Explainer: Are solar panels worth buying?

BIG DECISION: As more Tasmanians look into buying solar, the importance of doing your research has become clear. Picture: File
BIG DECISION: As more Tasmanians look into buying solar, the importance of doing your research has become clear. Picture: File

There was a significant increase in buying solar panels for homes during the COVID-19 lockdown, but many homeowners remain uncertain if the costs will stack up.

Hillwood, near Launceston, Tasmania, resident Tony Newport purchased panels for his home about four years ago, but only believes he has saved about five per cent on his power bill.

He said the installer put the panels on his roof facing south, meaning they do not capture the sun as well as he hoped.

Things to consider:

  • Do you use most of your power during daylight hours, when the solar panels are generating electricity? Have you tracked your daily power use through the aurora+ app?
  • Does your roof get access to sun during the day, with no blockages from trees or other factors?
  • Are the panels pointing north to capture the sunlight, and are you open to paying extra to have them tilted to capture more sun?
  • Have you gone through an installer accredited by the Clean Energy Council - preferably one who has been in business for at least five years?
  • Have you searched the CEC Approved Solar Retailer program, which is endorsed by the ACCC?

"We were a bit disappointed, to be honest," he said.

"They cost about six or seven thousand dollars to put up - but we were probably a bit slack ourselves in terms of researching ways to make them more efficient.

"We've been a little bit complacent, in that regard. But in terms of what's actually happened, we were a little disappointed.

"I wouldn't advise people not to get [panels], but like a lot of things these days, people will sell you something and then off they go and you never hear from them again - so check out who's out there and try and get a good reference."

His savings have also been cut by the reduced tariff for exporting power in January 2019.

Prior to this date, owners of solar panels were paid about 28 cents per kilowatt hour for the electricity generated by the panels that was put back into the grid. They are now paid about 8.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

A Choice survey of solar customers from 2018 found the vast majority were satisfied with their decision.

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But 30 per cent had a problem with their installer - with smaller, independent installers performing better.

Problems included installing panels in sub-optimal locations, delays, faulty wiring, damaging the roof, or asking for extra money not disclosed in the original quote.

One-third also experienced problems with the system after installation, and it took the average respondent five years to make back the cost of purchasing the panels through cheaper power bills.

Rohan Windsor, managing director of accredited supplier Powercom Supplier, also said getting a reference from a friend, or asking a company to provide local referrals from other customers, was a good idea when looking for an installer.

He said the majority of his customers were saving between one half and two-thirds on their power bills after installing solar - saving more than that during summer and less during winter.

Hobart solar owner Paul Fulton said he was thrilled that his four-person household was energy-neutral during summer after installing solar panels.

"Our bills were dramatically reduced - I would think it would be a four year payback," he said.

"The solar industry is absolutely booming Australia-wide - it's just going nuts. That just wouldn't be happening if there was a negative outcome. On the whole, I think people are very, very satisfied."

This story Explainer: Are solar panels worth buying? first appeared on The Examiner.