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Consumer's guide to buying a Solar Power system.
So you're interested in switching on to home solar power? Congratulations, you'll save cash and reduce greenhouse gas emissions!
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
Shopping for a solar power system can be an exciting time for many people, but as with any substantial investment, you'll need to be careful who you deal with.
Avoid becoming a solar horror story
We've been in the solar power industry for some years and during that time we've heard countless horror stories from customers regarding some vendors; everything from leaking roofs after installations have been performed, to householders going into debt for decades.
"Free" solar power systems
This definitely falls into the "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" category. The offer of a free system should be treated with a great deal of suspicion. In these arrangements, the system will be offered or free after rebates, on the provision that the rebate money is signed over to the supplier.
Beware of fast talking sales people
Like shopping for a new car, beware of over- exuberance on a sales person's part. In some instances, this may be just genuine passion bubbling over, but in others, the sales person won't understand what they are selling; instead focusing on hype to get you to sign on the dotted line. If a question hasn't been answered properly or has been deflected, pursue a satisfactory response.
Beware of video presentations
If a sales person wants to show you a video - say no! We can practically guarantee that it will be 1% minute of information vs. 99% hype - effectively a brainwashing session. Understanding grid connect systems is quite simple and can be explained by a competent salesperson with the assistance of a single diagram.
Ignoring simple energy efficiency solutions to reduce cost
A company genuinely committed to solar power is in business to make money, however they will always offer suggestions as to how you can decrease the costs of a system.
High pressure tactics
Every company uses terms like "deal ending soon", "hurry before stocks run out" - it's just the accepted language of marketing. However, some companies upon visiting your home will say things like the offer they are touting is ending the same day!
Collusion with related industries
Some solar companies have close ties with other industries, such as roof repair and roof restoration businesses, or it may be incorporated under their own business. There's nothing wrong with that as such, but what can happen is that a householder calls in a roof repairer who then offers a fantastic deal on a solar power system using high pressure tactics. Alternatively, the roof repair company may just sow the seed, and then pass on the householder details to a solar company for targeting.
Compare ‘apples to apples’
Package deals are a great way to save cash, but not all packages are created equal. For example, a company might use top quality solar panels, but skimp on the inverter, wire and frame quality in the hope that the panel brand name will dazzle you and you'll ignore the other components.
Grey market/counterfeit products
It's not all that common, but in some cases in order to save money a company will obtain components on the grey market. This is where the component is genuine, but hasn't come through the proper supply channels. In these situations, if something goes wrong with the component, the manufacturer may not honour the warranty.
Low quality components
The IEC internationalstandards mentioned above have recently been enhanced to ensure even less leeway in performance and quality. However, S.A. is behind other countries in the area of certification. The result is that poorer quality panels, not meeting European standards were being dumped in large quantities in S.A. and offered at very low prices as a part of comprehensive solar systems. Some of these panels may still be on offer. – be careful, as they will not last the distance you expect of them. You can also expect panel performance to drop off dramatically in marginal conditions.
Many solar panel and related component manufacturers have been established in China in the last couple of years. With the exception of very few such manufacturers, the products have not been thoroughly tested for South African conditions. While the warranty the new companies may offer can be the same duration as the more recognised brands; the warranty will be of little value if the company ‘disappears’. Deal with a reputable company with a sound track record in Solar. Most good quality panels (‘A’Grade) carry a 20+ years warranty, so, 5 year warranties definitely tell you something.
Some companies offer a buy back guarantee if the system does not perform adequately - it's very different to a warranty that will replace the defective components or fix any installation issue - and often an inferior one.
Inflated performance claims
Performance guidelines for solar power systems may be exaggerated. For example, a system of a specific size may provide 50% of the average household's needs in Musina, but it certainly won't in Cape Town. A good company will perform a series of complex calculations and let you know exactly how much electricity you can expect to generate from your own roof before even thinking about presenting you with any sort of contract.
Shade tolerance claim
No solar panel is truly shade tolerant. It only takes shade covering a small area of a panel to reduce its performance dramatically. It simply does not pay to install panels on an area of roof where they will be in the shade during peak sun hours. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise - as you'll just be wasting your money.
Financing your solar system can be an option and using your Bond or shorter term finance can be cashflow beneficial after a couple of years if Eskoms increases of 35% for the next 3 years are approved.. Not everyone can afford to shell out the capital required for a fair-sized domestic system, so financing is a definite option and will pay for itself - even taking the interest into account..
Sizing up batteries:
Many companies over-rate the amount of power that you can extract from your deep cycle battery. The fact that a battery is rated at 102 Amp Hours does not mean that you can extract that much power from it (refer relevant article on Depths of Discharge). Unscrupulous sales people will lull you into purchasing fewer batteries for any given system and thereby reducing the system price - in the hope of procuring the business.
Fine print contracts
As with any contract, check the fine print. If the language in the contract is overly complex, seek legal counsel. If you do find you've been pressured into signing a contract with draconian clauses, all is not lost - seek legal advice, as there are laws against what is termed an “unconscionable contract".
Solar fever is sweeping the nation, so many providers are backlogged - so you can expect a wait of up to a few weeks for your system to be installed - but this is something you should be made aware of by the provider. If this detail is not mentioned anywhere, ensure you get it in writing; otherwise you may be waiting for 6 months or more. Details should also include what the supplier will do if the installation isn't completed by the appointed time.
Gimmicks, gadgets and bonuses
Everyone loves a bonus, but when too much emphasis is placed on a bonus rather than the core product, the solar power system itself; its cause for concern. Bear in mind that most gadgets and bonuses included with solar power packages have cost the vendor far less than their retail value. Unless the bonus is directly related to the solar power system, you'll be better off forsaking the bonus and negotiating a cheaper price on the overall system.
Don't let your house become a classroom!
Even with any rebates or incentives, you're still investing a sizeable sum from your own pocket and your house is being modified. You should ensure that the right person is executing the installation.
"AT PMP WE ARE NOT JUST A SALES ORGANISIATION BUT ARE CONSULTANTS IN SOLAR SYSTEMS. THE ADVICE WE GIVE YOU IS SOUND, AND WE WILL FREQUENTLY GIVE YOU OPTIONS TO SUIT BOTH THE APPLICATION AND YOUR POCKET."
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