Solar panels buying guide

Install a system that produces carbon-free energy and insulates you from rising coal-fired electricity prices.
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02.Choosing a panel / installer

Finding a designer/installer

The good news is that there's an accreditation scheme in Australia, which the industry claims is world's best practice. To be eligible for solar credits, your designer/installer must be accredited by the Clean Energy Council — that means they’re deemed qualified to design and install PV systems.

At the time of commissioning of your system, the installer must personally sign off on the installation report. Installer’s work is usually guaranteed for one year. Clean Energy Council provides a list of accredited designers/installers. Ideally you should also look for an accredited company that’s been in the business for a while and that has an established track record, relevant experience, specialist expertise, and a good reputation.

Does the panel and its components meet standards?

CHOICE has not tested solar panels. You should ensure that any panel you consider has met Australian standards.

To be eligible for the solar credits, your solar panels must be certified to international standards; ask your installer to supply proof. Grid-connected inverters must be approved for connection to the grid in Australia by complying with AS4777 and having a current Certificate of Suitability. Check the list of currently approved inverters and modules.

In the past there has been some concern in the industry about the quality of some cheap imported panels and their safety. In 2008 Ted Spooner of the UNSW School of Electrical Engineering, and chair of Standards Australia’s Renewable Energy Systems committee, commented on "some bad practices and shonky certificates appearing from labs saying that the panels meet a standard, when they don’t. And some panels have the 'CE Mark' from Europe, which is totally meaningless in Australia for solar panels. It’s self-certification." He said the risk is a poor module manufacturer can self-test and put a CE Mark on its product — "but this is not independent and not worth anything.” 

Make sure your panels meet the international standards and that you’re using an accredited installer. This is vital to the safety and reliability of your solar system installation.

How much panel capacity do you need?

An average Australian household's electricity use is comparatively high, at about 18 kilowatt hours of electricity per day – and growing. Average electricity consumption differs across states; Queensland is higher than the national average, for example. 

A one kilowatt system produces nearly 4 kilowatt hours (kWh) per day of electricity, depending on where you live. That’s about 20% of the average household’s electricity consumption. The bigger the system you buy, the more electricity you’ll produce. A 1.5 kW system produces approximately 2500 kWh of electricity per year – about one third of the average Australian household’s electricity consumption.

What warranty can you expect?

Manufacturer warranties or guarantees range from five to 25 years. Solar systems should last at least 25 years – obviously, a warranty or guarantee for that length from a company you trust is best.

Efficiency claims

Manufacturers and suppliers use energy efficiency claims to sell their PV systems, but according to the Alternative Technology Association (ATA), an energy efficiency rating doesn’t tell you how the panels will perform. “The most important figures to look at are how much energy the system will produce each year, versus the money spent,” the ATA says.

What should you pay?

Until recently the standard one kilowatt solar panel system including installation cost around $10,000, before the solar credit rebates, while 2kW systems cost about $20,000. After the solar credit rebates the costs were brought down to around $6,000 - $7,000 for a 1kW system fully installed; and around $11,000 to $12,000 for a 2kW system – depending on where you live and the current price of solar credits. However, lately we're seeing systems available for under $3000 (after solar credits) from companies such as Origin Energy, which also offers an interest-free repayment plan.


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