Handy Solar Info Checklists

Quite possibly the most useful checklist for any solar project! Find out what you need to consider before you start that solar project.

There are a number of factors that you should consider when selecting a solar panel. They are:

Trustworthiness

Any solar panel company can make a promise about quality, materials, warranty and support but the key is selecting a product made by a company whose promises can be trusted and who will be around in the long term to support you. Trustworthiness is hard to quantify but is usually best described through experience, reputation, commitment, transparency, integrity and size.

The quality of solar panels available in the market varies greatly. The type of aluminium used for the solar panel frame, the thickness and quality of the solder, the efficiency and quality of the solar cell, the water seal over time, the way the cells are encapsulated, the protection against micro cracking, the UV resistance of the backing sheet, the quality of the cables and plugs, all these factors together determine the quality and longevity of the solar panel.

LG panels are made in South Korea, in the Gumi factory, located near one of LG's state of the art LCD TV factories. Our manufacturing process is automated as our video example (LG's Automated Solar factory) shows . Our panels are manufactured to within a fraction of a millimetre to the same specification. We only use high quality input materials. The quality control done on our panels is as extensive as is done for LG’s other world class electronic equipment such as TVs, washing machines or fridges.

Trustworthiness also extends to your local supplier and installer of solar panels. Choosing a long established local company who has partnered with a diversified solar panel manufacturer is a great place to start. LG’s Authorized Dealer network offers you this combination.

Performance

Performance matters in two distinct ways.

Firstly, you need a solar panel that produces a good power level. Good power need not be the highest power (unless you have very limited space), but certainly it should be towards the upper end of the typical power ratings available in the market, which steadily increase over time as efficiencies increase.

Solar panel quality In 2013 LG’s current Mono-X 60 cell panel has 260W output, while many other panels only 250W output. Over the life of the home solar system, assumed to be 25 years, this difference of 10W per panel will give you for example in Brisbane over 8000kW/h more output for a 20 panel 5,2kW LG system compared to a 20 panel 5kW system.

Secondly, the solid and ongoing panel performance of a solar panel should also be backed up by strong technical confidence which can be demonstrated through tight power tolerances, a low temperature co-efficient and a clear description of how the products are tested, affected and rated against Potential Induced Degradation (PID) and Light Induced Degradation (LID).

A supplier who makes quality solar panels such as LG electronics typically offers a strong warranty that provides peace of mind about ongoing performance and has the dependability if something goes wrong.

When choosing a solar system you should find out a as much as possible about the company supplying you the system and details on the products being supplied. You should get clarifications on the following - preferably in writing

    1. Is the company employing full time Clean Energy Council (CEC) accredited installers or just hires them in as a sub-contractor every time they install a system?
    2. Is the installation company a member of the Clean Energy Council (CEC) and follows the new CEC Code of Conduct?
    3. Are all installers and designers CEC accredited?
    4. Is the company locally based (much preferred for future maintenance/check-ups or repairs) or have they just come into town with a cheap deal - only never to be seen again?
    5. Is the company who hopes to sell you a solar power system an internet marketing company - with little local presence, who hires in short term subcontractors across Australia for the install?
    6. LG high efficient NeON solar panels

    7. How long has the installation company been installing solar power systems and how many systems have they installed locally?
    8. Ask the company how they will support your solar system in 10 or 20 years time?
    9. Have they got a long workmanship guarantee (like 5, 7 or 10 years) to go with the installation (the workmanship warranty is the warranty for the way the system is installed)? Naturally such a workman ship warranty is only worth anything, if the installation company will be around in 5, 7 or 10 years.
    10. Is the installation company in a strong relationship with specific solar manufacturers or do they just buy the cheapest panels on the market?
    11. Is the solar installation company part of the LG dealer network?
    12. How long has your installation company been installing solar power systems and how many systems have they installed?
    13. You do not want to spend time on meter connection issues. They can take a long time to resolve. Is your installation company organising this meter connect job?

    14. Questions on the Solar System:

      1. Are the panels and inverters from a reputable brand manufacturer?
      2. Does the company have a service centre and head office in Australia?
      3. Warranty offered is good but how will a defective panel be replaced if the company is based overseas with no local office- ask the installer to explain this?
      4. Who pays for the labor when a panel is faulty, with lots of cheap panels you will be out of pocket. If the installer says re-install labor is covered in the warranty – get it in writing.
      5. Are the mounting and accessories being used certified and of a high quality?

      Quality solar panels like LG are reliable

      These are some of the key queries you should consider when buying a system.

While deciding to buy a solar system consider the following suggestions:

1. Undertake some solar research via our FAQ site and other sources like the Clean Energy Council’s consumer guide . Alternatively speak to family and friend who already have solar installed to enquire about the benefits.

2. Do your research about brands and prices. There are some very cheap offers in the market, but often these cheaper deals hide poor quality equipment made to appear like quality. You are looking for a 25 year lasting product so that your financial investment is repaid over and over. Find out about the company offering the very cheap deal. Often some internet research reveals a good overall picture.

3. Do not give into pressure selling and deadlines. It’s one of the oldest sales tricks in the book. If the sales person cannot give you the time to make a considered decision, then what are they fearful off you’ll discover about the deal with a little research. If the company has just come into town for a solar deal , they will be gone after the install and you will be left to your own devices. Please buy from local installers. In years to come you might need their local solar expertise and support.

4. How big is your roof and how big a solar system can fit? Try our roof size calculator to work out how big your solar system can be on your specific roof. To check the calculator result contact your local LG dealer.

5. Solar systems vary in quality and size and so does the price. Set yourself a budget. As a rule of thumb each KW of a quality solar system will cost in the range of$1,750 to $2,200 for a residential system up to 5 kW. Do not look for saving few dollars and buying poor /cheap quality. This will cost you more in the future. You are making a 25 years or longer investment , so please consider quality and real warranty support over everything else.

6. Panel Types & Certifications: There are mono-crystalline, poly-crystalline and amorphous films available in Australia which are used for solar systems. We recommend the high efficiency mono-crystalline solar panels, as this is the technology used most often in solar systems in the world today. It is also the most tested technology, as mono-crystalline panels have been mass produced since the 1970s. They have a black appearance and from our point of view will blend in more to your roof and neighbourhood than the blue multi-crystalline solar panel variety.

7. Solar systems attract government rebates if they have been registers with the Clean Energy Council. You should check with the install companies of the offered panels are registered (most are nowadays). All LG panels are registered and have gone extensive fire resistance testing, a latest requirement - introduced in mid 2013 - in the Australian Solar standards.

8. Manufacturer’s Warranty: Many manufacturers will offer 10 years manufacturing warranty and an 80% efficiency warranty of 25 years. For a normal consumer it becomes difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Companies like LG offer stepped warranty and a replacement warranty. Most importantly it is not a company based in some remote location in the world but has a large presence in Australia. Finally make sure the manufacturer has a local legal entity in Australia. Should you have a dispute in years to come a company with no link and contact in Australia is hard to pursue when it comes to consumer rights.

9. Chose a quality Inverter to go with quality panels: An inverter is the heart of the solar system. It will have a direct impact on the efficient of conversion from solar power to usable electric power of your system. The more efficient the inverter, the better the energy conversion process will be. The bigger and more established the manufacturer, the more likely warranty claims or required repairs will be dealt with smoothly.

Solar system installed

10. Mounting & Accessories: There are building standards for every aspect of the mounting and electrical accessories used in a solar system. Quality systems are certified. Ensure that the installer uses the certified product by getting the products used in your system listed as part of the quote.

11. Quotes & Buying: We will recommend that you get a few quotes for comparison. Do not get pressurised by sales person to sign then and there. Avoid the travelling band of solar installers hitting town and then disappearing, never to be seen again. Use local install companies and take your time, before you buy.

We suggest you contact your local LG solar panel dealer who will give you professional advice.

  1. You conduct your own research into the benefits of having a solar PV system installed. In particular, you should ensure that you understand what will happen to your meter, your electricity tariff and your electricity bill before you agree to have a PV system installed. A LG solar panel installer can assist you in these calculations.
  2. Contact quality solar installers to arrange for a quote. Use our dealer locator on this website to see who installs solar in your area. Please note that often you get what you pay for. With long warranties available for solar components, the warranties are only worth anything if the manufacturer and installation company will stand the test of time and will be there in a decade or so to back you up. Stay away from unknown brands, as the solar industry is undergoing massive restructuring and consolidation amongst less financial stable solar players.
  3. Read parts of these FAQs and develop some key questions when you meet the solar installation company.
  4. Ensure the solar company you consider uses CEC accredited installers to meet latest industry requirements. Ask for the installer’s name and accreditation/licence numbers.
  5. Ask how the solar rebate will work for you and how t will be applied eg as an upfront deduction from the price of the solar power system?
  6. Ask who will complete the connection and approval process for your electricity retailer and electricity distributor. This process varies between states and territories. Ideally you want the solar installation company take care of this and have all associated meter connection fees included in your final price.
  7. Get a clear date or at least a week nominated when the CEC accredited installer starts and completes the installation of your solar PV system.
  8. Solar power system
  9. Make sure the solar installation company contacts your electricity retailer or electricity distributor to arrange for your new meter to be installed.
  10. Discuss solar system monitoring options.
  11. Immediately after the meter installation your solar PV system is now ready to produce solar electricity for your premises.
  12. Depending on which state you live in, your local electrical authority may conduct a safety inspection of your solar PV system soon after installation.

There are a few clarifications you should seek on warranty and performance of the system you are buying. Remember it is a product which will last for a long time and should generate electricity cost savings from the day you get the solar power system installed.

  1. What performance guarantees do you get for the system as a whole? Is the dealer willing to give you in writing the expected annual kW/h of electricity your system is expected to generate?
  2. How will you know if your system is performing to its maximum potential on a day to day basis? What should you check?
  3. Does the designer/installer provide some kind of optional service agreement to come in later years to check on the system?
  4. If problems arise with your system, what services will the designer/installer provide and for how long?
  5. Will the designer/installer be readily available to troubleshoot and fix problems? If the system installers are not locally based, how likely will they be there to assist you should there be a problem?
  6. If something goes wrong, who is responsible for repair or replacement costs? Get the installation company to explain this point clearly and make notes.
  7. Who is responsible for maintaining the system? What maintenance will be required in your instance eg lots of insidious trees shedding leaves in autumn.
  8. What kind of training will the designer/installer provide at the time of system hand over?
  9. Will basic system safety issues be explained as part of the system hand over and via the owner handbook?

Solar system

Choosing an inverter is a matter of understanding what performance you want and the price you want to pay for it. Inverters are the heart of a solar system and LG panels should always be paired with a quality inverter. In a high % of system failures, the reason is an inverter malfunction.

Inverters differ by several factors:

  1. Wattage rating or how much power in watts the inverter can deliver. For example there are currently 1,6kW, 2kW, 3kW, 4kW, 5KW and 10 KW residential solar inverters on the market.
  2. Start-up voltage i.e. at what level of sunshine the inverter will function. The start-up voltage can vary from 90V to 155V depending on the brand and size of the inverter.
  3. Surge power. How much power and for how long it can deliver the power needed to start motors or other loads.
  4. Efficiency, or how efficient the inverter is at low, medium and high power draws, as well as how much power is used when on idle.
  5. Quality or shape of the electrical wave, whether pure sine wave or modified sine wave.

Choose carefully as an investment into a quality inverter can result in higher efficiencies and also potentially longer life span of the inverter. LG recommends matching a high quality inverter with our solar panels. Your installer can recommend quality inverter brands to you (LG Dealer Search).

Good quality inverter must be selected

After you have decided on solar system suitable for you, remember the following, before you sign the contract

To keep in mind before signing a contract

Quote:

Does the price quoted include or exclude money received from the STCs(rebate)?

Does the price quoted include all the necessary metering changes and paperwork for my local electricity supplier?

Does the quote include all labour, transportation and inspection charges?

Does the designer/installer give an accurate estimation of my system’s electricity production with their quotes?

Are the warranties, including workmanship warranty clearly spelled out?

Payment Terms

What are the payment terms?

Is there a deposit? When is it required? Is it refundable if I change my mind? If yes, get this in writing.

Do you need to pay the whole amount or just the difference after the Rebate has been applied?

Make sure the requested deposit is not too high.

Time Frames

Ask the installer to give you in writing:

What is the lead time for installation of the system

What is the lead time for installation of the meter

1. Is part of your roof east, north or west facing and free from shade between 8am and 5pm?

2. Is there enough room on this part of your roof for solar panels? You need at least 7m2 of roof space for every 1.0 kW of solar system. Use our roof space calculator on this website to check out how big the system on your roof can be roof space calculator.

3. Is your roof area peppered with chimneys and antennas which could pose overshadowing problems?

4. Is your roof strong enough to support the solar panels and racking? Most Australian roofs are of sufficient structure to support a solar panel system. Nevertheless have a site inspection and let the solar dealer check it out.

5. Have you set aside a budget to cover the costs of installing solar power for your home? A quality residential solar power system that will make a dent in your electricity bill starts around $3500 and can go as high as $9000/$10,000 for a 5kW system. As you want the system to supply you with reliable electricity for 25 years plus it is important that you choose a high quality system.

6. Have the installer explain how much electricity your system could generate each year and also how the installation position of you panels affects the time of the day that the electricity will be generated. Make sure the panel positions match your consumption pattern. For example Eastern direction panels will produce most electricity in the morning, Northern facing will give you the biggest output of electricity in the middle of the day and North West facing modules will provide most electricity in the mid to late afternoon.

7. Do you know the process involved once you decide to go ahead with your purchase? Ask the solar system installer to outline all the various steps, including grid connection and any meter changes and precise warranty responsibilities preferably in writing.

  1. What is the estimated the annual production in KW/h of my system in its installation position?
  2. What is the estimated solar electricity production in the best and worst months? See our output calculator.
  3. Who will service and maintain the solar system? Get an address and contact details, preferably of someone reasonably locally.
  4. What are the responsibilities of each party including installer, manufacturer and consumer?
  5. Get in writing the various component warranties including installer workmanship guarantee, schedule of when deposits are and progress payments are due.
  6. Who is responsible for connecting your solar PV system to the electricity grid? The installer or another subcontractor? When will it happen?
  7. Who is responsible for your meter changeover? You, the solar system installation company or the electricity company? Make sure this is clarified. Quality installation companies usually offer to accommodate the whole job.
  8. How you will receive your solar rebate (STCs)?

Solar PV system

  1. High pressure sales tactics - buy today and you will get a special rebate is one of the most common pressure tactics. If the deal is so good, it deserves proper examination. Do not sign and ask for time to consider the deal, ALWAYS.
  2. The rebate is ending next week - is another favourite sales line in solar. While this was true in years gone past when rebates changed regularly. The key solar rebate being the solar certificates is now a consistent scheme and there is a sudden deadline is not very likely. Ask for any such claim to given to you in writing and check it out on the net or call your local authorized LG solar installer.
  3. The Big System push – some companies will advise you on buying a larger solar power system and tell you that it will reduce your electricity bill to Zero. Be wary of that claim. A decent size solar system can reduce you electricity bill significantly, but a Zero bill is quite unlikely, as solar systems do not work at night and cannot take away your nightly electric consumption. Understand the solar system generation offset with feed-in-tariff and your consumption in detail before you go for any such claim. Try our system income calculator
  4. Install the system in any direction, solar works in any direction, as long there is light. Some companies follow the unethical practice of installing solar systems on the South / South West direction on the roof due to lack of roof space availability, or because this is the area with the easiest access. Only consider the North, North East and North Western roofs. South roofs will need special North facing tilt frames to work.
  5. Cheap Price Offer – some companies offer you a very economical quote as compared some other solar companies. They seemed to have installed lots of systems and offer long term warranties. What could go wrong? They usually give you a good plausible story why their solar system is so cheap, like “We buy direct from overseas manufacturers” or “We are buying in big volumes and pass the saving on” or “We are just running a special and this is one of the last systems left”. Please do not get swayed by it.
  6. Remember that if the solar system is offered very cheap then there is a good possibility of lower quality materials being used to offset costs. The system might not be as efficient as claimed or worse fails to last for any prolonger period. In Australia in 2012 over 150 solar installers and manufacturing companies like Sunny Roo or Aerosharp went into liquidation. http://www.adelaidesolarrepairs.com.au/Sunny-Roo-Inverter-Repairs.html

    One of the reasons for solar companies going into liquidation is to avoid growing warranty claims.

    http://www.cbs.sa.gov.au/assets/medicomms/mrelease_unleashAdministration.pdf

    http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/failed-unleash-solar-boss-dion-perdikoyiannis-sets-up-shop-in-us/story-e6frea83-1226593502384

    http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/business/sa-business-journal/sunrise-solars-collapse-linked-to-unleash-solar-failure-16-jobs-lost/story-e6fredel-1226607037121

    We recommend to use solar panel manufacturers you have heard of, and that these manufacturers have multiple product streams, so your long term warranty has some meaning. For inverters stick with the biggest companies in the industry, the ones that have local warranty/service centres.

  7. Finally some solar companies offer no deposit finance or a higher than average feed in tariff.

Please read these contracts carefully. Whiles there are some decent offers on the market; there are also others where you pay the cost of interest or cost of the extra feed in tariff via the system price, which is overpriced. It’s not really such a good deal in that case.

Make sure the installer comes to your house and has a look, before you get the quote. Internet based solar companies quote you for a system over the phone can spell trouble for the install quality, as they cannot truly appreciate the individual set up of your house. Are the tiles brittle ? Where are any surrounding trees, which can cause overshadowing?What about antennas and chimney locations - which in the future through overshadowing can affect the system output significantly? How old is your switch board and does it need upgrading to handle solar? All these questions only become clear through a proper home inspection.

old electricity meter

When internet or call centre based solar companies sell you a system they use the one size fits all approach and give you a standard price. They then negotiate with a sub-contract installer to install your system for an agreed price. So the sub-contracted installer holds all the risk should your system requires extra cabling or is a particular labor intensive installation. It is more likely in this situation for the installer to find the quickest way, not necessarily the best way to install the system. Being a sub-contractor to the company that sold you the system, the installer's relationship with your system is one of "get in and get out as quick as possible".

Should you, in years to come require support for your solar system, the internet based solar company might not be around anymore, or should they still exist are very likely to send a new sub-contractor to check out the issue. It is better, like with your car, to have the same reliable mechanic undertake the ongoing work. Someone who is familiar with your particular circumstances/system.

In general the quotation should provide solar system specifications like quantity of panels, brand and model of panels, system size and likely output per annum in kW/h, capacity and output of the inverter or if micro inverters are to be used the brand and warranty conditions.

A proper, considered quote should include also datasheets of the supplied products. In general make sure your quote includes:

  1. Solar PV modules - brand, model and manufacturer's warranties;
  2. Mounting frames - brand, warranties and which part of the roof to be installed;
  3. Inverter - brand, capacity and manufacturer's warranty;
  4. Any additional metering cost - if not included in the price, make sure this aspect is clearly outlined in the quote;
  5. Travel and transport requirements if not included;
  6. Any trench digging if solar to be installed on outbuildings e.g. farms.

Make sure the installer at hand over gives you a system user manual.

The quotation should also specify a total price, together with proposed start and completion dates. The quotation should form a basis for your contract with the designer/installer. Deposit requirements for the system should not be excessive. Usually the majority of the solar system needs to be paid for on the day of installation.

There are a few questions you need to ask / seek clarifications on from your electricity retailer, when you install a solar system. Usually your solar system installation company knows the answer to most of these already. So ask them as well. A few of the key questions are given below:

  1. What is the cost of the electricity you purchase from the electricity retailer right now (in cents per kW/h)? (Usually you can find this information on the back of your electricity bill).
  2. Will I lose my off-peak rates once my meter has been changed? Will this be replaced with a time-of-use (TOU) tariff? How will this affect me financially?
  3. What is the feed-in tariff rate provided by the electricity retailer and it there a local retailer that pays a higher feed-in tariff?
  4. What will be the form of payment for electricity you produce? Will you receive the feed-in tariff’s you earn by default as a credit on your electricity bill or as cash payable via direct deposit or a cheque?
  5. If you sign up with a new energy retailer, are there any penalty clauses (termination costs)?
  6. What are the billing / payment periods?
  7. Are there any other administration fees?
  8. Do you organise all the necessary metering changes or will the solar installation company do it for you? (Quality install companies normally organise meter change over as part of the system install)

If yes

  1. Will your new meter continue to measure off-peak power use?
  2. Is your new meter a gross meter or a net meter (nowadays it’s mainly net metering)?
  3. What is the cost of your meter?
  4. Is it supplied free of charge?
  5. Is there an upfront cost?
  6. Is the cost recovered through increased network charges on your monthly electricity bill?
  7. What is the cost of installing your meter?
  8. Is it already included in your solar power system cost?