If you think whacking a few solar panels on the roof and kissing those soaring power bills goodbye is as simple as AC-DC, you might be in for a shock.
Small-scale solar power is still the relatively new kid on the power block and there are so many players in the field it is hard to make the right financial decision about which one to choose.
Let alone a safe decision.
Going off-grid is the holy grail of everyone trying to juggle power bills with all their other household costs — and there is no sign of any of them slowing down anytime soon.
While most of us understand how to use everything in the home using electricity — and there is more of that every year in our increasingly gadgetised world — how many of us know much beyond resetting the safety switch if it blows?
So why not ask an expert?
Lachlan Magee at Choice Energy knows a lot about alternative power but a solution looks different for every client and it needs to be reviewed for feasibility on a case-by-case basis.
It is important to fully understand your options before you sign on the dotted line.
“First up, a complimentary in-depth analysis is required to see if you can use less from the grid through solar. We then encourage you to explore every option outside the grid; keep on top of grid power by using a broker to buy yours,” Lachlan said.
“And analyse your own grid usage, see if there are any corners you can cut, change tariffs and again, work with a specialist broker to help identify and manage that.
“Don’t rush into any decisions until you have considered every aspect of the solution — especially the quality of the provider.
“One of the misconceptions is that energy through solar will run independently from the grid, and in the case of a blackout, the power will stay on. However, this is not the case. The only way to be fully protected from blackouts is to have a battery backup.
“When there is limited sun or it's night time, there is little or no free power. However, there are significant advantages for someone who uses power during the day — the main motivation being less exposure to rising grid-energy prices."
According to Lachlan, the solar industry has and continues to be a boom and bust industry.
“Solar power boomed early on the back of incredible rebates and all sorts of subsidies, and businesses sprang up all over the place to take advantage of the boom conditions,” he said.
“Then disappeared just as fast when the rules were changed — and that is still going on.
“When the company that installed your system goes out of business then you have no service or support.
“I know it sounds complex, and it is. That’s why you need to work with someone who fully understands the complexities of the energy industry.”
Lachlan said Choice Energy also strongly recommended you choose a supplier with more than one stream of revenue in the business.
“At Choice Energy, a business built on eight income streams, we have seen case after case where people signed what seemed really good deals only to find when they hit a speed bump their supplier was no longer there to service and support them,” Lachlan added.
“Another example we have is batteries – we would typically recommend waiting at least 12-18 months, when their prices will come down, and come down a long way. They can always be retro fitted, and the longer you wait, the more likely the quality will be better. Right now, you would probably be looking to spend at least $10 000 for a 5kW system and that just doesn’t add up.”
Panel quality was also an area of dramatic performance and price difference that Choice Energy said caused a lot of financial pain for some families.
Lachlan said like most things in life, you get what you pay for.
And you should not imagine because there are no moving parts in the panels that things won’t really go wrong.
“When there are problems it is usually with the connection between panels and the building — and if it is done wrong there is a real risk of fire,” Lachlan said.
“For example, when we work as your solar provider, we use our own teams of expert installers and typically use German and Austrian panels because they are the best.
“But even the best systems break down from time to time, which is why Choice Energy becomes your partner, with services including monitoring and maintenance and a guaranteed output for you.
“That includes making sure you start with the absolute basics being done correctly — first the panels need to be in the best place on your roof, you need to measure the voltage off the roof, your interface with the grid needs to be correct, just as they do with other electrical items in your home."
Solar can be a complicated topic, but you can achieve enormous benefits and savings by choosing the right partner and becoming less reliant on grid power.
Further details are available from Choice Energy on 1300 304 448 or by visiting www.choiceenergy.com.au