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Solar Cowboys: The Hidden Costs of Cheap Solar Providers

We’ve all heard the term ‘cowboy’ when talking about home or business improvement projects.

Those dodgy companies that are willing to cut corners to reduce costs, usually at the expense of safety and quality. The solar energy industry is no exception, and so-called ‘solar cowboys’ are becoming increasingly common in the market as they look to make quick dollars with their cheap deals and promises of ambitious energy savings.

Cheap solar providers pose big problems for both the industry and consumers. Not only do these dodgy companies give the wider industry a reputation for false promises and poor quality products, but they’re risking the safety of customers’ homes with their substandard installation practices and not delivering on promised future energy savings by selling panels and inverters with poor quality or even faulty components. When buying poor quality products and services from cheap solar providers, you could end up paying much more in the long run through wasted time with poor customer service teams, replacing faulty parts or panels, and potentially risking your safety with substandard installation and electrical work.

Solar panels on a residential roof

 

Poor Quality Panels that Don’t Deliver

First, you need to carefully consider the actual product that will be installed on your roof. If a company is advertising a cheap price on Tier 1 solar panels, but leaves room in their terms and conditions to substitute these with a substandard product of their choice, alarm bells should be ringing. This is a typical way for cowboy solar providers to cut their costs on your ‘cheap’ system.

In 2017, the Clean Energy Council brought up some really important issues about the quality of cheaper solar panels; how the manufacturer’s descriptions often don’t match the actual panel and aren’t meeting the standards their datasheets are claiming. However, consumers often aren’t aware of these risks until it’s too late.

Secondly, how thorough was your consultant in explaining how your new system will affect your power bills? Did they explain how they had accounted for the direction and tilt of your solar panels and any shading on the system in their performance estimates, and how their system design had been matched to how and when you use energy? If you’re not sure or they can’t clearly explain these sort of things to you, you need to ask more questions.

Another way cheap solar providers keep their costs low is by using a “one size fits all” approach to system design and performance estimates, which inevitably results in systems that don’t deliver on their promises. Not only is this very misleading, it’s also very difficult to remedy once the solar panels are installed; how are you meant to tell if they’re not working properly if you were never given the correct expectations of performance?

Poor Customer Service

When it comes to customer service, you should never compromise on quality. How detailed is the warranty paperwork? Can the provider explain their process for handling disputes or warranty claims? Where is their customer support team based? While your upfront solar panel and installation costs may have been cheap, it may be at the expense of decent customer service.

Australian-based customer support is invaluable when it comes to investments on your home or business. Dealing with a local for any replacements, repairs or advice on how best to maximise your return makes a world of difference. You’ll also have a local point of contact for any warranty claims, and they’ll be able to advocate on your behalf with manufacturers.

Solar panels on roof of suburban home

Unsafe, Substandard Installation

Cheap components installed by dodgy technicians is often the biggest problem when it comes to cheap solar providers. In June this year, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Clean Energy Council revealed one in five rooftop solar systems in Australia are deficient. They tested over 4000 systems Australia-wide, and found that almost 20% of these systems did not meet Australian requirements in terms of installation or output. Common issues from this review included incorrectly installed or mounted components, not using plastic coatings to protect wiring and water entering electrical components.

Cheap solar providers are notorious for poor installation and dangerous work practices. Not only do they pass off the installation work to the cheapest technicians they can find, or push their technicians past safe limits, but they often shirk any responsibility for the faults caused by the poor installation – which makes chasing up your provider for repairs incredibly frustrating. Poor quality installations can cost huge amounts to repair or remedy; it’s not only illegal, but can be a serious safety hazard and fire risk. Solar systems carry high voltages of electricity, and a poorly installed system is potentially lethal.

Are your provider’s designers and installers Clean Energy Council accredited?

The Clean Energy Council is the leading regulatory body for the clean energy industry in Australia. They help to ensure ethical sales and marketing activities by clean energy retailers. Clean Energy Council accreditation of a company’s designers and installers shows good capability in the design and installation of solar energy systems, and that your solution will be designed and installed to appropriate guidelines and safety standards.

Additionally, solar energy systems are only eligible for government rebates if they’re designed and installed by Clean Energy Council accredited electricians. If you claim a rebate on a system that is then found to not be designed or installed by a Clean Energy Council accredited electrician, you may find yourself having to pay thousands more for your system than you expected, as well as having to reconsider just how safe those panels are on your roof.

Solar energy is an investment in your home for the long-term; make it a good one.

Whenever choosing where to invest your money for the long term, you should always look at the potential benefits and return you’ll get over a long period of time. The problem with cheap solar panels and cowboy solar providers is that they often seem like great deals at first glance, but they can cost you big in the long term with underperforming panels, exaggerated performance claims, dangerous electrical work and faulty components.

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