7 February 2011, Page: 37
INVESTING in solar power for your home will cost thousands initially and it could take the better part of a decade to see financial benefits, so being an informed consumer is vital. In the nine months to October 2010, more than 105,000 household solar panel systems were installed in Australian homes, according to the Clean Energy Council.
The most common household systems are either 1 or 1.5 kW and, depending on the state you live in, could reduce the average electricity bill by up to 40%. The price for a 1.5 kW system is about $13,000, according to the CEC, but this is reduced by various government rebates and feed in tariffs paid by electricity companies.
Solar power firm Energy Matters' general manager of sales, Nick Brass, says consumers need to research thoroughly before purchasing solar panels to ensure they're buying from a credible manufacturer. He says most of the well known electronics manufacturers consumers know such as Sanyo Electric and GE make solar panels, along with specialist manufacturers but there are also some "fly by nighters" to be wary of. "It's coming out of China most of the time and a brand that none of us really know", Brass says.
But not all solar panels made in China are of poor quality which is why doing your homework is essential. "People talk about warranties a lot and everyone claims to offer a warranty, but the real question is are they going to be around to service the warranty so looking for just a warranty isn't enough anymore", he says. "It's important to look at the credibility of the supplier".
Brass says people should not be dazzled by advertisements that look incredibly cheap. "We are all tempted by price but at the end of the day you don't get payback without buying quality", he says. Brass also says consumers should question the experience of their installer, even if they hold the required Clean Energy Council accreditation.
A recent report by national consumer group Choice notes that there have been concerns about the quality of some cheap imported panels and their level of safety. "Make sure your panels meet the international standards and that you're using an accredited installer", it says. "This is vital to the safety and reliability of your solar system installation". It says manufacturer warranties on solar panel systems range from five to 25 years.
"Solar systems should last at least 25 years obviously, a warranty or guarantee for that length of time from a company you trust is best" The CEC's consumer guidelines says people can work out the size of the solar power system they need by analysing their latest electricity bill and calculating average daily electricity consumption. However, the use of available north facing roof space is also an important factor, with a 1 kW solar system requiring about 8 to 10m² of space.
Questions you should ask:
- Are the designer and the installer accredited? All installers should have photo identification cards.
- How many systems has the installer completed?
- What kinds of warranties come with the products?
- How long have the manufacturers been in the industry? Long warranties are useless if manufacturers aren't around in five years.
- If something goes wrong, who pays for repair or replacement costs?