Top 10 Tips for Researching Solar Power

Ryan Adams is a massive fan of solar power and other forms of renewable energy.

Many countries around the world are experiencing a boom in roof-top solar panel installation on residential premises. In Australia, for example, the Clean Energy Council has reported in their “Clean Energy Australia Report 2010” that 105,520 solar power systems were installed between the start of January and the end of September of 2010. This is almost double the 62,266 that were installed the previous year, and more than five times the 18,966 solar power systems that were installed between 2001 and 2008.

This is obviously a great win for the environment, but it’s also an indication that home owners are investing significant sums of money in their renewable energy generation capabilities. As such, given that more of us than ever before are considering establishing a sun connection, I figured it would be a good time to prepare a list of the Top 10 Tips for Researching Solar Power:

1. House potential

Analyse your house and the amount of sun your block gets, paying particular attention to the amount of sunshine that hits the roof area. Also determine if there is enough space allowance to accommodate solar panels.

2. System size

Determine what size system you need. If you have a two bedroom unit you’re looking at a system of about 1.5kw, but if your house is 4 or more bedrooms you may need a 3kw system or greater.

3. Budget

Look at your budget. Like any product the quality and post sales service can vary greatly, and as such so can the cost. On average, you’re looking at between $3,500 to $9,000 for a 1.5kw system.

4. Providers

Research your providers to find a supplier that is right for you. You may wish to ask friends, look up solar forums, or speak with clean energy bodies.

5. Licenses and insurance

In case of an accident during installation, it is important that your solar installer has the proper licenses and insurance to ensure that you are not liable. At a bare minimum, your solar installer should have general liability insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, and a contractor’s license.

6. Quality

There are several levels of panel quality. Generally, the cheaper panels may last as little as 5 years and the higher quality panels last 25-30 years or more. Some providers provide up to 10-year durability guarantees.

7. Post-sales service

This is an important area to consider. Some cheaper providers have no post sales support, so if something goes wrong with your panels or inverter, then they charge exorbitant rates to conduct an inspection. That is, if they do so at all. Make sure your provider offers at least some ongoing quality assurance or free servicing.

8. Price and payment options

Not many providers have interest-free payment options, but if you’ve got budgetary limitations then it may be worth finding one that does. This way, you can get solar for as little as $40 per week over a 2 year plan.

9. Overall impression

Do you feel confident with this solar installer? Are you satisfied with their answers to your questions and how quickly they responded? How responsive were their customer service representatives to your questions and were you comfortable with their responses? You should harbor no doubts or confusion before committing to a solar installer. Installing solar power is a big deal; it’s not like buying a TV and changing every couple of years, this choice should last close to a life time. Therefore, the solar installer you pick needs to be more than just someone doing work on your home, they should partner with you to help make sure that your investment into solar is easy, long lasting, and financially worthwhile. In the end, beyond the assurances of experience and certification, only you can decide whether this solar installer “feels” like the right choice.

10. Free consultancy

Once you have chosen a provider make sure to organise a free solar consultancy. The company should send an installer out to you (usually obligation free), determine whether solar is right for you, and recommend the right product. However, this service is usually only supplied in metropolitan areas.

So now you should be well versed in the things you need to think about before taking the plunge into solar power generation. Just make sure to keep in mind that you only get one shot at using any applicable government rebates, so it’s important to do it well the first time.

Photo Credit: rpeschetz via flickr

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