We all know our power bills are going up.
Economical as well as environmental reasons are seeing more and more households consider solar energy.
Indeed, if you have turned on a TV in the last five years you’ve probably heard the never-to-be-repeated offers from lots of solar companies.
But how do you work out if solar is worth it for you, and which system is the best one available for your budget?
We spoke to Ben Towers of Solaire Connect to get some great advice on what to look for when evaluating a solar system.
Tell us about your business, Ben.
We are a family owned business specialising in the supply and installation of residential and commercial power in Perth.
We also offer our customers a range of 5 star energy efficient air conditioners, and solar hot water systems.
We think of ourselves as an energy solution company.
What’s important in the way you run your business?
Being a family owned company means that we are very protective about our reputation.
We have a smaller marketing budget than many of our competitors, so word of mouth and recommendations from our customers are really important to our business.
For this reason we are very careful in the choice of products we promote and install to make sure that every system delivers the long-term results and reliability people are looking for.
Can you give us an overview of what you need to be aware of when shopping for a solar power system for your house?
There are a few terms you need to understand:
- RECs – Renewable Energy Certificate (sometimes referred to as STCs).
A REC is actually a tradeable certificate.
It represents the carbon emissions saved by generating your power from a renewable resource like the sun.
Their value is currently capped at $40.00, and their actual tracing level is sitting around $36.50.
You can sell these yourself, but the easier route is to give your solar company the right to sell these on your behalf.
Often this will be given as a credit against your system purchase price.
- Feed in Tarrif – In WA our feed-in tariff is currently set at 8.8 cents per kilowatt hour, and with only a single electricity provider in the market there is no alternative.
In other states with multiple electricity providers you may be able to shop around for better feed-in-tariffs.
- Rumors – Probably the biggest thing to be aware of in the solar area is the number of rumors about changes to the cost and the benefits of getting solar.
The reality is that the legislation doesn’t change as quickly as some advertising companies would have you believe, so don’t feel pressured to make a rushed decision.
So how do you recommend I do my research to work out whether the system quoted is the right one for me?
Very simply, you need to research the company from which you are buying, the brand of components in the system, and the warranty that they are offering.
If you start with a trusted company, you can be more confident in both the components and the warranty.
Don’t be pressured into making the decision.
When it comes to the actual system, the key components are the panels, the inverter, and the installation position.
When you are looking at the panels on offer you need to be aware that there are three tiers of panel manufacturers.
We will only sell our customers panels that meet Tier 1 and Tier 2 requirements.
Panels are graded on their efficiency (the higher the efficiency the better) and their rate of degradation (the slower the better).
All panels in the market are subject to a minimum 25 year efficiency warranty, but you want to be looking for the best performance.
The panels we sell have a 12 year warranty.
And, because most homes in Perth are along the coastal corridor, all of our Tier 1 panels are resistant to salt air and the accelerated degradation this can cause.
The inverter is the part of the system to which you need to pay close attention.
Look at the warranty period.
Research how long the manufacturer has been in business.
Ask where is the supplier based – while the claim of ‘direct from the overseas manufacturer’ may imply lower prices, it also means that getting a warranty claim honoured for a faulty unit can be a longer and significantly more difficult exercise.
Our inverter is stocked by a company with offices and warehouses right here in Perth and they offer a three-day turn around on faulty inverters.
We think the speed of the response is critical – if your inverter is down your system isn’t producing electricity.
Good quality inverters will come with a five-year warranty, and there is a premium product in the market that now offers a 10 year warranty.
What about installation? Do I have to have a North facing roof?
A North facing roof is obviously ideal, but a good quality solar company should be able to design and install a system on both East and West facing roofs that have minimal losses in comparison to a North facing one.
Any other tips?
A solar system is most beneficial when you immediately use the power that you are generating.
So think about the big power-consuming items in your household – pools, spas, air conditioning and multiple fridges are generally at the top of that list.
If you are using them or can change the time that they run (i.e. during the day) then a solar system is perfect for you.
We’ve installed lots of systems for retired couples who use their power mainly during the day, and they’ve really seen the benefits in lower power bills.
READ MORE: Making Your Home Energy Efficient
Editor's Note: The Hon Ian Macfarlane MP, Minister for Industry, was last week questioned over a new report (produced by a committee headed up by Dick Warburton) stating recommendations for the solar power subsidy to be abolished immediately. "We’ve made as a Government no decision as to which, if any, of the proposals we’ll adopt. We want to see a debate in the community."