With rising energy costs, running your home (and beating the chill) can really bite into your budget. And while you hear promises of how a solar panel system can cut your costs, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong if you don’t plan and design the system to ensure it offers you what you need in the long-term.
‘Everyone is rushing into the solar energy space, and unfortunately this means there are a lot of unscrupulous suppliers giving false promises and inferior systems. These include poor quality product, poor quality of system design, and poor quality of installation. These result in solutions that are not sustainable, do not last, do not offer the ROI available and the result is that the industry and solar as a whole get a poor rep, when the reality is that solar is a proven technology that has huge benefits for clients if done correctly,’ says Chris Brown, director of Solterra Cape Town/West Coast. So, what should you look out for when you’re on the hunt for a supplier?
#1 Check out their credentials
Firstly are they members of any associations, such as The South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) or the Sustainable Energy Society (SESSA). They will not only have vetted the supplier and ensure they adhere to industry standards, but will have your back if things go awry.
Secondly ask for references from previous clients and ensure they part of a larger organisation rather than a stand alone independent. It is always prudent to go with a company part of something larger – head office accountability is a must. It should also mean that they have been through comprehensive training on installation as well as design. ‘This is where our clients benefit most by Solterra Cape/West Coast being part of a larger countrywide network of 27 owner managed franchises guided and managed through a head office. The lessons learnt from over 12 000 systems installed nationally are invaluable when it comes to our service and installations,’ says Brown.
#2 Start with an energy audit
Through an energy audit, energy-hungry appliances and poor energy behaviour patterns can be identified. ‘This helps identify savings for clients, but also assists in us building a solar solution which is truly customised to your energy demands and prevent building oversized systems,’ says Brown.
#3 Ask them to explain the design
You don’t want to get bogged down with jargon you don’t understand, but by asking this question you will ensure your supplier has a truly strategic approach to your installation – it’s not a one-size-fits-all business. Without a technical design, no one will know or understand what the goals are from the installation, and how the system will set out to achieve these goals. It also shows a lack of competence should a design not be forthcoming.
‘Renewable Energy System Design is very much determined on a case-by-case basis. The detailed information gained by energy audits, architectural constraints, property orientation, available roof space and alignment, client preferences, financial constraints, solar system types and many more factors all play a part in the final design,’ says Brown.
‘In order to ensure correct design outcomes, Solterra Cape/West Coast engineers utilise a market leading Software Design Package that has been developed by the top Photovoltaic (PV) Engineers in South Africa for Sub Sahara Africa’s unique conditions. This software minimises risk of system failures and optimises the cost per Kw.h to our clients.’
#4 What packages do they offer?
Ideally you want an ongoing maintenance and services package. Solar systems need regular maintenance to ensure they last and work optimally. Services also allow for early fault finding (e.g. water quality might be different) and this will ensure that action can be taken, which will ensure the life of the system. ‘Life is important as it allows clients to maximise savings as there is no reinvestment required. To make it easy on our clients, we offer a long-term periodic maintenance programme to visit the installation as per the manufacturer’s recommendations. We carry out a complete inspection, ensure all components are correctly installed, test the functionality of the system, make any small adjustments required to optimise the overall performance and do general maintenance as required,’ says Brown.
#5 What’s the REAL return on investment?
Time for some number crunching. Some suppliers will promise that your energy savings will balance out the investment cost over time, but what good is that to you if the life span of the system is only 5 years? ‘Guarantees vary according to product, but due to the fact Solterra Cape/ West Coast only supplies Tier 1 products, the lifespan on certain products will be guaranteed up to 20 years. Hardware and software products used in our designs are of the highest quality. All products have the longest expected lifespan in the market and meet, or exceed international and local legislative requirements,’ explains Brown. Ensure that you have a full bill of materials listed in your PV quotation so there are no hidden costs that may be billed at a later stage of the installation, he recommends.
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