better. 

How much will it cost? 

Good-quality systems range from $4000 up to $10,000 depending on the size, says Kieran. Solar is one of those products where it pays to invest more for a better system. Cheaper installations will often lack the generating capacity of a more expensive system. 

How much will I save? 

Your savings will depend on the size of the system, your feed-in tariff and how you use your power. Obviously a larger installation will mean more power generated and therefore a smaller energy bill. 

The feed-in tariff is the rate you are paid for any excess power you generate that is fed back into the grid and is determined by your supplier, but the minimum is 9.9 cents per kilowatt exported. 

To get the best out of the system you may have to change how you use your power, for example operating large appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, pool pumps and air-conditioning when the system is generating most of its power in the middle of the day. 

Will I get a government rebate? 

The Victorian government’s Solar Homes Package entitles households to a rebate equivalent to 50 per cent of the out-of-pocket cost of a solar system, up to a maximum cap of $2225. However, there are other eligibility requirements: it must be the first solar photovoltaic (PV) system installed at the address (or the second, if the original system was installed before 1 November 2009), the property needs to be owner occupied, the household combined income must be below $180,000, and the home’s value must be less than $3 million. 

Do I need a solar storage battery? 

Solar batteries are getting a lot of press at the moment, but do your sums before you hand over your cash. Finn Peacock who runs the independent advisory website solarquotes.com.au says a Tesla Powerwall will cost about $14,000 and take about 15 years to pay for itself, but has a warranty of just 10 years. He suggests householders may want to install solar panels now but wait for battery prices to come down before they add a battery to the system. There may also be additional battery rebates available through the Solar Victoria scheme from 1 July 2019, although details are not yet available.