Seven questions to ask when choosing a rooftop solar retailer

Solar panels on the roof of a house

Sue Hewitt

Posted October 26, 2020

Interested in rooftop solar? These questions will help you choose a reliable solar retailer.

Australia may lead the world in the uptake of domestic rooftop solar, with an estimated one in four homes equipped with PV panels, but authorities fear as many as 400,000 installations could be sub-standard and that 40,000-plus systems may be unsafe.

Federal energy minister Angus Taylor has asked the Clean Energy Regulator to investigate the rooftop solar industry after two investigations by ABC TV’s 7.30 program revealed widespread defective solar installations, pushy sales tactics and other suspect practices.

So how can consumers ensure they’re buying a safe and efficient solar system from a trustworthy retailer? It’s important to ask the right questions, says RACV Solar CEO Andy McCarthy.

Seven questions you should ask your solar retailer before you commit

Has the solar company been around long?

To avoid fly-by-night operators, Andy recommends finding out how long the company has been in business, which is an indication of commitment to quality and long-term customer care.

He says there are many “orphaned” solar systems, where the company that sold or installed the system is no longer around, leaving customers without support.

The number of systems a company has installed also gives an indication of expertise, but some smaller firms with less volume also provide great workmanship and shouldn’t be discounted, he says.

Andy suggests asking the company for a few customers you can talk to, researching online reviews or getting recommendations from trusted friends.

Are they a Clean Energy Council (CEC) approved solar retailer?

If an offer sounds too good to be true or if a solar retailer gives you the hard sell, it should ring alarm bells.

To avoid scammers, make sure the company is approved by the Clean Energy Council. This means they must adhere to a code of conduct, which sets out ethical sales and marketing activities and solar-industry best practice. The CEC warns to beware of high-pressure sales, telemarketing and door-knocking.

CEC-approved retailers also use specially trained, CEC-accredited designers and installers, rather than unqualified labourers. They also use CEC-approved components and provide a minimum five-year workmanship warranty or longer.

Will the solar retailer organise your connection to the grid?

Approval to connect your solar system to the grid can delay installation considerably if not done correctly. The process is technical and must be completed before installation.

The Clean Energy Council recommends asking your solar retailer if they will submit the grid-connection application for you, what it costs, an estimate of how long approval will take – which can be up to two months in some cases.

RACV installing solar panels

What solar products do they use and what warranties do they offer?

There are several independent websites that compare the quality of well-known solar panels and inverters in Australia. 

Andy McCarthy says good-quality panels come with 12 to 25-year warranties, while inverters should have a five to 10-year warranty with an option to extend this at an additional cost.

It’s also worth checking whether the manufacturers have offices and teams in Australia in case of any problems. Also ask the installer how they process warranty claims. Andy says having to send back a faulty panel or inverter before the company will replace it can cause months of solar downtime.

Does their work meet guidelines for Victoria’s solar rebate? 

To be eligible for the state government’s $1850 rebate for rooftop solar you must use an installer participating in Solar Victoria’s Solar Homes Program. These installers are bound by the CEC’s code of conduct for Approved Solar Retailers and Solar Victoria’s program guidelines.

Solar Victoria recommends getting quotes from at least three authorised retailers to compare prices, makes, models and warranties. The chosen retailer then uploads the written quote to Solar Victoria’s rebate portal, which triggers the rebate eligibility process.

To be eligible for a rebate consumers must have a household income of less than $180,000 and the property must be valued at less than $3 million, and all components installed must be on Solar Victoria’s approved products list.

Do they just provide a one-size-fits-all solar system?

Every household is different and Andy says a reputable solar consultant will guide your choice of system based on what you want to achieve financially, environmentally and for energy independence.

He says the solar company must consider available roof space and orientation, current or future shading, current energy use patterns and future energy needs. It should also take into account whether you have a growing family, are renovating, plan on getting a battery system or an electric vehicle, or are switching your appliances from gas to electric.

Andy says it’s important to ask what performance you can expect from the solar system throughout the year, and ensure the answers consider roof orientation and your unique situation and energy use.

Who will do the installation?

Many solar companies will sell you the system and then subcontract out the work. Andy says this is fine if the company is reputable because they will usually have long-term sub-contractors they know and trust, backed up by quality-assurance processes. But companies offering “too-good-to-be-true pricing”, or who sub-contract work but aren’t Approved Solar Retailers, may not have a commitment to quality. Andy says to make sure they use CEC-accredited installers and ask what quality-assurance processes they have.

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