Getting a solar power quote: a Q&A checklist

While having solar power installed at your place could significantly reduce that dollar figure on your electricity bills, finding the right supplier and system can be confusing.

When searching for a solar supplier, you can waste a lot of time on the phone, not only asking questions but also getting your head around industry jargon.

So, to help make your journey towards solar goodness a little smoother, here’s a list of some useful questions to ask when getting a solar system.

Q1: How many panels and what size system do I need?

A: Before asking this question, it’s important to think about buying a solar system that fits your needs: how many family members do you have at the home? Or, when are you most at home? Your solar supplier will need this information to determine how you use electricity.

Leapfrog these questions by writing down a brief outline of your needs, including the number of people at your home, your most recent energy charges and when you use power. To see when you use power, check the meter before and after work one day, then again the next morning to see your energy usage.

Make note the availability of north or north-west facing roof space on your home (although many suppliers will be able to check this for you if you’re not able). The supplier will then be able to give you some price options, which you can match or compare against your budget.

Q2: Can I add extra panels or upgrade in future? 

A: The best bang for your buck is to get what you need upfront, but if your situation changes – for example, you’re thinking of putting in a swimming pool or you’re starting a new job that allows you to work from home – you’ll need to get the right system size for the foreseeable future.

It’s best to ask your supplier if they can cater for changes to your lifestyle and energy usage, so this way, they can design a system upfront that will allow for that. With some systems, if you think you’d like to increase your system size in future, you can add extra panels and replace your inverter with a larger one.

You might also want to consider whether you prepare for battery storage solutions as they come in.

Q3: How long will the solar system take to pay for itself?

A: This is difficult to answer in a general sense, as everyone’s solar requirements will be different. However, a reputable supplier will be able to calculate that information and give you an estimate that weighs up factors such as how many kilowatts your system would produce, your potential feed-in tariff and how much solar-generated energy you’ll be using as opposed to exporting back to the grid.

Q4: Where should I position my panels?

A: Energy production won’t be greatly affected if your roof pitch isn’t right to capture the sunlight in your state. It’s more important that the solar system be tailored to suit your energy needs.

Your solar provider should be able to help you figure out which areas of your roof work best, look the best and can accommodate the right size of system. Panels can be split across different areas of the roof to maximise energy production.

Your supplier may visit your home or use online mapping tools to give you some advice on the best position for your panels, and the use of any tilt frames to position them to capture maximum sunlight.

Q5: What is the feed-in tariff in my state?

A: The feed-in tariff (FIT) is basically an amount paid to you by your energy retailer for each kilowatt hour of unused electricity that you export back to the grid for other people to use. The amount varies from state to state and by energy retailer. Your supplier should factor the FIT into their calculations when providing you with information about a payback period.

Q6: What about trees or shade? 

A: It goes without saying that shade on your solar panels will reduce the amount of energy they produce. Spend some time watching where shadows come from and how you might be able to avoid them: cut back trees or move the solar panels clear of the shadow cast by your neighbours’ homes. Seek advice from your supplier about the best position for your panels.

Q7: What about warranties?

A: It’s important to ask about warranties, given the investment you’re making, you want to know you’re getting quality products. There are panels that come with 25-year performance and 10-year workmanship manufacturer warranties. But also ask about manufacturer warranty on the inverters and installation so you have all your bases covered.

If you have more questions about solar power and how your home or business could benefit, join the discussion in our community.