March 03, 2017

Once upon a time, the only people who installed solar were those who didn’t have access to mains power, or those who did it for environmental reasons. The danger of installing a renewable energy system for profit is that when doing something for profit, the mentality is to make as much money as possible. That outlook or attitude will always cost you in the long run, because of decisions being made for profit. Unfortunately, when things don’t go to plan, the renewable energy system always gets the blame. Let’s be honest, how many people out there like to admit they made a mistake or a poor decision?

I have been a business owner for over 20 years. My whole life I have been in the industry of making money, and what I have learnt is that when you make a choice for a financial reason, it always costs you more in the long run! Let me explain.

Most people who choose to install a solar system, will install a system where the numbers work when purchasing. The problem is that most companies who have designed a system that make the numbers work when buying, have done exactly that- designed a system which makes the numbers work. They have not designed a system that is going to help you become energy independent.

In reality, if you are thinking of going solar or installing a renewable energy system, the best money that could be spent is to pay a consultant to do a site audit for you. These days, the problem with good renewable energy designers is they are few and far between, because all the installers who make money from installing your system do a free site audit!

Now, having been in business and sales all my life, I know one thing for sure. There are very few sales reps out there that would tell you no, this is not the product for you. This is the reason paying an independent renewable energy consultant to design your systems and point you in the right direction is one of the best things you can do when looking at a renewable energy system. The only thing better, would be to learn as much about the field yourself, and double check with a consultant. I have been to people’s properties that have paid for a system, when I arrived to do an energy audit and asked them where the panels were going to be installed, they said the installer is going to tell us that on the day. I then asked a few more questions on the size of the system they paid for and found out they had paid for a 10KW system. Unfortunately, a 1KW system was installed because that is all the roof space that was available on an east facing roof with shade!

The sad thing about this is, the customer ends up thinking renewable energy is no good. There are solar consultants out there taking people’s money and not delivering the correct product, and who gets the bad name? The Renewable Energy System. The client then runs around saying I had a 10KW system installed, it cost me a fortune and didn’t do anything to my power bill! It all comes back to lack of education on the client’s behalf and the sales reps behalf- all because they were both doing something from a financial incentive. Another story I can tell you from clients installing a solar system for financial reasons is getting a cheap system because that’s all they could afford and they wanted to go solar. The ugly side of this is cheap panels, which do not produce what was specified, and also cheap inverters which break down after the warranties have finished- or the company that installed them has gone out of business.

I have also seen people pay for top quality panels in the quote, however when I have been on the roof I have pointed out that they have had cheap nasty panels installed. I see this all the time, being a consultant to educate people on their energy requirements.

Now here is a different outlook you can have, (yes I will be biased as this is my business, and I don’t care whether you use my business to get the information or someone else’s), spend the time and educate yourself on installing a system that is the best for the environment. If you do that, it will always pay you back financially. I have never consulted on someone’s house that has installed a quality system. For example, I have been to plenty of homes to consult on a solar energy system and I see a good quality solar hot water system from Solahart or Apricus. When I ask the clients what their experience has been with the solar water system, I always get the same answer- they were more expensive and the best money spent. We then move to the solar energy system and it’s a very different answer- it was installed because the numbers worked compared to the price of electricity from the grid. Now, they are stuck buying another system or getting rid of it completely because it did not last long enough to pay itself back.

We all lose in this situation. The client has wasted money, the earth’s finite resources have been used up and wasted, and there is not much I can do except be the bearer of bad news.

Now if you install a system for environmental reasons, you will most of the time get a very different result. By researching and taking your time on really understanding how a renewable energy system works, this is what I normally see happen.

The client always reduces their energy load to start with, as the cheapest way of reducing your system cost is to reduce your energy load to start with. I have seen people do this, and it has saved enough money in the first place the system has already paid for itself before install.

Once your load is reduced and you really understand the watt hour, you will have a very different understanding to most people to what a kilowatt hour means from panels on the roof, and that bigger is not always better. As I said, if you were to choose the most environmentally friendly solar panels to install, you would most likely be installing some type of thin film solar panel. These panels are not always the highest performer when producing energy, however they are the most consistent. They are shade tolerant and perform well in high temperatures. When I say high temperatures, most solar panels lose performance when the panels get above 25 degrees Celsius- for example in Sydney, Australia this is about a 16 degree day. Thin film panels also have the fastest embodied energy payback period, and they also perform better on cloudy days. As you can see, the point I am making is you will get more consistent performance from thin film panels. In reality that is what you want, as we want to spread out energy production so you can self-consume as much of it as possible if you are not installing batteries.

The most common item I see people waste money on is the inverter. A simple way to see if you have purchased, (or looking to purchase) a good quality inverter is look at the weight of it. Grid tied inverters are made to be light and easy to transport, which reduces the upfront cost of the system. The reason a good quality unit costs more is it has a toroidal transformer in it, which is really just a big piece of copper and a magnet. This adds costs to the unit in production freight- sometimes they require two installers because of the weight to install, so you can see how the costs are added. If you install a good quality unit to start with, they last longer and outperform the cheaper ones upfront. I have seen some old school inverters that have been working for over 20 years, and the only reason the client is changing is they want a bigger system. A cheap unit you will end up replacing every 3-5 years will add up in cost over the life of your system. Also, think of the impact on the environment of reproducing and shipping the same product 4 times over your systems life.

Choosing a quality inverter upfront will save you money in the long run.

The next hot subject that everyone is talking about is renewable energy battery storage. If you are thinking of installing batteries, you will have to replace your inverter. What you saved from installing a grid feed system will quickly be lost when you have to buy another inverter to replace your old one. And in most cases, you will be required to rewire your panels on your roof. You can see how waiting could have saved you money in the long run.

There are so many debates about batteries and bad information on the internet it is crazy! Everyone wants to sell you their batteries because they are the best, or they are the cheapest, and this is an area to really spend some time on learning about batteries yourself. The three most common types are lead acid, lithium and Nickel Iron Cells. Every day I feel like there is some new battery technology that is invented and is going to be the best thing for the future.

My personal opinion on batteries is this. I drive an old school 4wd. A new top of the range 4wd has the same drivetrain my 35 year old piece of metal has, which came standard from the factory 35 years ago, and I mean exactly- the parts have the same part numbers! My point is that they used to make cars and most things to last forever. A business prided itself on providing you a product that would be something you buy and have forever. How many of our grandparents purchased a car or an item that they had used their whole life- and in some cases certain items were handed down from generation to generation. Most people these days plan to buy a new car every 5 years, some even more often than that.

I personally have chosen Nickel Iron batteries for my renewable energy storage. All the research I have done tells me the three main negatives about this type of cell is they are heavy; (well I don’t really plan on carrying them around on my push bike), you have to maintain them, (ok so top them up with distilled water every 6 months) and they gas off hydrogen. The reason I choose them is that I am happy to put water in them if it means they are serviceable, and they can be repaired not thrown away when something goes wrong. I have designed a natural air flow to control the gas offs, and they have been around for over 100 years. There are people that have had them in operation for over 50 years, I have personally talked to these people- not trusted the information on the internet or the salesman selling them to me.

When I wanted to design a system that was going to last as long as possible, and provide my family with a system that will not only reduce our energy bills but eliminate them, I had the environment at top of mind in all aspects of the system design. It gave us a system that was a little more upfront, which meant we saved for a bit longer, however it is a system that we will be leaving for future generations to come. In the long run, we will never be required to buy power from the grid ever again. What would you be willing to spend to make that happen? The average Australian Family spends $7 per day on energy at the current prices in 2015. If you are going to use energy for another 20 years from the grid, it will cost you over $50,000 if prices don’t change. For our family, I know our system will last that long and energy prices can do whatever they want as it will never personally concern my family- we are energy independent.

The reason we found such a system is because we were researching to find the most environmentally friendly renewable energy system available on the market. Also in the long run, this gave us the most financially viable system for our family which means we will save the most amount of money over time!