September 13, 2020

5 things I learnt when I got solar panels

I am a shameless early adopter, first in the queue for the new gadgets. I installed solar back in 2011. I paid around $6,000 for a 5.5 kW system, 20 panels. The system has more than met my expectations. It’s easily paid for itself, and I love knowing that I’m producing my own power.

But… You knew there was a but coming, didn’t you? I have no regrets, but I learnt a few lessons the hard way. Here they are:

  1. You get what you pay for

Photovoltaic panels are well-established technology. They’re not hard to manufacture. That means there is a huge range on the market, some of them very cheap. Sadly, the usual rule applies: you get what you pay for. If they’re cheap, they’re cheap for a reason. (The same applies to the inverter, by the way. Finn Peacock does a handy summary of good brands at SolarQuotes.)

My panels were mid-range price. They’re doing ok. They’ve certainly paid for themselves. But there are cracks in the panels which suggest they might be on the way out.

2. Google maps is not enough

Most solar sales teams will look at your roof on Google maps and tell you instantly how many panels you can fit on your roof. However, Google can’t tell them the whole story. A reputable company will visit your house to check the access, the shading, the state of the roof etc., as well as to discuss with you, in person, how it works. If they don’t offer to do this, they might not be the company for you.

When my panels arrived, the installers discovered that they could not fit all the panels I had purchased on the north-facing side of my roof. They ended up putting 5 panels on the east-facing roof. It means I get a bit of power early in the morning, but it is heavily shaded in winter – not ideal.

3. Know your trade

Some companies do not have installers on staff. They make the sale, then use contractors to install. This model is common with the cheap cheap online deals you see. Because the price is so low, the contractor only gets a slim margin, with no incentive to ‘go the extra mile’ in service or quality. You’re generally better off with a company that has its own installation teams. In other words, actually solar technicians!

I got quotes from SolarQuotes and chose a company from the list. The panels were installed by contractors. I called up two weeks after installation because a circuit had tripped and was told, “someone will get back to you.” Guess what? They didn’t.

4. Weasel words and warranties

A 25 year performance warranty is pretty standard for all solar panels. This means that after 25 years, your panels should still be pumping out the power. It’s not, however, a warranty against manufacturing faults on the panels or, more importantly, on the inverter. A reputable company should offer at least 15 years on panels (the best offer 25 years) and at least 10 years on the inverter, and give you a number to call if either fail. If they don’t offer this kind of follow-up, you could make an expensive mistake.

I thought my panels were guaranteed for 25 years. Turns out I mistook the ‘performance warranty’ for the ‘product warranty’. Rooky error.

5. Solar panels really are a no-brainer

In spite of the various traps I fell into, I have nothing but love for my solar panels. They have been worth every penny. Two years ago we added a Tesla battery to the mix, meaning that some days we are running on 100% solar power. I’m proud of taking action, and my electricity bills have reduced by around 60%. I’d encourage anyone who has a suitable roof to install solar panels if at all possible, because both financially and environmentally they represent a no-brainer. And looking at the app and seeing you’re 91% self powered is SO satisfying!

So… Do it, do it now, but do it smart. You can avoid my mistakes by coming to a Zero Emissions Solar My House info session to find out how solar works and how to make sure you get the best system for you.

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