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As a consumer, what are my rights so I am assured it is a safe investment?

Solar is a very safe and profitable investment providing it does not prematurely fail, and if it does it can be fixed under warranty.

When you purchase a solar system you are, at least in theory, protected by a variety of consumer rights, acts and warranties. In practice some solar companies operate at the boundaries of our legal system and have unfortunately been quite expert in avoiding their obligations in this regard. More on this later.

The overriding legal protection comes from the Australian Consumer Law which came into effect in January 2011. This Federal Act requires businesses to comply with the requirements of this act and specifies where responsibilities lay, what rights the consumer has and how to take action; the law provides protection for all consumers and is administered at a State level.

There are several relevant issues described in the act which offer protection to solar system owners. They are summarised below:

  1. When you agree to purchase a system, the company you sign a contract with is the first point of responsibility for all issues. They are the prime contractor in law, even if they subcontract out some work such as installation and therefore they must ensure that all standards, laws and regulations are adhered to by their staff and their subcontractors.

  2. If you buy imported equipment the warranty responsibility ultimately lays with the official importer, so it’s important to understand who that is, if it’s not your supplier. That’s why picking brand panels like LG offers you clear and solid protection. Should you decide to buy a cheaper panel and the manufacturer disappears or the importer goes bankrupt, the prime contractor has still a legal obligation to assist you.

  3. Warranty terms and conditions vary by contract and supplier. It is important that you carefully read and compare the terms and conditions from different suppliers so you understand what you may be required to do to comply. For example many panel warranties only include the supply of a new panel and do NOT include the labour component. LG supplies the panel and pays for the labour within 80 km of population centres.

In the event of a dispute, the Clean Energy Council can assist you with installer related issues. They also have a Solar Retailer Code of Conduct which some, but not all, solar retailers have agreed to comply with.

While it is always preferable to work on an amicable solution with your installation company, should a dispute arise that is unresolvable by discussion the issue will default to the Australian Consumer Law Act and you can approach your State body for advice on what course of action to take. This may include mediation, taking the case to the Small Claims Tribunal or to court.

More than 750 Australian solar companies and component importers have gone into liquidation since 2012. Many have re-opened or ‘phoenixed’ under different names to avoid warranty, consumer and legal obligations. Similarly over 200 international panel and inverter manufacturers have closed or ceased operations in Australia. Consumer laws are unable to protect an estimated 750,000+ solar systems which are effectively ‘orphans’ with no warranties or support.

As a consumer looking to buy solar as a safe, secure long-lasting investment please consider, ‘the best warranty is quality’. What is quality? The consumer principle, ‘you get what you pay for’ especially applies to solar where budget operators will exploit a lack of consumer knowledge to claim their cheap package is the best. ‘An expensive system may not be the highest quality but the cheapest system never is’. We recommend getting a number of quotes from long established solar companies. Solar manufacturers close on a regular basis but you can achieve a measure of security in your purchase by selecting panels, inverters and batteries from a quality diversified brand.