IT’S easy to be confused by the solar electricity market, but if you take your time and do your research, you can avoid being burned, says Jenny Paradiso.
SPIRALLING electricity bills have many South Aussies pondering the question: “Should we invest in solar electricity?”
For many people, the answer is definitely “yes” … but it’s a confusing and intimidating market out there, with thousands of products to choose from and hundreds of companies advertising that they’re the best or the cheapest – or both.
So how do you wade through the hype and find a decent product, at a good price, from a reputable company? This is one purchase where you really do need to do your homework.
I was in the “confused consumer” category in 2008 when my husband and I were looking to buy solar for our home. In the end we decided to do our own research and from there SunTrix was born. Fast forward to 2012 and we are still answering the same questions and helping people who know they want to buy solar but aren’t sure who to trust.
Our most common questions revolve around the mystery and hype of government rebates and incentives – what is available and who is eligible?
In short, there are two incentives offered in South Australia – the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) and Small Technology Certificates (STCs).
The FIT is a State Government initiative that pays you for any “extra” electricity your solar system feeds into the grid. The State Government has defined a minimum payment that your electricity retailer must pay you for this.
The STCs are a Federal Government initiative reducing the overall cost of your solar investment, so you generally pay $2000-$5000 less than the value of the system.
Both STCs and FIT are available to everyone and are not means tested, but some conditions apply. An experienced solar provider should be able to give you a clear idea of what you’re entitled to.
On November 16, the Government announced it would be abolishing the STC multiplier on December 31 this year, six months ahead of schedule.
The STC multiplier is an extra incentive for solar consumers and the early abolition of this scheme means Australian homeowners could be paying around $1000 more for their system if it isn’t installed by January 1.
This decision has received significant backlash from the renewable energy industry and consumers alike.
The early abolition will hurt more South Australian families who are already suffering from soaring power bills and will create even more uncertainty for many solar businesses.
If you’re thinking of investing in solar, here are a few tips and things to consider.
Buyers should insist on a physical site inspection. There are many variables that need to be considered and most of these are hard to spot from a satellite view of your house or a few photos.
Too many unhappy consumers have purchased a system only to have their installer turn up and then say they need special roof brackets or a total switchboard upgrade before the solar can be installed.
The serious solar companies out there can also conduct a shade analysis, to ensure you are putting your panels in the prime position.
Warranties also need to be carefully examined as they can be misleading and panel warranties often only cover the performance of the panels, rather than the panels themselves. It’s no use having a 25-year performance warranty if your panel falls apart in two years.
Before you sign up, check who you should contact if you have questions after your installation or something isn’t working properly.
Does the company have an office in Adelaide?
Is there an in-house electrician who can come and have a look at your problem? Many companies rely solely on subcontractors, which makes it difficult to provide good post-installation service.
Check the company’s background and what solar-related experience the staff and management have. Do they have CEC-accredited designers and installers who can check your design?
Beware of payment plans, higher feed-in tariff deals and interest-free options – they tend to cost more in the long run. It is generally better to refinance or take a personal loan.
Solar is an area where size does matter. The popular 1.5kW system covers less than half the average electricity bill and buyers need upfront advice on what size system will genuinely match their usage.
This really is an industry where you get what you pay for. Not all panels and inverters are equal and the quality of installation components and installers can vary substantially.
So what products and services are you getting for the advertised price and what materials or support will you receive after installation? Does the company handle your ETSA paperwork or is that up to you?
Do your homework early in the process and check sites such as forums.whirlpool.net.au and solarquotes.com.au for independent reviews. Have a list of questions for any company you intend to deal with, long before you sign up for anything.
Jenny Paradiso is managing director of SunTrix, a South Australian owned and operated company specialising in solar PV solutions for the residential and commercial market.
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