True or false - Choosing quality solar PV system is a guessing game

With complaints about the solar industry doubling in the last year, you might be wondering if setting up a good solar PV system is a bit of a guessing game. So, is this true or false? Make sure to expand on your answer to show your reasoning.

Leave your comments below and bust this myth to enter our MythDefied competition.

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I will leave this one to the people who deal with it daily :slight_smile: My interest is solely in the answers for my education and knowledge gained from the experience of others. Thank you for this question/myth buster question. May your keystrokes be ever so golden.

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True: if you are going to buy one because someone came to your door selling one
False: if you treat it with the due diligence a big ticket item deserves

Whether it’s solar, roof sealing, repainting, air-conditioning, whatever - I only ever deal with an established local company who sell and install it themselves, one that I define/realise the need for and find myself, one who can quote and explain the detail of the quote and address technical questions without flinching, one who can give all the options and the reasons for and against. I never ‘need’ anything that someone comes to my door trying to sell - that’s absolute policy.

For big ticket items - name brands. After the sales process is set there are plenty of online resources and forums to establish candidate brands including the ones quoted and investigate quality and reliability characteristics of each.

References: local installers will have them. Check them out and look for the details, how well it is installed/etc.

One good starting point is The Clean Energy Regulator which has links to a plethora of other resources:

http://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/RET/How-to-participate-in-the-Renewable-Energy-Target

Oddly enough there is also an excellent guide here :grinning::

… and on the end of a google search (something like “choosing a solar system” for example) there’s plenty of other resources, but be very wary of the online quote sites :slight_smile:

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I would say yes, if one does not do any research. One would then rely on the information provided by the salesperson, who is most likely to say that the PV cells, inverter and installation they provide is of the upmost quality.

But no, if one is genuinely interested in getting a quality system and has the inclination to do some homework/research before plunging in and installing a system. There is an abundance of information available if one takes the time. Some of the links provided by @draughtrider are a good start, as well as doing searches for particular installers/brands with the word problem or complaint in the search line.

Also knowing the manufacture of the PV and inverters can also be important, especially for rebadged/rebranded products…this may be very difficult to determine until after installation (if at all) as many companies have their own branded products.

Also it is possible to ask friends and family of experiences in relation to their own system and installation as their views are unlikely to be biased.

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When we wanted to install a system, I researched to panel and the inverter that were most recommended by users, and had had the least problems. I also searched for installers in my area who were recommended on fora by users, and who didn’t have a litany of complaints about them. (At that stage I don’t believe Choice had yet done an evaluation.)

After that, I relied on the installers rep to work out what would fit onto our roof, and how they had to be installed.

So the first part was research, but the last part was a bit of a guessing game.

As it eventuated, it turned into a comedy of errors which five years later, I am still trying to have rectified.

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As already mentioned above, false if you do your research first. Letting a door to door sales person in is a big mistake any time, not just for solar!
Going with recognised quality brands for inverter and PV panels, which only reliable installers are likely to use (they avoid the cheap Chinese inverters that often have a short life = too many warranty claims) almost guarantees you will have a reliable system that lasts a long time.

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Which are the best solar/wind power inverters, I know some are used as part of a standalone battery system and those might be different to ones you use to put excess power into the grid. Perhaps these discussions should have it’s own topic but as you certainly know your stuff can you give some good advice and recommendations on these and perhaps regulators??, panels, placement, fitting and wiring? What to look for both for and against in regards to those items.

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Yes standalone and grid connect are different, but there is some overlap, with inverters such as Australian made Selectronic doing both in one inverter, and also Victron inverters. Latronics is another reliable Aussie made inverter for off-grid, I’m currently using their 48V 7kW inverter, but have used Selectronic off-grid inverters in the past, and still have a couple of them here for smaller jobs in my aquaponics systems.
As far as charge controllers for off-grid systems, brands such as Outback Power, Morningstar, Midnite Solar and Victron have all been in the business a long time and are good reliable brands.
As for grid-tie inverters SMA and Fronius come to mind as top of the range brands, but there are quite a few others nearly as good.
Panel brands such as LG, Sunpower or REC are likely to be very reliable, however, paying twice as much for a panel like Sunpower generally wont give you twice as much energy as a less expensive one over the life of a panel, so best value doesn’t necessarily = best quality panel. There are plenty of brands that deliver very good performance. I think the rule is to go for panels and inverters manufactured by companies that have been in business a long time, and have a good reputation on review sites. Not all brands are going to be available form all suppliers anyway, so it’s generally a case of selecting the best priced panels with a good reputation. Most of the good ones have long warranties, something that was covered recently on The Checkout.

As far as wind power goes, for probably 99% of the country where people live, PV panels will deliver more energy for the money invested than a wind generator will, and in the long term panels will require less maintenance than a wind turbine.
Obtaining council approval to erect a wind turbine in a residential area is most probably unlikely. I’ve done some testing of cheap Chinese wind turbines here and they have worked quite well, as did one I built myself many years ago, but it just isn’t windy enough for consistent reliable output.

Panel placement used to be all north facing in order to maximise FiT in the days when it paid well, but now that you don’t get paid so much, it is better to utilise as much of your own generation as possible, including when you have batteries. This means that having some panels facing east, and some to the west will give a more even energy output over the day, avoiding the solar noon peak, and giving more energy when required ealy morning and late afternoon.
I did write up some info about what I call the Virtual Tracker in a thread on the forum I moderate here: https://forums.energymatters.com.au/solar-wind-gear/topic5064.html
Not all installers may be aware that facing all panels to the north isn’t really the best solution, but it will come down to the roof shape, and how many panels you can fit where. Generally it is better to put a larger array that you might need as a minimum, as often payback times improve with larger arrays. One benefit is that you will have more self-generated energy available in cloudy weather.

Batteries as an addition to an existing system have a fairly long payback time, but it really depends on how much you value being able to keep the fridge and freezer, TV etc running during blackouts. Batteries if purchased as part of a system do increase the payback time a bit, but still are worthwhile, especially if you can get them on a special price deal IMO.
One thing to beware of is the power delivery of some batteries, Enphase comes to mind. Whilst it may store over 1kWh, it can only deliver 270W, which isn’t enough to do much more than run the LCD/LED TV and a few lights. You need a big stack of them if you want to boil the jug or use the electric oven.

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False - no guesswork involved if you do your research - or talk to someone who ‘knows’.
I was lucky - I have a daughter who is doing a PHD in renewable energy. Because I found the tech and the claims confusing; the numbers less-so. ACTEW’s initially financially attractive offer, she spotted: “Oh - that’s old tech! - will take longer to amortise than a better harvesting system.”
A couple of years down the track, it seems a little less complex.
Look at your averaged (& seasonal) KWHr use (& cost)
Get an estimate of KWHr you will be able to use (and sell - usually not much) from solar panels (& battery)
Look at the price premium on ‘reputable’ tech. (Also - is it easily scaleable/adaptable?) (probably worth it!)
For us from Jan 2015 start with panels only (no battery) we’ve amortised 40% of the investment cost in reduced costs (mostly) and sales (some) - investment includes interest on the ‘green loan’.
We’ve made changes - like running washing machines ‘when the sun shines’. This helps.
We anticipated full amortisation (system has paid for itself) in 10 years; it looks like it will be 7 years.

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Not everywhere :wink: but I understand it works in most places.

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Agree totally, We did extensive research on panels, inverters etc. and got a local guy to do it all a couple of years ago. Sure we may have paid maybe a bit more than some of the here one day, gone the next guys but he is just around the corner if we need him for anything and he gave us unbiased advice and options to help us make the right decision. Better still it can be built on and batteries added when we can justify the need without needing to change any existing component.

All I wish for is that these opportunists stop calling and harassing us for solar with the opening line of "this is not a sales call’.:smiley:

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Agree. Looked at all info from Choice, went to an information night held by Yarra City Council, then had solar panels installed 18 months ago. Halved our electricity usage but I am retired so use washing machine, dish washer at appropriate times, where possible. Set up to add batteries when I can afford to do so.

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True, especially when you live outside the main cities. Years ago we had a solar PV system installed by the then largest and most accredited dealer. They did a good job to combine the new solar system with our old wind turbine system. However… years later, when we needed them, we found out that they went bust and no other retailer was willing to travel the 150km from Perth to us to fix some else’s problems. I managed to do it myself in the end.
Now we intend to go away from the old and maintenance reliant wind turbine system and increase our 2.5kWh solar system to a 5KWh system. The choice article mentioned in this thread was interesting and the list of CER accredited installers informative. I hoped to find a long established installer here in Perth to counteract any future maintenance and warranty issues but this unfortunately was not the case: 2015 i.e. 2 and a bit years was the ‘oldest’.
We will do our research ok but in the end it’s a battle to find a reputable and hopefully long lasting installer.
I might be biased and too negative but in my opinion there are a lot of solar retailer/installers that close shop before the bulk of warranty periods run out to avoid costly re-work. I’d be pleased if someone can proof me wrong.

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Unfortunately, choosing a CEC accredited installer is no guarantee of a good installation that will deliver all the energy that it should be capable of. Whenever I’m out and about I look at PV systems on rooves. There are some really bad installations around with shading of panels by other panels, and inappropriate panel placement on the roof causing excessive shading due to vent pipes, antennae, chimneys etc.

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Thank you @gordon, your knowledge and post is appreciated…

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I had a relatively painful job in getting my system installed, which gave me good insight into the lay of the land. My house has a lot of 30 degree roof sections as well as being a split level, so challenged the installers a bit.

  • The first one said that it’s not worth installing, I can only fit a small (1.5kW) system on my roof at best.

  • The next one provided a design slapping a panel on every non-south section, including predominantly shaded areas. (At this point I designed the layout myself)

  • The next one gave a satisfactory design, but when their subcontractor came out, they looked at the roof, made their excuses to run an errand and never returned.

  • The next one was similar, they fled after seeing my roof, took months to get my deposit returned.

  • The final one came and did the job with no fuss and to my specifications, though were about $1k pricier. 3.4kW and I get near optimal energy output.

As such, it seems that solar installation is a lot like other building work - if you’re not actively involved in the planning and the like, you’ll just get whatever the installer feels like. This does alas mean you actually need to acquire some understanding of the technology and choices if you want the ideal system. You also need a good understanding of your energy usage throughout the day - a quarterly bill that installers often base things off says nothing about when in the day you use power.

What was also notable is that all but one installer made their design based on fuzzy Google maps pictures, giving a lot of inaccuracy about where and how many panels can fit. I measured the roof myself and read the panel spec sheets to work out that I could get a couple more panels on than they thought.

So overall, I would say that to get the optimal PV system installed, consumers need to look for the following:

  1. Know their usage patterns throughout the day. There are a number of ways to ascertain this.
  2. Only choose an installer that will actually visit your house, particularly if satellite photos are unclear.
  3. Understand the basics of the technology (inverter types/features, performance variables)
  4. Be involved in the design, so you know that it will match your usage patterns.

It’s not so much a guessing game as knowing what you’re buying and why. You wouldn’t walk into a car yard and just say “I want a car, no idea what I’ll be transporting or where.” - solar is the same; for this type of investment it’s essential to understand your needs.

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Whilst a house visit can reveal potential problems better than aerial imagery, particularly for rooves that are not suited to having PV arrays installed on them- ie lots of small differently oriented areas with shadow issues, in many, if not most cases, the imagery is sufficient,

Most of Australia is covered by aerial photography now, which has much higher resolution than publicly available satellite images. When you zoom into your house on Google Earth/Maps you are looking at photos taken from an aeroplane, not a satellite, and the more densely populated the area the more frequently the images are taken. The resolution of these images is very good, certainly in the range of a few centimetres for most metro areas.
Also, reputable installers will be using some of the other sources of imagery, which require a subscription, but show significantly finer detail than is seen on Google Earth/Maps.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, this imagery is suitable for planning array layouts, but of course there will always be exceptions, and also some dodgy operators who aren’t very good at interpretting the imagery, or only rely on fuzzy images because they wont pay for decent imagery.

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That would be the case for ‘the roof’ but not for ‘the electrical connections’. Take an electrical box on the outside of double brick, blind behind with all the wiring going between the bricks with a few extras between the box and an access point under the house, just in case. No matter where an inverter is sited ( it will not be close to the box!) it will be a long run involving some serious work to connect up.

I would use an imagery-based design and estimate to make a short list, but I would never sign a contract without a site visit.

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Indeed that is true, I was only commenting about how big a system a roof could take and how it could be done. Some houses are very difficult wiring wise, leading to some less than optimal inverter placements. Of course, some are also very straightforward, but the wiring has to be taken into account for a quote.

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Basically what you need to do is your homework.Don’t rush into buying something until you know what your going to be in for ask questions,speak to other’s that may have a system your looking at.Like anything that’s costs a lot of money you need do your homework lol

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